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Pop Culture

Payless Shoes made up a fake luxury shoe brand and fashion influencers totally fell for it

The "Palessi" social experiment set out to prove a point—and boy, did it.

woman wearing glossy black high heels
Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

Even fashion influencers aren't experts at spotting luxury dupes.

Have you ever heard of Palessi shoes? It's a luxury shoe brand that only sells its shoes in pop-up events in upscale malls. But if you want to buy these shoes, you have to be one of the chosen VIPs, since shopping at Palessi is by "invitation only."

Palessi looks like what you'd expect a luxury pop--up to look like, with a sleek, modern feel and each shoe being highlighted in its own lighted space. And the shopping experience does too, with young, hip, model-gorgeous employees dressed to the nines showing off the unique, stylistic features of each shoe before casually mentioning their $645 price tag.

If you're one of the fashion influencers invited to shop at this new luxury shoe store, you wouldn't bat an eye at that price. After all, the Palessi brand means something, and that's the going price for a high-quality, luxury shoe, right?

Right. Except Palessi isn't a real brand, and that $645 pair of shoes actually cost $35 at Payless.

Yes, the exact same pair of shoes.


The Palessi pop-up was a real social experiment run by now-defunct Payless ShoeSource in 2018 to make a point. "Luxury" items are far more about perceived value than actual value, and it's not that hard to get people to buy into a brand simply through presentation and a hefty price tag.

All Payless did was create the Palessi "brand," including a website and social media pages, and then invite a bunch of fashion influencers to a pop-up grand opening. The influencers were wined and dined and then sold Payless shoes as "Palessi" with a markup of hundreds of dollars.

One influencer said she would pay $400 for a pair of sneakers she was shown.

Another influencer said, "I can tell it was made with high-quality material."

Watch how they reacted to finding out they'd been duped into believing Payless shoes were a fancy, luxury shoe brand.

Does this mean that all shoes are created equal? Not quite. But it does mean that how much we perceive something to be worth can be a far cry from what it's actually worth, and it's not terribly difficult for companies to convince people to pay far more than they should for an item simply through effective marketing.

Not to mention, so much of the justification for buying expensive brands is that they are of higher quality and will therefore last longer, but since fashion preferences change so quickly, is that longevity even worth paying for? While comfort and style may be worth paying for, is it really worth a thousand percent more to buy a luxury brand? Especially when the people who are supposedly in the know can't even tell the difference?

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