Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Faking It

Orgasms, British accents, smiles – people fake a lot of different things in life. Sometimes certain situations merit a little faking here and there, but for the most part faking is usually regarded as a bad thing. Especially in the world of fashion.
The allure of purchasing a counterfeit fashion good is undeniable. By their very nature, objects produced by high fashion companies are expensive, and finding authentic pieces at a discount is nearly impossible. Companies like Louis Vuitton establish their image by guaranteeing that their items never go on sale, so what’s a fashionista with a strict budget supposed to do? Turning to a world of knockoffs seems like a reasonable option. After all, big cities like New York are chock-full of places to purchase knockoffs and sometimes the replicas are indistinguishable from their authentic counterparts, sold on Madison Avenue for ten to twenty times the price. Clearly, you’d be an idiot NOT to take advantage of these cheaper alternatives!
Sadly, this isn't the case. In a world where customers are hooked on bargains, consumers are increasingly more intent on owning status symbols for a fraction of the cost, meaning they are more willing to purchase fakes to satisfy that craving. While buying the occasional counterfeit Versace wallet or Prada handbag might not seem like a devastation to the entire fashion industry, the World Customs Organization states that the fashion industry loses up to $9.7 billion dollars every year to counterfeiting. Louis Vuitton handbags, whose canvases are emblazoned with the noticeable and familiar LV monogram, have become the most relentlessly knocked-off bags in fashion history, with reportedly only 1% of purses in circulation being authentic. Some people assume that this widespread copying is a form of flattery, but the brands certainly do not. Giorgio Armani, who has been having trouble trying to eliminate the sale of knockoffs in China, admits that having his brand counterfeited “is flattering, because it means that you are doing the right thing,” but also proclaims that “it is a problem, and something is going to be done.”
The something to which Armani is referring is litigation. Brands like Kate Spade and Louis Vuitton have taken matters into their own hands by employing private investigators to find where knockoffs of their brands are being sold, then suing the dealers. A good example is the recent LVHM and Christian Dior Couture (segment of Dior not owned by LVMH) suit filed against in 2006 for “not doing enough to fight the problem of counterfeit items on the site.” Using their tremendous financial power, the brands usually defeat unlicensed retailers of counterfeit goods in court, however the process is arduous and time consuming, and ultimately fashion companies can only deal with a small fraction of illegal activity.
Perhaps you don’t feel bad taking a little money from the big-time fashion corporations. After all, they comprise a multi-billion dollar industry, and tycoons like Bernard Arnault (chairman of LVMH and the richest man in France) certainly need the money less than you do. Well, part of the reason that the real goods are so expensive is because of the conditions in which they are produced. The majority of luxury products are produced in the United States, Italy, and France, where working conditions are strictly monitored and employees are provided with a variety of benefits. Items produced on the black market (often in factories in developing nations like China, Vietnam, and Thailand) on the other hand, are not monitored and therefore workers are not guaranteed anything. Laborers are often forced to work in sweatshops, characterized by unsafe conditions, long hours (not 50 hours a week long - long, like 90 hours a week long) and child labor, sometimes by kids as young as 8 years old. Furthermore, the profits made by counterfeiters rarely see their way back to the workers, but more often fund more illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorism.
Lastly, there is the social stigma surrounding these products. The quality of knockoffs is often shoddy at best, with glue holding the seams together instead of thread, zippers that don’t easily close, and “leather” that sweats and wears out quickly. Often, your money is better spent on a quality, non-brand name bag sold at a legitimate retailer than on a fake. After all, think about why you want to buy a black Chanel leather handbag over a nondescript black leather handbag sold at JC Penny. Quality? Sure. Style? Perhaps. Status? Now that’s the one. And by buying a fake, you are faking that status. You’re pretending to be totting a $1,000 dollar handbag, when you maybe spent $50. In Sex in the City, Carrie Bradshaw goes with Samantha to buy a fake Fendi bag in LA, but upon seeing the bags, she decides against it. She narrates, "I should have liked them. But staring into that trunk, they no longer looked like elegant Fendi bags, they just looked cheap. And even if everyone else thought it was real, I’d always know my bag came from a cardboard box in a trunk deep in the valley. [At least when you] wait for the real thing, you know it’s one of a kind and special or something." So what does it mean when you care about status so much that you would buy a cheap, poorly-made, and morally questionable item? Well, it means that your designer brand-name obsession has gone much too far.