Counterfeit Designer Bags: Fake It Until You Make It?

Mid-cocktail I naively asked my boyfriend a dangerous question.

“What’s the weirdest habit that I have?”

He contemplated for a shorter period than I expected.

“Your propensity for internally authenticating every designer bag you see. Out of nowhere, you’ll start talking about the colour of the hardware or the stitching or size of a bag that passes you.”

Whilst I cannot disagree – the response surprised me.

For me, its unconscious. I don’t analyse to belittle people or for a feeling of superiority – I analyse because bags are my thing. I have always been one to appreciate a good bag. Irrespective of how your weight fluctuates, how many times you outfit repeat and how trends change – a good bag is a saving grace. Naturally, my adoration of a timeless bag has translated to me turning into a walking, talking human authenticator, providing my mental stamp of approval on what is real and what is well, unreal attempting to pass off as real.

Whilst the internet is proliferated with articles about how unethical it is to wear counterfeit designer goods due to apparent links between organised crime, unregulated workforces and the inequity between legitimate and illegitimate producers with business regulation, such as having to declare and pay tax, what many lovers of designer goods won’t tell you straight out is we feel cheated.

Whilst unquestionably it’s tempting to buy the bag you’re lusting after for a steal, but just like Carrie Bradshaw in  Sex and the City where she is offered a counterfeit designer bag for a fraction of the cost “I should have liked them. But staring into the trunk, they didn’t look elegant. They looked cheap. Even if everyone else thought it was real, I’d always know my bag came from a trunk deep in the valley”.

Lovers of luxury goods feel frustration when we see someone wearing a knock-off trying to pass off as a real piece not necessarily because they’re elitist but because of the sacrifices they made to buy, love and wear that piece. Whilst everyone else is in the club on a Saturday yielding a $200+ bottle of extra-large Belvedere, we’re at home counting pennies determining how many months until the sacrifices pay off.  No longer are designer bags exclusively for the rich and affluent, now they are equally for the aspirational who seek to save and prioritise their money differently to their peers. It must be noted that not everyone who sports a designer piece has the means of purchasing a new piece monthly willy-nilly, instead we sacrifice and save for what we personally appreciate. Whilst I understand that to some this may seem excessive, perhaps even ridiculous, like anything in this world it’s a matter of what you value and appreciate and for those who appreciate quality craftsmanship, heritage and internationally acclaimed styles – counterfeits are frustrating.

Counterfeits are proliferating the market for many reasons, namely the sense of value consumers feel when they are purchasing a designer looking good for a fraction of the price and the view that “the  brand name, the label, and identifying design characteristics such as logo, color, pattern, and accessories are themselves valuable. Such hedonic benefits value a product for its own sake” (Babin, Darden, and Griffin 1994). Consequently those who purchase counterfeit goods are generally of a lower-quality and lower-price point, however it should be noted that those who purchase goods are indifferent to the inferior quality so long as they appear as having the authentic goods.

Whilst there are many convincing copies within the “grey market” that are increasingly b72bb41174cf6d5228c939be075c490f
difficult to authenticate – you will always know. You will always be aware that your counterfeit good is fake. You will always question whether the person looking at your bag is appreciating your good or mentally authenticating it, you will become hypervigilant and see the good as a potential liability rather than an item that brings you job, happiness and fulfillment. The question is, will you still take pride in your bag when you’re paranoid about others scrutinising the stitching, hardware and tanning of the product to analyse whether it’s real or not?

A primary reason people buy designer is the global recognition of the brand styles, designs and motifs. Whether you’re in Australia, Poland, China, Greece of Hawaii, near everyone knows the Louis Vuitton Monogram. As such,  Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry, Tiffany, Prada, Hermes, Chanel, Dior, Yves St Laurent, and Cartier are frequently pirated (Yoo 2016). The international community has dealt with the counterfeit market in a uniform fashion, whereby producers and distributors are legally liable for the goods if caught. Generally, there are no legal implications for consumers seeking to purchase and use counterfeit goods bar the glares of those who know what you’re wearing is not what it seems. In an unprecedented move, France has introduced new measures to disencentivised 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. Anti-counterfeit ads introduced today by French luxury goods association Comité Colbert have placed 10,000 posters around major Airports and tourist attractions advising tourists of National Anti-Counterfeiting laws. The advertisements display notable designers such as Cartier, Chanel, Christian Dior, Lacoste, Longchamp, Louis Vuitton and Van Cleef & Arpels. Each visual is accompanied with a cheeky slogan like “Buy a fake Cartier, get a genuine criminal record,” and “Real ladies don’t like fake!” (Fashionista 2012). Whilst the campaign goal is reducing the consumption of counterfeit goods, critics argue that use of counterfeit goods is a liberty issue, not a criminal issue. Critics question whether criminal intention must be proven, what protections consumers who reasonably believe their goods to be authentic can rely on, whether it should be a strict liability offence and how the nieche offence is to be policed. These complexities to some prove that”policing counterfeit luxury goods is not in the public interest. People bow to the norms set by the fashion industry. High demand is an indication of successful brand. That’s the way it is. It’s up to the brand to invest in security for intellectual property” (BBC News, 2016).


Whilst criminalising the use of counterfeit items is a legal grey area plagued by legal and moral complexities, it cannot be denied that the counterfeit market is inextricably linked with the funding of organised crime, puts consumers health and safety at risk and poses ethical concerns. Whilst anti-fashion campaigns may not deter consumers of the counterfeit market, perhaps the real human cost of a cheap handbag should. The ‘Counterfeit: Don’t buy into organized crime’ international campaign seeks to inform consumers of inherent ethical and moral dilemas consumers should note.  A prime example is “labour exploitation …[in] producing counterfeit goods, with low paid workers facing safety and security concerns with little or no benefits and unregulated conditions. The problem of migrant smuggling is also further exacerbated by the counterfeit business, with reports that a number of those smuggled are coerced into selling counterfeit goods to pay off smuggling debts” ( UNODC 2014). Further, counterfeiting poses a threat to the environment with little regulation regarding chemicals, dye toxins and other harmful components used to develop counterfeit goods.

Whilst it is difficult to decisively prove that the illegal trade is developing, it appears universally that the counterfeit market is developing exponentially. “In 2007, the value of cross-border trade in fakes was thought to be $250 billion, or 1.8 per cent of total global imports. The latest report estimates the figure was closer to $461 billion in 2013, and 2.5 per cent – the equivalent of the GDP of Austria. Piotr Stryszowski, an economist and co-author of the study… insists the fake phenomenon is growing” (British Vogue, 2017). Unlike the counterfeit market of a decade ago, consumers are proving younger and goods more easily accessible than ever before. Proliferation of mediums such as Aliexpress, Gumtree and mainland China based wholesalers allow new consumer groups the opportunity to access counterfeit goods.

Whether it be legal, moral, ethical or fashion faux-pas, there is nothing elegant about passing illegal goods off as high fashion designer pieces whilst endangering people and the environment. Whilst the purchasing and use of counterfeit goods is a deeply contentious and subjective topic that many hold strong opinions about. To me wearing counterfeit designer goods is a hybid of moral, ethic, legal and fashion crime and no matter how cheaply I can accesss an expensive looking bag, I will always question what is the true price of this designer good?

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