Updated: Feb 22
It was a typical subtropical evening in Soho, Hong Kong and despite her hunger, Sally decided not to join us for dinner. She was sick of the humidity and the novelty of the Temple Street night market had worn off. "I've had a long day at work Ange and I can't face the stench of the food at the market or people gnawing on chicken bones tonight, I'm sorry. Please go without me".
"Nǚshì nǚshì gēn wǒ lái " he squawked, as he poked my upper arm waving a list at me. "Nǚshì nǚshì gēn wǒ lái " he repeated, pointing at a make-shift market door splashed with sauce. This was the second time I had encountered the creme-de-la-mar in counterfeit goods at a night street market in Hong Kong.
"Wait near the door," I said, "if I'm not out in 10 minutes come and find me". Not one of my finer moves to be honest but fairly tame on reflection, and exactly what I was told to expect.
I absolutely love shopping in China. Fast-talking, walk and talk sales technics amuse are normal in cities, but more common in China because if you are caught red-handed selling fraudulent counterfeit goods in public places the Chinese police make an arrest. Original designer clothes with the original label still in place, although the label is usually slightly cutaway in the middle. Balenciaga, Fendi, Mui Mui, Prada, Valentino, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, the quality was remarkable. Stolen I thought, not counterfeit.
I became interested in fashion and design when I was really young. My Mum worked for John Lewis Partnership for 40 years so quality was something I grow up with and of a weekend while I was studying Graphic Design I worked at Wadesmith a luxury designer shop in Liverpool so I appreciate quality and I can spot a fake a mile off. Wadesmith was the only shop of its kind, at that time in Liverpool and it wasn't uncommon to see celebrities of the '90s shopping in-store. Unfortunately, the shop closed because the owners got greedy and started counterfeiting run-of-the-mill designer jeans so they sold everything off to Arcadia Group. It was a sad time because setting up a successful business and buying products consumers want isn't easy and Wadesmith did this brilliantly. As opposed to counterfeiting run-of-the-mill-jeans which is deceitful towards loyal consumers who put their trust in an established brand.
Back to Hong Kong, sorry!
I had been gone for 5 minutes. I am stood in a dark rather sweet-smelling kitchen surrounded by boxes containing Louis Vuitton city steamer, the most copied designer bag on the planet. Everything I was shown was high-end counterfeit. "Special price for you lady 1905-3811 HK dollars," which is roughly £200-400 GBP, as opposed to an original crocodile-skin city steamer with a price tag of £45,675 GBP. It hurts to say but as counterfeits go everything the gentleman showed me was a work of art. If you shut your eyes to the fact I was stood in a street market kitchen holding a torch with a small, very polite Chinese man hoovering close to me, the only other shopping abnormality was the quality of the lining and the string on the bag protector which wasn't quite right, oh and when I asked if any of the replicas are fireproof he replied "no lady." From the outside, everything looked real. I didn't buy anything, I was just really curious and could not resist wandering off as part of the shopping experience.
What is counterfeiting and why is it illegal?
Counterfeit goods are unauthorised copies of an authentic product. Fake logos, fake branding, fake packaging, fake prices and fake products. Sold on the street, in private social media groups and on fraudulent websites. Online the victim will not realise they are a victim of fraud until the online purchase turns up at the door and it is not what they ordered. After recently working for a successful Spanish fashion brand this particular counterfeiting technic is reported all the time. If you are shopping online always check your URL (Uniform Resource Locator AKA website address) before you proceed to the checkout. You may start shopping on the correct website URL however hacked websites divert to a duplicate site - find online shopping tips here.
Counterfeiting is illegal because it is passing off fake items as original without the permission of the intellectual property owner (the designer, the brand owner) which means it is in breach of intellectual property laws.
The consequences of counterfeiting can be more than a fake Louis Vuitton bag on your arm. It can include automobile and aviation poisoning or ceasing to take essential compounds it results in thousands of deaths of the people involved in the manufacturing and deliverable process. Counterfeiting of money, passports, medicines and official documents is taken more seriously than counterfeiting of clothes and cosmetics however all counterfeiting is illegal and the end product always contains harmful materials and toxic replacement compounds.
Why is counterfeiting culture unimaginative?
There is something boorishly unimaginative about counterfeit culture. There will always be designers who inspire each other and who make similar products using different materials and finishing touches but to completely rip-off a designer and pretend to be the real deal is brazen, mundane and unimaginative. There are thousands, upon thousands of amazing independent fashion designers, cosmetic, art and interior designers with original contemporary visions offering consumers individualism for a price that reflects the design process.
In megacities, like Seoul in North Korea counterfeit culture was elevated during the rise of K-pop genre of music in the '90s. You may recall the song and Youtube video 'Gangnam Style' going viral in 2012. 'Gangnam Style' by Psy is associated with the lifestyle in the Gangnam district of South Korea. This influenced the behaviour and street style encouraging mime counterfeit activity. While Seoul is a creative hub the population density in Seoul is almost twice that of New York with the majority of the population being Chinese and Korean citizens, therefore it is not a particularly diverse society so wearing fake counterfeit goods and being loud and proud about it is a thing Koreans do.
Counterfeit goods still require an underground copycat design process, however, it will always be unimaginative because it lacks true understanding, originality and creativity. Why spend money on copycat counterfeit goods when there is a sea of talented honest fashion designers who appreciate our custom.
If you enjoyed this article click this link and scroll to watch the video counterfeit culture in Seoul.