The tea on why the Payless Prank is actually brilliant

Whitney Alese
4 min readDec 4, 2018

Payless (yes, as in the discount shoe store typically in malls or shopping centers) has just become the troll hero of the modern era.

In order to prove shoppers will pay top dollar just for a high-end label, the brand hired an ad agency who fabricated “Palessi”, a fake boutique specializing in shoes.

Then they invited a group of the West Coast’s top influencers to shop the brand’s new styles. The new styles they were purchasing? Just $20-$40 kicks from Payless.

Check out the experiment below for full context.

About 60 fashion influencers came to the Palessi Boutique opening, which following one Facebook ad, was said to have a waiting list of a few thousand people, which was set up at a luxury mall in Los Angeles. Many influencers actually marveled at the quality of “Palessi” shoes, describing the Payless pairs as, “Just stunning”, “Sophisticated.”, and “Elegant”. “I can tell it was made with high-quality material.”, one influencer said lovingly holding a faux leather sneaker.

The real shocker was that so many of these influencers were more than willing to pay 1800 percent markup for Payless shoes (of course, unbeknownst to them!). One influencer even willingly paid $645 for a single pair of “Palessi” shoes while many others dropped several hundreds of dollars per pair, a price tag the influencers paid gladly, by the way. Don’t worry, all of the unknowing influencers were fully refunded their money at the end of the experiment as well as pay to appear on the discount shoe store’s commercial and a pair of Payless shoes for free.

But the results were still hilarious, but also very telling.

The fact that these influencers really could not tell the difference between an “Italian boutique quality” shoe and a Payless one but we’re willing to drop rent and car payment amounts of money to get them shows so many things: our consumeristic fascination and worship of labels, the unrealistic belief that for something to have real…

Whitney Alese

Whitney Alese is a writer & podcaster, featured in WIRED Magazine (Sept 2020) & I-D Magazine (Dec. 2021), and NBC (Jan 2023). She is based in Philadelphia.