Mind Yo' Business
Counterfeits: The Plague Of Fashion
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
In honor of this week’s coverage of Fashion’s Night Out, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the current economic state of the retail market and how technology continues to creep its way into the industry.
I interned in the financial planning and merchandising sector of Ralph Lauren this past summer, and was afforded with a behind-the-scenes look at the daily challenges of a large retail corporation. Firstly, the office environment is not as cutthroat and glamorous as the media likes to make it seem—it is made up of hundreds of passionate, intelligent individuals who, just like the rest of us, show up for work every day with an overstuffed agenda. The goals of the departments I worked with included predicting consumer trends based off of historical data and developing a budget that the company strives to achieve. I would never have guessed that such analytical objectives could be heavily influenced by something as seemingly trivial as a week of rainy weather. The fashion industry faces hardships that other kinds of retailers do not have to face, such as popular trends, counterfeits, and exaggerated bad publicity.
Out of every kind of market, the fashion industry probably faces the most long-term loss due to counterfeit goods. Piracy in the music industry has only become popular in the last 10 years or so, while the shoppers of Canal Street have been ripping off Chanel for decades. Sure, some may claim that selling a piece like a Ralph Lauren cable knit sweater for $300 at an 80 percent mark-up is a crime in and of itself, but we exist in a free market in that we are not required to buy goods, but we are required to respect them.
FNO was hopefully able to not just dazzle Bostonians with pretty dresses and free knapsacks, but also introduce them to an entire artistic culture that is nurtured through the consumer. The book, Luxury China: Marketing Opportunities and Potential, by Michel Chevalier and Pierre Lu, discusses the income China draws from producing and selling counterfeit designer clothing. The book states that “The World Customs Organization believes that the fashion industry loses up to US $9.2 billion per year to counterfeiting.” The fashion industry has a job for almost every kind of person, ranging from the avant-garde designer to the in-store sales associate, so it is unfortunate that this number represents the amount of jobs that are lost. By purchasing that fake Louis Vuitton handbag, you are participating in a destructive process—congratulations, you have just contributed to our country’s ever-so-steady unemployment rate.
Just over a decade ago, technology played such a minor role in the running of the fashion world—it was all threads and needles. Now, however, the production process would not be able to operate without the use of technology. Believe it or not, however sad this may be, so many designers do not even sew—they simply sketch their design on a touch-pad and email it to a production factory. Sure, for high-end retailers like Ralph Lauren the process also involves CEO approval, color palette references, store allocations, model fittings, etc. But nevertheless, the chain of events required to sell one pant has been significantly reduced.
And although the Internet has created more opportunities for the sale of counterfeit clothing, it also has brought about much tighter forms of security. Companies are now able to track down individuals in foreign countries who are selling fake goods to Americans, and slowly reduce the rate at which these goods are sold. Technology is now also visible on the runway. For Diane von Furstenberg’s Spring 2013 runway show, she collaborated with Google co-founder Sergey Brin and accessorized her models with the new “Google Glass.” These glasses sport built-in screens with a GPS system, camera, and Internet access—to mention, they are definitely fashionable.
But the end of the day, profits and keeping up with trends should come second to the clothes themselves and the artistic influences they inspire. In the words of Kenneth Cole, “Be clothes-minded.”