There is an emerging niche trend in counterfeits, and it threatens to destroy luxury fashion. Why are replicas so dangerous?
Counterfeit sales have never been higher, with annual trade in fake goods today worth almost half a trillion dollars. High pressure on consumers to keep up with trends, especially perpetrated by unrealistic ideals set by social media, are arguably to blame for the recent rise of fake fashion, as consumers are keen to show their status but also keen to save on purchases. And indeed it can be difficult to know that a website is listing a counterfeit item; fakes are often of a high quality (or of “better quality” than originals according to Alibaba’s Jack Ma) and the websites that sell them increasingly advanced in imitation and technological capabilities.
Whilst unintentional purchasing of counterfeits poses a threat to a luxury brand, as an inferior product threatens reputability and the company loses control of their trademark, damaging brand equity, a more worrying trend is a market for intentionally-purchased counterfeits.
This is exactly what the fashion world is facing, with websites specifically dedicated to buying high-quality replica fashion items steadily growing in popularity. As the majority of counterfeit goods are made in China, the rise of e-commerce makes the trend accessible. Under extreme pressure from luxury brands, e-commerce sites like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba are beginning to respond to the problem of counterfeits, but suppliers and end-consumers invariably find ways to circumvent crackdowns; we previously wrote on how consumers use cover keywords to search for branded fakes on Aliexpress, how Taobao uses pseudo listings to sell infringing products, and how Amazon distribution channels can be corrupted.
These products can keep up with trends and releases in real-time, can mass-manufacture without consideration of calculated exclusivity and can save on the bulk of upfront costs like development and marketing. Fake products, listed on e-commerce sites but also sold through emerging channels like Whatsapp and WeChat, are marketed through consumers sharing and tagging products over social media.
r/FashionReps, a Reddit community with over 50,000 subscribers, seeks to unite its members with 1:1 replicas, or replicas that are near-identical to genuine products. It offers advice to replica buyers and shares information on sites and methods of purchasing fakes. Speaking to Highsnobiety, a moderator of the subreddit admits that he is starting to believe that replicas may be “diluting exclusivity”, i.e. destroying the very concept that luxury fashion hinges on. He points to resale markets driving the trend for replica fashion, with resales of popular shoes priced at ten times their original retail. The problem is exacerbated by automated purchase ‘bots’ that buy large quantities of new releases the very second they go on sale, in order to resell products for profit. The problem is a difficult one for luxury fashion brands to control, as impossible demand is, again, what their very image rests upon.
In this the question of who is to blame for counterfeits is raised. Fashion companies have been quick to point the finger at e-commerce sites, but after recent steps taken by eBay and Amazon to clamp down on counterfeiting many have turned their attention to businesses based in China, where the goods originate.
Replica culture arguably has its origins in China as well as its goods. In China Shanzai, the practice of creating and wearing high-quality counterfeits as a complimentary nod to the original, has grown in recent years as Chinese consumerism and a taste for self-expression grows faster than domestic income. Within fashion shanzai is supported by a network of fashion-loving young female designers, who tend to start out selling their knock-off designs as a hobby. One such designer, speaking to SupChina, explains how the practice is made possible because of “the generation that learned to use the internet”; commercially shanzai functions through Weibo, WeChat and Taobao - as well as relying on its autonomous community of marketers on Reddit. Understanding how the changing Chinese consumer and technological advances have affected counterfeiting and attitudes towards it are key to extinguishing the practice; if tech is the means then tech surely also is the key to fighting fakes.
A carefully designed brand protection strategy is crucial to the success of a luxury fashion brand. In an industry whose very existence is based upon innovation and staying current with trends, it should go without saying that a sound brand protection solution for a fashion brand should employ tech to implement a long-term result. An in-depth awareness about factors that threaten a brand, including counterfeits, will also be highly beneficial in adapting to customers’ demands and also in understanding the inner workings behind such operations in order to quash them for good.