Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Haute or Hot Couture?

The True Cost of Counterfeiting.

Flipping through the pages of Vogue we find ourselves in awe of the newest fashions to hit the runway. We can’t help but to be instantly drawn to the elegant colours, unique designs and effortless style. These haute couture labels have spent endless hours and an abundance of capital designing, sourcing, producing, and promoting their works of art in order to bring it all to life. The highly sought after names and reputations have come from years of hard work, creating and developing exclusive fashion, exceptional quality, and through living up to their prominent status. It was once accepted that these luxury items would only be worn by the elite and celebrity icons. Today however, more strive to attain this same image. The question is how far are people willing to go to get it? Is it possible that the emphasis on luxury brands has proven to have a contradicting roll within society?
We’ve all heard of people going to bazaars, Canal Street, Chinatown and dark city street corners to get these looks for less, but is that all that is happening? Unfortunately, today’s society is willing to take drastic measures in order to wear these designer brands. But at what cost? Couture, like many other popular and profitable industries, is susceptible to high theft and crime rates. The amount of counterfeit fashion today however, has reached staggering numbers. The International Chamber of Commerce estimates that the counterfeit industry is worth 450 to 500 billion dollars US, which makes up five to seven percent of total world trade. Of this 20% comes from clothing and textiles, 10% from perfumes and cosmetics and 5% from watches. Although counterfeit products and knockoffs have always been illegal, it is not until recently that action has started to be taken against the crime. Couture houses have been fighting against counterfeiting for years as these fake replicas destroy their brand image and cheapen their product worth. They have however had little success in dealing with this overbearing issue. The difficulty that the industry faces, unlike other business regimes, is that designers are unable to take out copyright protection under the US Copyright Act. The only security available to designers is trademark protection. Therefore when dealt with legally counterfeit items are often rendered “creative interpretation”. These fakes not only affect the fashion companies but also the customers. Customers who have, or who are willing to purchase the legitimate items are now less apt to buy certain brands or designs as the product no longer contains the exclusive value or perceived worth as it was originally intended to do. Many European cities like France and Italy have recently began patrolling counterfeit crimes. They are confiscating the items and fining the individual who is found wearing or selling it. Although luxury labels are extremely pleased with the direction enforcement is taking, officials have an alternative motive for policing it.
Individuals that buy fake merchandise most often do so because they want the popular designs but cannot afford the designer price. It may seem innocent enough, however what these individuals do not realize is what they are truly supporting. What has caught the official’s attention is the connection of counterfeit merchandise to a large number of other illegal activities. The associated crimes include drug trade, weapons, prostitution, terrorism, and child labour. Counterfeit merchandise fuels the concern for underpaid, underage workers in unsuitable environments as the vast majority of counterfeit merchandise is produced in less developed Asian countries including China, Thailand and South Korea. These countries have the technology, and man power to run the industry as jobs are scarce and they lack government support and human right laws that would allow them to make any suitable changes. Global distribution of these items has also been made easier with the removal of the quota limits on imported and exported goods. In 2004, 100 million counterfeit fashions were confiscated at European borders while these numbers continue to rise.
So how should we attempt to control this global disaster? The best way to tackle counterfeiting is to simply not buy it. Without the general public’s support there would be no industry, although as a society we are still quite a ways from that. In the meantime it is necessary to implement stricter laws and develop harsher punishments for those found guilty. European nations are slightly further ahead when it comes to governing the issue but North America is not far behind. Today, major labels employ in house security teams to walk the streets, but all levels of enforcement around the world need to be on the same page and work together in order to intervene at all possible levels. Counterfeiting willing never be stopped but we can all do our best to help improve on it.
So the next time you pass that corner stand displaying your favourite designer goods what will you do?

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