It is rare for a consumer to fully understand the supply chain of the products they buy. It is standard to mindlessly purchase something that is a perceived ‘good deal.’ Counterfeit fashion goods are no exception as the industry boasts up to one trillion dollars. The lack of recognition for where the money goes when it comes to forged goods is astounding based on how illegal the practice is.
It seems like an obvious mental leap: illegal product is clearly made illegally. However, this is passively (or actively) overlooked. Money within the industry is typically what is referred to as ‘dirty money,’ and funds money laundering, child labour, human trafficking, gang activity and terrorism.
This is all at the expense of those who produce the product. Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, recounts her visit to a factory in China where about ten children were sitting on the floor, sewing handbags. Their legs were broken by the factory owner as a punishment for requesting to play outside. These are not the conditions of every factory producing illegal product, but is not often portrayed in the public eye. This is due to how difficult it is to find these factories and the slyness of the industry in general. The products are cheaper because so many corners are cut – from dangerous chemicals to sweatshops.
The paper-trails of these goods is typically unclear. Consumers may choose to actively dismiss these unclear origins of product when a trendy style is available for little money. The previous French terrorist attack in 2015 at Charlie Hebdo Newspaper has been traced back to being funded by counterfeit product. According to Tommy Hilfiger’s Alastair Grey, terrorists bought the guns used with funds gained from selling illegal luxury sneakers. This is more normal than consumers may think. Grey discusses how often sellers will be overlooked by watch-groups as buying fakes from a distributor in China is less suspicious than other, more extreme criminal activity. The cause and effect of this discounting of crime is giving sellers money to partake in terrorism, human trafficking and child labour. These sellers are difficult to track due to counterfeited shipping papers (they can not be tracked by customs) and fake brands masquerading as a non-descript fashion company that is actually full of fake luxury.
Whether this is through physical or online channels, the market is a hot-bed of corruption. Online channels are a large way to distribute counterfeit goods as they are more anonymous and can easily trick unassuming consumers who may not be aware that what they are buying is fake.
A criticism of the luxury fashion industry is that they focus on getting rid of fakes within the industry while they are sometimes producing their own ‘real’ product in sub-par conditions. It is important to not excuse the lack of recognition for luxury market production issues just because the fake luxury market is arguably worse. There is the argument that luxury goods have earned their perceived status through quality, artistic vision and heritage. These are values that fake goods capitalise on. It is not seen as an ethical practice to steal that ‘hard work’ that legitimate brands have gained through years of self-distinguishing marketing efforts. Counterfeits do not need to market, design or properly produce anything, and this leads to pure profit. Alastair Grey also discusses how fake goods are more profitable than the illegal selling of commodities like drugs as well as the fact that the repercussions of fake selling is not intense for it is seen as a low-level crime.
The fashion industry is a huge. It is seen as an impenetrable mass of commerce, yet it is estimated that the industry loses fifteen to twenty billion dollars annually due to counterfeits. This means countless jobs, concepts and funds are essentially stolen from the industry. This injustice trickles down to every level of this process. At the top, the luxury market is hurt, the producers of the fake items are subjected to poor conditions, the consumer is getting a sub-par item as well as funding a group that will most likely use the funds to hurt society in the future. It is not a victimless crime. It is all in the name of fashion and obsession with image. Perception of what is desirable drives this market and it is up to the consumer to decide what they are willing to support. So, what can be done for those who can’t afford luxury, but want the pieces? The second hand luxury market has gained a huge following within the past few years. These prices are relatively affordable and contribute to the circular fashion economy – building sustainability within the industry. Creating informed shoppers is what can help raise awareness on this industry and make people understand what they are funding.
HULA uses an App called Entrupy to authenticate their branded handbags to ensure consumers that what they are buying is real and not contributing to the counterfeit market. It is a program with 99.1% accuracy and uses a range of algorithms to test a handbag’s authenticity.
Beyond this, a group of fashion expert employees is constantly monitoring new-in product to ensure the top standards are met for authenticity and condition. This is all in the effort to make shopping for second-hand luxury the best option when you have a craving for an affordable designer good.