Scene: A New York City Street:
“Hey, nice handbag! Fendi? Coach?”
“Thanks, you like it? It’s a Fendi imitation, but it looks real, doesn’t it?”
“Sure does. Now up against the wall and spread ‘em–you’re under arrest!”
Far fetched? Maybe today. But if a proposed law making it illegal to purchase a fake designer handbag and punishable by a $1,000 fine &/or a year in jail is passed, this scene may soon be playing out in your neighborhood.
There’s no doubt that New York City loses taxes from the sale of designer bag knockoffs, and the manufacturer loses profits. But wild claims by designers that women who purchase knockoffs are “supporting terrorism” are dubious at best.
But is it wrong to make, sell or buy these imitation bags?
“If they were selling stolen bags, I’d understand,” says Jane Doe (name changed to protect the filthy criminal) who purchased a fake Fendi bag for $40 in Chinatown, “but this is just an imitation and no one claimed otherwise.”
The young woman is a secretary who can’t afford a $1,000+ plus handbag but likes the look, who is in the same boat with thousands of other New York City women struggling to get by.
Shifty guys who peddle “real” Rolexes under their coats for $25 is one thing, but even companies that openly manufacture bags “inspired by” a famous brand are under attack, because designers say they are making an item that could be “mistaken for” the original.
Yes, I understand the concept of copyright infringement, although I’m not certain it applies here. I also understand a level playing field and ripping people off.
CVS, Walgreens and other leading retailers carry imitations in virtually every category with impunity, from shampoo to pricey foot care devises. Packaging has been deliberately designed to look like the original and the knockoff items are placed side by side with the real brand, with bright “Compare and Save Big!” signage.
Aside from clout, are the small stores that sell knockoff Gucci, Fendi and Coach bags really that different?
When it comes to handbags, the difference between the original and the knockoff is often quite obvious, from cheap, shoddy material to uneven stitching. But often it takes an expert to tell detect the difference, which sometimes comes down to checking the official designer logo stamped on the metal features.
And if that’s the case, one wonders how much these bags actually cost to make. Not to mention the rarely asked bigger question: Who are the real thieves here? The women who purchase the imitation bags? The merchants who sell them for $25 to $40? Or the people with designer but virtually identical bags who obscenely mark them up and sell them for $1,400?