Counterfeit items cross the line of fairness and labor
By Cady Lang
A trip to the city usually involves some kind of shopping. With hundreds of vendors on the streets selling dirt-cheap, “are-they-real?” pashmina scarves and Dolce & Gabbana imitation sunglasses, a bargain waits around every corner. For more adventurous fashionistas, the underground black market of designer purse counterfeiters hide in the backrooms of often-seedy shops in Chinatown, concealed from police scrutiny and confiscations.
However, these so-called “good deals” question whether it’s worth it to have a faux designer purse or other articles of clothing and accessories at the expense of human rights. Counterfeit products not only rob designers of intellectual property but are also connected to heinous activities like drug trafficking, terrorism and child labor.
Harper’s Bazaar’s “Fakes Are Never in Fashion” campaign (which exposes criminal activities connected to the sale of luxury goods) reports that 10 percent of all goods purchased worldwide every year are fakes, a percentage that translates to a whopping $600 billion in sales every year worldwide.
One of the contributors to the Fakes Are Never in Fashion campaign, Dana Thomas, wrote a sobering book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, about the horrendous situations that stem from the counterfeit production; in it, she describes an assembly plant in Thailand, where she relates “seeing six or seven little children, all under 10 years old, sitting on the floor, assembling counterfeit leather handbags. The owner had broken the children’s legs and tied the lower leg to the thigh so the bones wouldn’t mend. [They] did it because the children said they wanted to go outside and play.”
However, counterfeit goods are not just limited to sketchy backrooms; ever-popular “purse parties,” where consultants sell “overstock” designer goods much in the same manner as a Tupperware consultant or Avon lady, are merely another vehicle for counterfeit goods. Any wary consumer with gumption would be aware that designer goods would rarely sell for the relatively low price that a purse party consultant charges. It’s also important to note that designers often destroy extra products that they will not be selling retail or sending to certified outlet stores, which would make it impossible to purchase an authentic designer item via a purse party or backroom.
Additionally, counterfeits can pose serious safety issues for the consumers themselves. Since selling counterfeit goods is illegal, items are often sold in the backs of vans, isolated basements or abandoned buildings. When police raid these establishments, customers can find themselves trapped in buildings for hours, without electricity or means of escape.
For people who buy counterfeit personal products like fake designer perfumes, the consequences of their decision to buy counterfeit products could make them sick. Faux designer perfumes have been found to have bacteria-laden ingredients like anti-freeze and urine. Since perfume is absorbed through the body’s largest organ, skin, consumers could suffer serious consequences.
Is it really worth it to purchase counterfeit goods when they endanger not only the workers who made them but also the consumers? Being trendy or fashionably elite should not come at the expense of another’s well-being, or, for that matter, your own.
No trend, no knock-off pair of jeans, no counterfeit “it” bag is worth exploiting someone; you should only shop for what you can afford to buy (meaning that it’s impractical to want to buy a pair of Louboutin stilettos if a pair of Steve Madden ones are going to break the bank). It’s better to shop within your price range than support unethical production practices and have the appearance of a designer item. There are plenty of options for still being fashion-forward and ethical. One of the best ways to get name brand items on a budget is to shop at consignment, vintage or thrift shops. In Ithaca, Trader K’s has a great selection of previously-owned designer jeans that are sold for a fraction of the price.
Using common sense is probably the easiest and most practical way to avoid buying fakes; if a price for a “brand new” designer item is too good to be true, it probably is. If a location is not an official, affiliated retailer (for ec=xample, it if it’s in the backroom of a seedy shop in Chinatown), then you should probably avoid purchasing “designer” items from there.
Finally, re-evaluating your interpretation of fashion can be the simplest way to ensure that your style is ethical. Fashion is more than just one’s physical appearance or material goods—it’s a means of self-expression. Choosing to support child labor or unethical production practices in order to keep up an image cramps everyone’s style.
Cady Lang is a freshman journalism major who doesn’t have to fake it to make it. E-mail her at email@example.com.