There’s a smog warning in Shanghai today. The pollution is so bad that residents have been told to be careful outdoors. It’s not just the traffic that is to blame for this, although it does contribute. The main source of the pollution is from the hundreds of factories that lie just outside of the metropolis. This isn’t even where the bulk of China’s production comes from – venture further inland (south or north, take your pick) and you‘ll find thousands more factories producing everything the rest of the world needs and wants.
Great concepts drawn up on beautiful storyboards in different design studios across the world are realised in factories all across China. Here they produce everything, from the limited edition Nikes that you overpaid for, to the plastic Tupperware and cutlery you used to eat this morning’s breakfast on the go, while listening to music off your iPhone.
Keeping that in mind, it’s inevitable that, somewhere along the line, things go awry. To say that counterfeiting happens China is a given. The extent of it, however, is unfathomable.. There are plenty of stories: cigarettes with newspaper instead of tobacco; hair elastics that come complete with hidden condoms; bootleg alcohol made from chemicals. Counterfeiting has always been more pervasive within fashion, and whilst high-end luxury brands have always been an obvious target, today the victims are anyone from indie designers on Etsy to streetwear brands like Supreme.
It was once explained to me that the mentality behind China’s business culture relates back to how farmers operate: if you’re having a good season, then sell as much as you can, for as high as you can, because who knows what next season will bring. If one farmer plants oranges and the other apples, and oranges sell well season after season, would you continue to grow apples? So, logically, if someone else’s product sells well, and you have the capability of producing a similar product, then why wouldn’t you?
In Shanghai there are a few notorious spots for finding fakes: Han City, the Science and Technology Museum Market, Qipu Markets. But even in the big shopping districts such as Peoples Square or HuaiHai Road, there are plenty of vendors that approach you with catalogues offering fake watches, bags, and sneakers. The products may vary but the one thing that is a constant here is the people they approach: foreigners. At the end of the day, it’s foreigners who flock to China in search of branded goods at bargain basement prices.
Wandering through Han City, the current “in” products being copied in droves include Oakley Frogskins, Beats by Dre headphones, New Balance and Vans sneakers, Bell and Ross watches and Goyard handbags. There are stalls that specialises in specific brands, like the new range of COMME des GARÇONS. Or Evisu denim with designs even more outrageous than the originals. And, of course, you can get your fill of Supreme box logo caps.
Before we blame the Chinese entrepreneurs for ripping off some of our favourite labels, bear in mind that some of our favourite labels do it too. Parody and appropriation is not uncommon. In fact, within street wear it is these exact things that have made brands so sought after. Parody tees featuring artists, like Supreme’s Barbara Kruger type treatment, or Stussy’s early use of luxury brand monograms and embellishments, routinely find homes within streetwear collections. I also write this as I’m listening to illegally downloaded music while there’s a sitcom streaming from my hacked Apple TV.
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