“My marriage is a fake Fendi!”

Exclaims Charlotte in the third season of Sex & the City, and her pronouncement resonates to date as fakes and divorces have both become more rampant.

For a little context, said episode is all about Samantha’s quest to land herself a fake Baguette from a San Fernando Valley-based replica-seller, while Charlotte grapples with the absence of chemistry with her then-husband, Trey. The storyline thus proceeded to imply what counterfeit-skeptics claim – buying fakes is devoid of the luster that comes with the original.

But is it really?

Counterfeits have infiltrated the art and commerce worlds since time immemorial, with the oldest fake (a Gaulish replica of a Roman amphora) housed in the Counterfeit Museum in Paris (yes, that’s a real place) dating back to 2,000 years ago!

Fake versus Real Dior

Real (left) and fake bags at the Paris Counterfeit Museum via Racked

And, as one might expect, fakes have only become more commonplace since then. In fact, studies suggest that the counterfeit industry is worth over $1 trillion, with a trading volume of $600 billion per year. Others speculate that nearly 10% of all branded products could be fake, and nearly a fifth of all luxury buyers could be toting knock-offs!

But we’re already privy to this information. By now, we’ve seen and heard almost all there is to be seen and heard on counterfeits. So, without getting into the entire existentialist discussion about what is authentic in this world after all (like they do on RepLadies), most of us fairly agree that:

  • fakes are morally questionable
  • they infringe trademarks
  • their production and distribution almost always involve connections with the illegal economy

However, this conversation was, until now, almost exclusively centered on the counterfeits market in the West – namely, Europe and the USA – whereas fakes generate primarily from South and Southeast Asia. And for brand-aware customers such as myself hailing from this region, the image of counterfeits is slightly (read: vastly) different.

How? Let’s discuss.

The Culture of Counterfeits

“Aren’t you just tired of seeing Chanel everywhere? Buy this Michael Kors, show your real status!”

“I’m not a big fan of Gucci. I think it’s copying from Guess – and looks cheap!”

“Here, I have for you an authentic Aldo, directly from the UK, for the sophisticated, wealthy user. But if you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, I have Louis Vuittons for you too!”

Nope, these aren’t overly-aggressive marketing tactics gone awry. Rather, these are real comments and/or sales-talk passed by – wait for it – actual local handbag sellers from my city on Facebook live videos. At first glance, it’s puzzling. Why are these businesspeople (an overwhelming majority being women) trying to coax buyers into thinking contemporary and mall brands are more “sophisticated” than well-known luxury houses?

But you only need to encounter the first “premium-quality” Neverfull they display – complete with plasticky red trims, a top zip (with a frighteningly limp zipper pull hanging out), and is “so indistinguishable from the original even Louis Vuitton store employees wouldn’t know” – to understand that what they have on offer consists entirely of counterfeits.

Gucci Fall 2016 Bags 3

Authentic and counterfeit (right) bags in Paris via Racked

With fakes ingrained so deep into the minds of the buyers and sellers alike, what is inconceivable for users here is that someone would ever imagine, let alone be willing to, drop hundreds of thousands (in the local currency) on an original. So, the general argument that favors the purchase of the real deal – durability, cost-per-wear, and quality – literally flies out the window as most buyers, never having witnessed the genuine article, would rather buy more bags that last less so that they can switch up their cheap purchases at regular intervals!

Thus, with this convoluted idea of consuming luxuries, fed by the misinformation from sellers themselves, as witnessed above, consumers have come to recognize the brand names themselves – alongside keywords like “AAA” and “made in Paris” – but true awareness about brand identity is at an all-time low.

The Case for Counterfeits

The disturbing part about buying and selling counterfeits, especially in countries where misinformation is everywhere, is that it makes frighteningly good business sense.

We’re all quite aware of the general argument buyers of counterfeits resort to, as this article from The Guardian states,

“But if China can make the same goods, to the same standards, and at a fraction of the price, isn’t buying the cheaper unofficial version what any rational shopper should do?”

Nowadays, the luxury sector is as much about selling an intangible “experience” as much as it is about selling a tangible product – the glitzy marketing campaigns, the star endorsements, the elaborate play-act of exclusivity like Hermès – are all a testament to that. And as counterfeiters or counterfeit-buyers, one merely has to replicate the product’s outlook at the lowest price, and voilà, you have free and easy access to the brand’s appeal and the status it confers.

This is seen in countries in Southeast Asia where few luxury brands have retail stores; counterfeiters argue that they are raising brand awareness and making trends more accessible to all. It’s a question the film House of Gucci raises too, when Patrizia encounters her house-help carrying a knock-off version of the iconic Gucci Bamboo bag, but doesn’t explore sufficiently well to provide a definite answer.

Furthermore, while counterfeiting is illegal in most countries, the repercussions are minor enough to serve as possible low-risk sources of funding for organized crime. In Bangladesh, on the other hand, there isn’t any law on the subject at all. So, the biggest profiteers from the counterfeit industry here are large, taxpaying department stores with flashy storefronts registered under the category of “luxury handbag sellers.” Any qualms buyers might have otherwise had about breaking the law through the trade of fakes? Thus dismissed.

Louis Vuitton Neverfull GM

But Why Do Local Buyers Opt for Fakes?

The market for fakes, like most forms of crime, lies at the convergence of three factors: opportunity (lack of regulation on the subject), financial pressure (of the exorbitant costs of the original), and rationalization (as apparent from the buying behavior of counterfeit-buyers). But for the unique context of my country, there’s another aspect at play – convenience.

As apparent from my trials and tribulations in buying luxuries on resale through intermediaries, the process of actually getting your hands on genuine products – whether new or pre-owned – is relatively difficult for locals here unless they are traveling abroad. One needs to obtain the services of an intermediary, who is likely to charge a premium over the product’s price. At the same time, the process itself is lengthy and fraught with uncertainties (remember the time I waited six months for a Balenciaga that never materialized?)

Hence, what with the ease of buying fakes and the perception of status rather than the more usual taboo surrounding the counterfeits themselves (*my fake Birkin is more expensive than your fake Birkin*), paired with the limited avenues available for getting authentics, makes the decision process for most buyers, even if they can purchase an original, unfairly inclined towards replicas.

And speaking of users who are aware of the differences between genuine and replica items, the fact that most popular silhouettes are widely counterfeited is a deterrent for them: “people will think it’s fake anyways, so why spend that much on the real thing?”

Further rationalization takes the form of pleading that fake-buying behavior is driven by financial constraints that can’t hurt or cannibalize the brand’s sales; as Steven Brown, from Batley, UK, told BBC,

“I’ve bought fake handbags for my wife. We both knew that a Gucci bag for £20 would be fake and not last as long as a real one. Is it really stealing revenue from a company if I would never buy a genuine Gucci bag?”

Others are more upfront about their nonchalance towards the big brands, citing that it is neither their moral obligation to protect luxury fashion houses nor would the companies go out of business because of them. Perhaps that’s true for the bigger brands, but for smaller brands, it’s certainly a distinct possibility.

But where does the extent of this psychological distortion lead to? It isn’t uncommon either for a certain class of fake buyers to perceive themselves as “financially savvy,” “shrewd shoppers,” or “street smart” in allegedly having “beaten the system.”

Hermes Birkin Blue

My Stance on Counterfeits

Unlike most people, my entry and awareness of the world of luxury fashion came through the world of counterfeits. My introduction to the Gucci logo came not from the quintessential interlocking GGs, but from a GD print. The first time I came across the actual Louis Vuitton Monogram, I realized it’s not just a random juxtaposition of shapes like most lookalikes but a strictly-defined pattern.

Ultimately, however, I’ve ended up as a critic of counterfeits because, purely from what I’ve observed, they haven’t served anybody well. Yes, it’s cheaper with the same outlook, so it sounds rational from a financial perspective. But that entices buyers to buy more fakes, and eventually, what they spend on a large collection of low-priced knock-offs turns out to be much more than what they would have spent on a well-thought-out luxury purchase.

Not to mention there are all the usual arguments of counterfeits proliferating dishonest behavior, and funding terrorism, child labor, and sweatshop practices. A hard no for me.

The issue of counterfeits is one that’s hotly debated now following high-profile instances of the notorious article on The Cut and allegations against brands of selling counterfeits from their store.

But at the end of the day, whether we buy a fake is purely a personal decision without a definite answer, just like the subject of buying full-priced authentics or pre-loved merchandise too comes with strings attached. Some people take pride in them; some, such as myself, have simply lost our tastes in them. However, at least we should be able to own up to ourselves regarding our choices, as Carrie laments in the SATC episode:

“Even if everyone else knew it was real, I’d always know that mine came from a cardboard box in a trunk.”

So, in this utopia of fakes, which side are you on?

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Jerri R
Jerri R
4 months ago

Can’t pay the price and don’t want cheaper brands? Just buy vintage. Vintage bags are hardly ever faked, and from the way they have aged beautifully, you can just tell there is no way that they are fake.

Fact check
Fact check
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerri R

This is not true. Fakes are not a product of the 21st century. There are vintage fakes made decades ago, and there are are fakes made today of vintage styles.

Jerri R
Jerri R
3 months ago
Reply to  Fact check

I disagree. There is no way a fake would age as beautifully as some vintage ones I have seen.

Fact check
Fact check
3 months ago
Reply to  Jerri R

I’m sorry to disillusion you, but I have seen in-person high quality vintage fakes, and high quality fakes made recently of vintage styles. There really, truly is actually a way fakes look and age beautifully. It’s best to be realistic about what fakes are like to protect oneself from buying vintage fakes.

Jerri R
Jerri R
3 months ago
Reply to  Fact check

I don’t think you and I have the same standard when viewing vintage bags. What you see as a fake bag “aging beautifully” may not be so beautiful to me.

Jenny
Jenny
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerri R

100% agree. I’m a little obsessed with vintage these days.

Galadriel
Galadriel
4 months ago
Reply to  Jenny

The satisfaction of bringing an old bag back to life is substantial.

Aspen
Aspen
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerri R

That’s not always true. They’re are definitely bags that exist that are made to look vintage but are just replicas too.
I do agree with the first sentiment though.

Jerri R
Jerri R
3 months ago
Reply to  Aspen

Never said 100% it is true, so…?

Nelia Kanakubo
Nelia Kanakubo
4 months ago

I do that here in Japan.

Sally
Sally
4 months ago

Always get a bag that matches your personality ✨

Eos
Eos
4 months ago

Sajid, this article was, in my opinion, one of the most thoughtful, researched and informative Purseblog has featured so far.
It was extremely interesting and I thank you so much for the time you have put writing it.

Celeste
Celeste
4 months ago

I have always enjoyed reading your articles but this one truly is exceptional. As a fellow Bangladeshi living in Canada I can relate to the thought process of both sides of the spectrum. And you have totally nailed it on how people view counterfeits outside the West,

Status quo (as you touched upon) holds a very important role within the middle/upper middle class section. Thus you see all this form of peddling to the masses as well as quantity over quality ideology.

However the same can be said for replicas and fast fashion. Those of us who buy clothes from Zara, H&M, Mango, Aldo (many also made in Bangladesh) do so because of the price point, items resembling iconic items (you’ll find horsebit loafers at a fraction of the cost than Gucci at these sites).

A lot of people appreciate mixing of high and low brands. But where do we draw the line? Can someone carry a real LV bag while sporting mules that look similar to Gucci’s? Is it an all or nothing deal?

Penny
Penny
4 months ago
Reply to  Celeste

Counterfeiting/replicas copy the brand’s copyright, logos, trademarks, and etc. that is NOT the same as some copycat knockoff from Zara. That horsebit loafer from Zara nowhere has the Gucci logo or trademarks. In fact, it doesn’t have the same style horsebit either.

That’s why these luxury brands have these counterfeits seized in customs. No luxury brand is having Zara or any fast fashion knockoff seized at customs.

Yazi
Yazi
4 months ago

Not counterfeiting exactly but I buy bags that have a similar design to the original brand bag. Often I just like the shape of a bag and its functionality and don’t want to pay upwards of 3000 dollars.

I have a handful of genuine designer bags from LV, Givenchy, etc but the more brands raise prices the more ridiculous it seems. Especially when compared to the “real” value if money.

Note that I’m not a Westerner, nor do I live in the West. The currency exchange rate is a big factor in any purchase decision. These days I find myself gravitating toward brands that have better quality rather than a “big name”, like Polene and Mulberry. Some small ateliers in Greece and Turkey also do great bags at a fraction of the price of designer ones and with better leathers.

Disclaimer: this is my personal opinion. No judgement from me on those who buy designer or fake bags.

Yazi
Yazi
4 months ago

Mmm.. paying for status and prestige. To each their own.

Princesschippy
Princesschippy
4 months ago
Reply to  Yazi

Not true that people buying contemp and from local artisans can’t afford mainstream designer . trust me when I say that I know some VERY wealthy folk who wouldn’t touch LV, Chanel, etc but who buy from artisans in Italy or Morocco or happily buy contemporary brands…. or The Row. They just think LV, Chanel etc is…trashy. (I have LV and Gucci etc so not my opinion, I buy what I like, logo or not) but certainly some “old money” people think logos are really trashy.

Sammi
Sammi
4 months ago
Reply to  Yazi

..

Donna Harper
Donna Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Yazi

Bougie indeed

Galadriel
Galadriel
4 months ago

Fakes fund terrorism the Boston bombing was funded with the sale of fake merch. Feigning ignorance on this well covered fact is tackier than the bag itself.
When I see you tube vids selling or comparing fakes I report them whether it makes a difference or not. https://www.ted.com/talks/alastair_gray_how_fake_handbags_fund_terrorism_and_organized_crime

https://www.cbp.gov/trade/fakegoodsrealdangers

The FBI has had senate hearings on how organized crime and terrorist raise funds using immigrants in the US to seek the law goods online and in markets in the US that have been broadcasted on CSPAN.

If you’re buying illegal drugs being imported from Mexico you’re supporting the murder of locals students that protest the violence and journalists that report on it in areas where cartels are active. Mass burial sites are reported on Spanish television monthly.

If you’re buying counterfeit goods made anywhere you’re funding the abuse or people through human trafficking and other organized crime operations including but not limited to terrorism and drug cartels. There is no traceable factor and agents in the FBI and interpol spend entire careers tracking and cracking down to solve cases. There’s plenty of information online about this.
Thats all there is to it. Your accountability is your responsibility. Fashion is art we can observe and be satisfied we are not meant to own each piece created. When you are satisfied with that reality, fakes are obsolete.

rufiny
rufiny
4 months ago
Reply to  Galadriel

Our federal tax money are funding wars and killing people anyway. How can I escape?!

Bianca
Bianca
4 months ago
Reply to  Galadriel

Please be aware that Spanish Television means from Spain ( Europe). I think you meant Hispanic television. Quite a different concept.

galadriel
galadriel
4 months ago
Reply to  Bianca

Bianca, porfavor. News about Mexico and other Latin American countries and issues are broadcasted globally in Spanish, English, French and German. France 24 has broadcasted on this topic several times.
Mon Dieu this blog. 534 Spanish speakers in the world and you’re telling me I meant “hispanic” television.

Mary
Mary
4 months ago
Reply to  Galadriel

Sorry but where do you think any mainstream or authentic product is made? Do you really think there is so abuse of human rights and that everyone is getting paid living wages?

galadriel
galadriel
4 months ago
Reply to  Mary

Strawman fallacy see comment below with definition.

Byredo
Byredo
4 months ago
Reply to  Galadriel

And yet the device you are most likely typing on most likely was made by a factory that literally installed suicide nets around it to keep employees from jumping.

Or as I tried to explain to a dear friend of mine who was very pompous about her purchase of an EV and being a true environmentalist that her EV is being charged by the local coal plant since she didn’t install any solar or wind energy (which has tremendous environmental impact in production and disposal) and that children as young as 6 tend to be working in those mines….oh and those diamonds…

I think – the most compelling argument of counterfeits is the trademark infringement. The rest? Slippery slope of morality because if you are consuming goods? You are part of the outsourcing of environmental and labor exploitation across the world.

galadriel
galadriel
4 months ago
Reply to  Byredo

Was waiting for this response. Thanks for the strawman. It took longer than expected.
For those who don’t know this comment is a fallacy
straw man (sometimes written as strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one.[1] One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”.
The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., “stand up a straw man”) and the subsequent refutation of that false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the opponent’s proposition.[2][3] Straw man arguments have been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly regarding highly charged emotional subjects.[citation needed]

Last edited 4 months ago by galadriel
Jerri R
Jerri R
3 months ago
Reply to  galadriel

For those of us uninformed, which part of Byerdo’s argument is false?

shelley anne
shelley anne
4 months ago

I have plenty of authentic’s and plenty of authentic’s that I have sold I needed money and bought fakes on certain items which have been reproduced so perfectly it’s very hard to tell the difference, neverfull monogram. Sure I’d rather have the authentic it just doesn’t feel the same, but some of both is not such a sin. I’ve worked hard all my life paid a ton of taxes on my life and I’m not gonna let this make me feel like some kind of criminal

Laura W
Laura W
4 months ago
Reply to  shelley anne

You aren’t the criminal. The makers and sellers of the counterfeit items are the criminals.

shelley anne
shelley anne
4 months ago
Reply to  Laura W

and what do u say when I tell u , I got
it on amazon….

Lachimolala
Lachimolala
4 months ago

I felt why Counterfeit’s getting demanded because the authentic quality is bad.
Back then we have vintage bags passes down from mum which in good condition.
They say if a prada bag never spoil it means you bag is fake.

Byredo
Byredo
4 months ago
Reply to  Lachimolala

No doubt – seeing some of the Chanel issues with the Chanel 22 bags? No freaking way would I continue to give that house money with how awful the leather quality has been. But they keep raising prices.. and yet there are those who will keep throwing it at them.

Lady dior
Lady dior
4 months ago

And those who know…recognize them as fakes.

Kimberly
Kimberly
4 months ago
Reply to  Lady dior

Exactly! It’s the quality of luxury that is the appeal, not a cheap knock off!

Donna Harper
Donna Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Lady dior

Exactly! Living in Atlanta, I see the majority of women sporting an obviously fake Chanel or LV bag wearing cheap clothes and shoes. It’s comical, yet sad. Your self worth is not based on material objects.

Mary
Mary
4 months ago
Reply to  Donna Harper

You contradicted yourself there. You clearly care what others think about you.

Trixie Low
Trixie Low
4 months ago
Reply to  Donna Harper

Wow, some incredibly douchey statements! Clearly your self worth’s are determined by making incredibly snotty remarks about other people. Cheap clothes and shoes doesn’t mean anything. And if you KNOW it’s a fake, then good for you.

Lynda
Lynda
4 months ago

Handbag decisions for me are driven by how much I like the look, versatility, cost and brand – in that order. Because it’s for me and not for others, I purchase real, authentic every time. I am worth it, not whether the cost of the item is worth the price, but rather because I am worth it.

Taste The Rainbow