Fighting the $450 Billion Trade in Fake Fashion
A fake Christian Louboutin website selling counterfeit goods | Source: Courtesy LONDON, United Kingdom.
LONDON, United Kingdom — In the corner of Detective Sergeant Kevin Ives’ central London office are cardboard boxes full of fakes; lookalike Nike trainers, Michael Kors handbags and Ugg sheepskin boots. The haul is just a tiny fraction of the global market in counterfeit goods — worth over $450 billion, according to the OECD — that Ives’ 14-strong specialised police unit is dedicated to slowing.
Counterfeit goods constitute one of the biggest threats to the global fashion industry, stealing sales and diluting hard-fought brand reputations. The UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), the only one of its kind in the world, is primarily focused on tackling the supply-side of the market, especially the organised crime gangs who drive and profit from the trade.
Established just over three years ago, PIPCU raids basements for fake goods and can put offenders in jail for up to 10 years, but just as fashion sales have moved online, so too have the counterfeiters. Under “Operation Ashiko” the unit are increasingly focused on closing down rogue websites masquerading as genuine fashion vendors.
Websites purporting to sell real Burberry, Longchamp, Prada, Gucci, Tiffany & Co, Abercrombie & Fitch and Ugg, alongside sportswear brands including Adidas, Nike and Reebok, have all been shuttered by PIPCU, according to the UK government’s Intellectual Property Office, which funds the unit. Detective Sergeant Ives reports that over half the sites they close are selling footwear, from poorly made replica trainers to $1,000 faux luxury stilettos. Ranked by volume of websites, fake clothing comes second, followed by those offering faux handbags, accessories, jewellery and watches. Fashion, in other words, is the unit’s main focus […]