Let's be honest: The equation, Made In China + Prada Logo - Child Labor Laws = Designer Knockoffs, isn't all that shocking for anyone whose reading material extends beyond Vogue. We're vaguely aware of the counterfeit industry's use of sweatshop labor; we'd just rather not think about it. It kinda kills our shopping buzz.
Acknowledging the connection between retail and the rights compromised to produce what we buy is a rarity in the world of material goodies. Guilt of the socially conscious ilk is (and always has been) toxic for business. At least that's what the Fashion industry's banking on with its crusade against counterfeit goods. Welcome to the Fight Against Fakes.
The story goes that buying cheap replicas ($) of authentic luxury goods ($$$$) isn't a victimless crime; that child labor and human trafficking are intimately connected with faux Louis Vuitton bags and Chanel "inspired" shades. According to editorial authorities (Harper's Bazaar, in this case) Fakes Are Never In Fashion. Seeing as what's In Fashion is obvs more important than what's in our checking accounts, we're to boycott the Fake in favor of the Real. We're decent, law-abiding, compassionate fashionistas, after all; anything that's So Cheap, It's Criminal isn't for us.
That knockoffs come with a side of sweatshop labor isn't just a valid argument against the counterfeit industry. It's a brilliant marketing strategy, one that paints Fashion -- an industry notorious for its elitism and exclusivity -- as a beacon of altruism, a sartorial crusader all-too-eager to right the wrongdoings of its evil spawn.
Boycott counterfeit goods, and Fashion will save the "sad, tired and dirty children" in Thailand from slave-like working conditions in which they suffer continual abuse; boycott counterfeit goods, and Fashion will provide the 750,000 American jobs outsourced by the industry of Fakes.
The message so artfully implied by the propaganda surrounding Fashion's crusade is clear: Authentic luxury goods don't damage the world, knockoffs do, and if we care about the world at all, we'll embrace the former in lieu of the latter. It's a classic case of Good vs. Evil where the evidence against designer replicas is simply too damning to make us question its source. And that's no coincidence.
Unfortunately for Fashion, the notion that expensive and real is any less criminal than cheap and fake is a massive crock of shit.
Activism might be like-so-hot-right-now. But it wasn't in vogue last summer, when Turkish leather factory DESA harassed and fired any worker foolish enough to protest "extensive and mandatory overtime" and ask for benefits and minimum wage. DESA management even sanctioned kidnap attempts on the children of its workers. Since this sounds like the same kind of morally questionable crap embraced by the counterfeit industry, it's logical to assume that DESA-produced leather is used to make fake designer bags... Right?
Wrong. So effing wrong. The main buyer of DESA-manufactured leather isn't Pvada. It's the real thing. When Prada learned of these offenses via labor rights activist group Clean Clothes Campaign, the coveted brand elegantly distanced itself and refused to take action in support of the workers' case.
There it is -- that placid, self-contained sigh breathed by the luxury goods industry whenever the world outside of its privileged target market asks to be heard. It's time to lay the smackdown on snobbery. Get excited.
Activism was also Out in 2002, when luxury goods conglomerate PPR took some heat for contracting supplier factories engaged in similarly subpar treatment of their workers. What family in India can't live on 10 cents an hour? Workers in the Philippines want to be paid minimum wage? The nerve!
Guess who PPR's all-star player is? Gucci. And we can't talk about Gucci without double airkissing all the labels it owns -- I wouldn't want anyone's feelings to get hurt. So, if you've ever wondered about the origins of those bags we covet, dream on and drool over -- the Yves Saint Laurent Bowler, the Balenciaga Satchel, the Alexander McQueen Messenger, the Stella McCartney Clutch, the Bottega Veneta Tote -- wonder no more.
They're all owned by Gucci, who's owned by PPR, who once got their goods from factories where workers were denied basic human rights. I'm using past tense here because PPR canceled contracts with its sweatshop abuse-riddled supplier factories shortly after reports of violations surfaced.
Crisis of conscience? Hardly -- try damage control. PPR didn't attempt to rectify the abuse suffered by the hands behind its bags. Tres drag. Instead, it pulled the money plug, and it put those hands out of work.
Prada, Gucci. Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta. All high-end heavyweights frequently ripped off by the counterfeit industry; all entities poised to benefit from the mockery of a cause that is Fashion's Fight Against Fakes; all labels happy to expose and condemn their counterfeit competition for crimes that they, in all their brandtastic glory, too have committed. Hypocrisy must be the next big thing.
Ultimately, this isn't a judgment on anyone who's ever bought anything Real, Fake or otherwise. Shopping in a fiscally, socially and environmentally responsible way is no easy task, and few brands are as free and clear of offenses as Fashion would have you believe. The best way to shop sustainably is to recycle what's already out there, but the argument for thrift and re-sale is another post for another day.
Buying an authentic designer goody in lieu its counterfeit alternative isn't a step toward ending sweatshop labor: It's playing into Fashion's latest and greatest, activism-focused marketing initiative. If the industry really wants to educate consumers about what they buy, perhaps it should start by doing what it regularly encourages us to do: Take a good, hard look in the mirror.
Follow Alexandra Sinderbrand on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cheapjap