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An exploration into the effect of counterfeit consumerism

Six teary eyed women circled the mobile device as they stared at the loss of a colleague’s stolen goods, the ultimate accessory – the handbag. “Louis, Chanel, Geiger, but the greatest loss was my black statement Mulberry.” Three men had broken into her home, walked passed the fifty-inch plasm, left the children’s Ipads, ignored the fine china and headed for the clothes closet, where they knew quick and easy money could be made. But when her statement Mulberry eventually finds itself in the hands of a new owner, it will go for a fraction of the retail price. Why? Because its leather imprinted tree certainly didn’t grow in the luxury of a Mulberry factory, however in the hands of a counterfeit labourer.

For decades, tourists have been drawn to the back-street markets in major cities that offer cheaper versions of the ‘real thing’, but counterfeit purchases are becoming ever more common with the click of a button and independent online sellers. The ease of purchase increases the demand of production and as customers we find ourselves wrapped in the cellophane of the counterfeit market.

“our desire to look the part is affecting the designers who create the image we seek

The primary question that we must ask ourselves is, why do we indulge in counterfeit consumerism? It’s no secret that the financial cost of a fake item doesn’t unstitch the lining of our pockets like that of a famous designer brand. But what is it that makes consumers return to counterfeit markets? Whilst the original designer brands come at a price, they also connote the image of success that customers desire; possession-defined success as Professor Adrian Furnham names it. This is arguably the driving force of counterfeit consumerism. However, our desire to look the part is affecting the designers who create the image we seek. Names such as, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel are designers whose monograms lace each corner of the world and because of their world recognition, they have become vulnerable to counterfeit crime.

But what is the effect of our counterfeit consumerism? Counterfeiting goes beyond Carrie Bradshaw’s fear of cheap-looking, bottom of the trunk goods; it goes beyond our dishonour to Chanel and is now widely regarded as a serious social, economic, and political issue. It’s no secret that fashion is a complex art that has taken years of ever evolving perfection. The existence of the counterfeit market insults the talent of the fashion industry and robs it of its authenticity. Brands such as Louis Vuitton have built an ancestral house and work to protect its individual craftsmanship, as one spokesperson claimed by “fighting the illegal network that infringe on human rights, the environment and global economy.”

Unlike the authentic craft of designer goods, counterfeit items are made cheap materials to construct designs that have not been tested in conditions that fail to accommodate safe working conditions. Counterfeit crime has a devastating effect on communities where labourers often work in appalling conditions and earn an insufficient amount producing fake products. This year Inews reported “most imitations are made in unregulated factories in middle-income or third-world countries, with some using child slave labour. China produces more than 80 per cent of the counterfeit goods seized in Europe, according to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).”

Whilst these products are being made in countries such as China, Vietnam or Russia, the issue lies and can only be stopped by the consumers themselves in Europe or the USA. If the customers are made aware of the effects of their consumerism, they will avoid indulging in the counterfeit chain, rippling a stop to their production. As consumers and tax-payers, it is our moral responsibility to ensure our consumerism is not infringing the tax laws and investing money where money should not be made. Last year’s Intellectual Property report found that 4% of all UK imports made in 2013, were counterfeit. This results in a loss of sixty thousand jobs in the manufacturing industry and £4 billion lost in tax revenue.

Whilst consumers must acknowledge their part and responsibility in this issue, brands have begun to take it upon themselves to cease the trading of counterfeit goods. In 2010, Louis Vuitton initiated over thirty thousand anti-counterfeiting procedures worldwide, resulting in the seizure of thousands of counterfeit products and the breaking up of criminal networks.” However, these procedures cannot prevent the production, selling or buying of replica items worldwide and the ease of this is putting the real industry at risk. France introduced new measures to discourage buying counterfeit luxury goods with the Real Ladies Don’t Like Fake campaign, where legislation allows for consumers to be jailed up to three years. Adverts had been placed around airports to raise awareness of the issue and consequences. However, will this suffice as a strong enough deterrent of counterfeit consumerism and will we ever take responsibility for ceasing the fake market?