The fashion industry is more or less dictated by trends; current, past and future. What's hot and what's not. As a result, this puts pressure on the fashion forward to keep up with the industry in order to prove their knowledge of and loyalty to the fashion industry. Combine this with 21st century self-worth degradation (especially amongst women) and you get an unstoppable industry. Being predominantly image-based, shopping-savvy fashion consumers will hunt for the perfect balance between trend and price. This is where counterfeiting comes in.
The most coveted fashion pieces are often the most expensive, as often desire correlates with price (see the rising value of the Chanel 2.55). It's not often you come across someone who's lifelong dream is to own a Nissan Micra (no offence Nissan) or a Primark blouse (no offence Primark). The fashion concious long to afford Christian Louboutin, Hermes or rare pieces such as the discontinued Chanel 2.55 original jumbo not maxi handbag with the large clasp not small, or a Louis Vuitton handbag that Audrey Hepburn's friend's sister's dog's puppy pee'd on in that one film in the 70s that got a rating of 3.4 on IMDB. Basically, the more unobtainable and uncommon, the more desirable. However, our dream purchases often increase in unattainability as we get older because we become concious that we're running out of time, especially when we compare ourselves to those similar to ourselves, who have already found a dog pee bag. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that more people are buying counterfeit designer goods than ever.
Firstly, let me outline the difference between designer-inspired and counterfeit. Designer-inspired pieces take influence from luxury brands and mimic the aesthetics in a take of their own. For this example, let's take one of the most influential designer pieces of the moment, the pioneer of the winged handbag; Céline which happens to be a current favourite to copy with an abundance of counterfeit Céline t-shirts currently gracing eBay and the blogging community. Counterfeits are pieces that claim to or suggest that they have been created by a luxury brand when they have not, with the biggest tell-tale sign being logo branding. They're not all cheap and poorly made either, with 'A+++' grade genuine leather replicas being sold for hundreds of pounds. It's also important to note that counterfeiting is not restricted to luxury high-end brands either, especially in the cosmetics industry where brands such as L'Oreal and Maybelline are imitated, as well as mid-market brands in the fashion industry such as Fred Perry.
I have never been too phased about counterfeit goods other than cosmetics, because they were the goods that put consumers directly at harm. I used to say "Fake MAC can blind you but fake Chanel can't." Saying that, I was very particular with non-cosmetic counterfeits (mainly handbags) and previously believed that if you were going to fake it, fake it well or you'll be harming the reputation of the luxury brands. I couldn't stand the sight of mis-shaped fleurs de lis on a Louisa Vuitton or a flimsy-looking Shanel. I supported the trading of replicas within reason because I assumed that the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace were all filthy rich already, they wouldn't miss a couple thousand pounds which they would otherwise spend on extravagant cat food laced in diamonds (much to the cat's demise). It had never occurred to me that other people were being harmed, albeit not necessarily in a physical way as likened to the counterfeit cosmetics industry.
Drapers recently reported that counterfeits cost the Europeon fashion industry £5 billion each year and an overall of 400,000 jobs have been permanently lost in the past 20 years, as a result and that's in the UK alone. Throughout developed countries, the number rises to 2.5 million which is roughly 19,000 jobs a year. The World Customs Organisation reported that 7% of the world's trade and approximately 10% of the fashion trade is counterfeit with a massive 22% knowingly buying counterfeit products. Costs to the industry include reputation management, legal action, infringement, brand value and of course job losses.
The trouble with mass replication especially within the music industry, is that we soon grow accustomed to it. Music trends such as auto-tuning and dubstep come and go, and much like the over-playing of songs (I'm looking at you, Gotye), the novelty and initial attraction soon wears off. This is the same for designer replicas, remember the Mulberry Alexa bag? The abundance of this design has made it less appealing to people, as it is now perceived as a 'common' piece and has almost no exclusivity any more. Remember, people want what is unobtainable and uncommon.
So should we stop?
What about all the manufacturing jobs that have been created in order to fulfil the increasing demand for fake fashion? What if you didn't know your bag was a fake and just liked the look of it? There is a fine line between designer-inspired and fake, and it is almost undetectable at times. Apple have sued a number of companies for a number of things, things that some would class as an obvious 'imitation' and some as 'inspired'. And what do we do with existing replica goods? Do we throw them away even though we've spent our hard-earned money on them? How do we avoid ever buying counterfeits in the future when imitation goods are becoming more and more convincing? I know for a fact that it's near impossible to check that every single thing you buy isn't fake. Take the horse meat scandal; all this time our beef has been fake and we were non the wiser.
The world thrives on faking it. Human beings are greedy; we want more money, more food, more luxuries. It is programmed within us to be greedy. Survival of the fittest has developed from hunting for food in the stone age, to hunting for bargains in the modern day. We're obsessed with statuses and labels, and sometimes we're too ignorant to even care about the consequences of our actions. Take the counterfeit cosmetics industry, you'll be surprised how many people know that fake MAC has non-approved (sometimes lead) ingredients in them that may permanently blind you, yet still choose to buy it because they want the reassurance and acceptance of owning something that has the letters 'M', 'A' and 'C' on it.
The ethical issues we would associate with counterfeiting like child labour and exploitation may also apply to the non-counterfeit industry. It is no secret that high-street stores such as Primark and Topshop exploit labour in the Far East but you don't ever see statistics and public reports about it.
I've learnt from reading Drapers and The Business of Fashion how hard and far people have come to work for global luxury brands and for that, I truly believe that our obsession with faking is counter-productive. It damages our self esteem, puts jobs and maybe even lives at risk and is certainly not taking the moral high ground. However, there would be a multitude of new issues that would stem from the abolition of this trade. The whole world has become so saturated in counterfeits that even celebrities have their hands on them. Trying to stop or even slow down this illicit activity would prove to be almost insurmountable.
“They don’t realise what they are fuelling is criminal activity. We have a generation now that is more worried about image than morality,” - Ben Muir
I hope you have found this post as absorbing as I have found researching it and I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this issue. I am always up for a healthy discussion. Please remember that at the end of the day, your health and your happiness are what truly matters. Be thankful for what you have and for the privilege of being able to buy such luxuries like handbags. As tomorrow is the last day of March, be sure to check my Philanthropy page to see what charity I will be donating to for the month of March. If you have any suggestions, be sure to leave a comment on the page!
[The irony of this post is that from this, comes a bombardment of fake handbag spam comments.]