Ethics In a World of Knockoffs

A woman stands on Canal Street. Nicole locks eyes with her. “You want Louie?” whispers the woman. Nicole nods.

I wonder, Who’s Louie? The woman beckons us to follow her around the corner and scampers down Hester Street. We enter a Little Italy souvenir shop.

Or is it?

Was Louie here? Yes and no. The “Louie” the woman refers to is Louis Vuitton, and affordable counterfeits of his pricey handbags along with those from Gucci, Coach and other designers are available.

Despite repeated investigations, crackdowns and arrests, counterfeit designer handbags are bigger business than ever. And while buyers seem exempt from arrest, the sellers are at risk, and act accordingly.

We are led to a back room, as our contact rushes from the store. Five minutes later, she is back with the phony Louie — which Nicole, a court worker who doesn’t want her last name used, examines carefully. “I don’t even think a pro could tell this apart from the original,” she quietly tells me.

Nicole is one of countless women who can’t afford a $1,000-plus handbag, but like the look. Was it wrong for her to purchase the bag?

“If it was stolen, I wouldn’t buy it,” Nicole says. “But it’s just an imitation, and no one has claimed otherwise.”

Later, we sit in Great NY Noodletown slurping down beef chow fun as Nicole happily sneaks a peek at her quarry. Counterfeit handbags are costing New York State substantial tax revenue, and hurting famous brands. Some of the sophisticated knockoffs are made in foreign factories under grim working conditions, often with child labor.

Should I have guilted Nicole from making the purchase? Experts recently told Vogue UK that some fakes are manufactured in the same factories as the originals, using the same oppressed labor, as more and more designers operate out of China and India. Many of these $40 to $70 fake bags are so close in look, stitching and overall quality to the originals that even experts can’t tell them apart.

If the report is true, one must ask: Who are the real thieves here?

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2 Responses to Ethics In a World of Knockoffs

  1. Terry says:

    If both the “real” designer bags and the knock-offs are being manufactured in sweat shops that use child labor, than neither are ethical. At least the fake ones aaren’t charging a ridiculous price. I doubt that the state is losing money. The snobby rich aren’t going to forego a ridiculously expensive designer bag for a knock off – only the real thing would be good enough for them. How could they brag about having a bag that costs what everyone else could afford to pay?
    I myself wish that I could walk into a store and buy something, anything, not made in China. Besides wanting there to be jobs here for Americans, I also want to be able to trust the materials that the goods are made with, and it would be nice to know that a child isn’t waking up in the wee hours of the morning after sleeping on a cot, and slaving away for very little pay.

  2. Karl Kolchak says:

    You also have to ask just how dumb the people paying for the $1,000 version of these bags are. This is unbridled consumerism at its most mindless.

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