By Margretta Sowah

Chanel once said, “If you want to be original, prepared to be copied…” – true words by a remarkable woman.  Being fake has many connotations. Fake tan. Fake fur. Fake friends… fake boyfriend? There are only few exceptions to this statement. The fake designer goods market is huge. We are so immune to branding that particular logos are automatically associated with thoughts, feelings and events (we call this ‘brand recall’). If branding is important what is the real appeal of fakes? – Besides the price tag and amazing cross stitching?

Jewellery, bags and shoes from your favourite Luxury brand can range from triple digits to 20 thousand dollars and over. Dropping 15k on a Hermes tote may not seem a probable investment to most, but for a fortunate few indulging is nothing. With luxury sales on a steady decline over the last decade, Ready-to-Wear collections are increasingly being marketed to the younger Nuevo riche heiresses and blessed billionaire boys. Most would jump at the opportunity to share their lifestyle. Knowing you have the same bag as Cara Delevingne or Princess Mary is surely a sign of success – in a vicarious sort of way.

Designer knockoffs are a $600 billion dollar industry globally and it isn’t just proverbial Asian countries dominating in this market. StyleCaster reports an incredible 25% of ads on Facebook are for fake luxury products. These figures shouldn’t surprise us considering the emphasis on brand storytelling through huge advertisement campaigns. It is the lifestyle of the ‘IT Girl’. Don’t we all want to be that girl? Turning heads and breaking hearts with our unique style as the quirky Prada muse or the refined Chanel woman? Gossip Girl is definitely an advocate for this type of market.

Fashion is elitist. Social status is at the marketing crux of any luxury brand. We are starting to see changes with the target market of High End brands because of cultural remodelling and economic considerations. The youth want to be a part of this moment more than ever. Consumers are very aware of their power to influence and attract; to imitate and belong. The flipside? We are completely oblivious to the subliminal branding our eyes devour almost minute by minute.

Fakes in the Fashion industry could be a case of wilful blindness. Most of us are wilfully blind to more than we realise. Fight with your friend out of the blue? You saw it coming, after the fact. Your boss sits you down and says your KPI is low? You put it down to being a slow month. We turn a blind-eye to a lot of problems. We recognise counterfeit products as being a no-no in Fashion; going against its couture origins and creative license not to mention copyright laws and intellectual property. If the customer is always right then what is the influx of fake designer bags and goods telling brands and businesses? Mark ups are great for profit margins and shareholders but what about the consumer?

Walking down the streets of the Sydney CBD with my own designer bag (“Tequila is not my friend #BACONANDEGGPLEASE” – shout-out to Kate Spade NY), almost 50% of women were wearing well-known bags. I’m willing to bet 35% of those were fake. Sydney has a huge Asian market with at least one third of the population coming from Asia Pacific. Does that dictate the number of counterfeit designer goods? Of course not. It shows a small glimpse into a wider issue.

In my last trip to Thailand one of the lovely hotel staff took me around the city. We stopped in a small shopping area selling designer copies of all the latest seasons’ bags. I have never seen a room full of real fakes; it was quite a visual experience. CHANEL, Louis Vuitton, Chloe, Prada, Hermes, Fendi, Dior… My mind wanted to believe the price tag was indicative of the product, but I knew it was not. In Psychology Cognitive Dissonance is when ‘an individual’s behaviour conflicts with beliefs that are integral to his or her self-identity.’ When I contemplated purchasing their bag(s) I wanted to believe they were authentic. This went against my core values of respecting and appreciating craftsmanship – as an artist/creative myself. This is a personal choice; I know plenty of artistic and creative (and some that are not) women who don’t find any shame in the counterfeit game.

It is psychologically and emotionally (possibly even physically) satisfying to know you are part of a small few that can afford, invest and promote a product or service. Who can blame the rest of us wanting to look good, feel great and spend less? Fake designer goods will continue to be the black sheep in the family of Fashion.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all – CHANEL might have said that, too.