Monday, January 07, 2008

Fake Handbags- A Big Deal?

When I read the Bazaar magazine was sponsoring a campaign to ender counterfeit handbags, called "Fakes Are Never In Fashion," I was more than a bit skeptical. How convenient, I thought, for a magazine whose advertisers are primarily the fashion houses producing luxury handbags, to come out and create a campaign encouraging consumers to avoid fakes and buy "the real thing." I found their statement "Profits from these counterfeit sales fund organized crime including drug cartels, child labor, and even terrorist organizations" vague and a little manipulative. Through the program, Bazaar is holding a contest where readers can mail in their fake bags and enter a sweepstakes to win a $1ooo luxury shopping spree. And I laughed out loud when I saw the link to an online store where you could "enjoy safe shopping for quality luxury products."

Most of the articles listed under the "Arresting Developments" portion of the site are worthless, but I did come across one that actually backed up the claim made on the main page about profits going toward terrorist organizations and organized crime. This recent New York Times column by Dana Thomas cites members of Interpol and terrorism experts who insist that the profits from sales of counterfeit goods often do support these groups. Many of the companies who produce these goods also use child labor, who earn less than $60 a month on average.

Most consumers purchasing a fake handbag think of the act as only hurting the luxury-goods makers, who very few have sympathy for. In reality, there is a chance that your money could go toward an illegal organization, though there's no way of knowing whether that will happen. Experts don't seem to know exactly how much money the counterfeiting industry sends to these groups, though one professor quoted in the article stated that "profits from counterfeiting are one of the three main sources of income supporting international terrorism.”

Bazaar makes it clear that the only solution to this problem is to buy luxury handbags instead of the far cheaper fakes on the street. What they fail to mention is that it's been found that some luxury brands use cheap Chinese labor or ship illegal Chinese immigrants to Italy to produce the goods. The workers producing the real designer bags get paid just as much as those working on counterfeits. Other brands will have 90% of their product produced in a Chinese factory, with the final details put on in Italy, just so they can keep their "Made in Italy" label. The article doesn't suggest that luxury brands funnel money to illegal organizations, but they certainly aren't the model for ethical corporate behavior either.

Personally, I don't feel comfortable buying a fake handbag, but I could certainly never justify spending money on a real luxury one either, especially after learning that a purse that cost $120 to produce is marked up to $1200 in stores.

What are your thoughts on fake handbags? And do you think the "real deal" is ever worth the price?


marcylynn said...

I would personally never buy a fake. Buying a fake, for me, is akin to knowing for a fact that it was made without thought to labor laws. Some may not be, but I'm not taking the chance.

As far as whether or not buying "high end" is worth it - I prefer to buy from smaller design companies whose craftsmanship I know and trust - even if that means not having the popular logo on my bag (which I hate anyway). For example, my current bag is from a local Minneapolis high end designer Urban Junket. I know how their bags are made, and I trust them. As long as I've done my homework, I think it doesn't matter how much, just how much I love it.

Darjeeling said...

I don't understand people who buy fakes. So many stores carry cheap or at least affordable handbags that there's really no need to buy a fake even when you don't have a lot of money. Fakes don't make you look cool, they make you look stupid.

I truly hate handbags or any items of clothing with huge labels printed/stitched on them. I'll never understand why people feel the need to turn themselves into billboard signs. I would never buy anything from Louis Vuitton, Dolce&Gabbana or Emporio Armani which are- because of their huge logos- the most likely to be counterfeited. But I do enjoy laughing at people with fake LV bags because it's so easy to tell that these bags are fake.

Then there's also the quality issue. Even though I agree that designer handbags are grossly overpriced, the materials are way better as well as the stitching. What's the use of a 40 Dollar "Prada" bag if the colour rubs off in a month and the zippers won't work anymore as it happened to a friend of mine. Had she bought it in a store she could at least complain (and usually these high-end stores offer excellent customer service).

sparkler said...

That's not much of a contest. $1000 wouldn't exactly go very far toward real designer goods, especially handbags.

Katherine said...

My mom's been getting into buying really nice, high-end bags (LV's her favorite right now). Some are really nice, while some, as she says, were clearly designed without enough thought on how it would wear once it had been used quite a bit. For example, the design of the handles on one was poorly located so now the top of the bag sags unattractively.

Anyway, I can't even begin to be able to justify such a purchase for myself. For one, I hate the ones that have the logo obviously plastered all over them, and the cheaper ones tend to have those, I think--I got a D&B handbag from an outlet store for pretty cheap and it's nice but it's got the logo all over. At least it's brown on green, not that bad. Fakes generally have the logo plastering thing going on, too, since people want to show them off, I think, so ew.

But basically, there are so many other things that I can spend that money on right now that would be more kitchen stuff!

Nice post--good to be suspicious of everyone's motives.

Oh and btw, I went to Nordstrom's yesterday with my friend and was so impressed, the customer service was great and the stuff was all really nice. We almost got locked in at the end of the day, but that's another story :) Compared to the other department stores that edge the mall, Nordstrom's was definitely something else entirely...I kind of wish they could be on their own (for a return to that shopping excursion/treat way of doing things), but that only really works in a city, I guess.

Jules said...

I think the link between counterfeit goods of any kind and criminal activity is well established and not up for debate. As you point out in your post there are alternative choices which dont mean breaking the budget. Personally I think fakes are tasteless. I am happy with the good quality and, I think, stylish bags from boutiques and department stores which I can afford.

Ms. P&C said...

Meg, I have to say I'm surprised by the question you're posing here. As Jules mentioned above, the link between counterfeit products and issues like terrorism and child labor are well-established facts. From your post you sound as though you don't believe this to be true, and that the industry really isn't all that bad.

I hope I'm misreading your inference!

Just a point in fact: after much police work, the NYPD determined that the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was conducted by a terrorist cell who made their money by selling counterfeit handbags. Six people were killed and over 1000 were injured. Just something to think about...

Working for a luxury brand for five years I know how serious this is, and what a priority this is for law enforcement departments around the world. New York takes the matter so seriously that they now have signage up and down Canal Street (one of the hot beds of counterfeit sales) stating that counterfeiting is illegal and that its sale and distribution is punishable by law. You can go to prison for 8 years!

In Europe, things are much more serious. If you're even spotted carrying a counterfeit piece, you may be liable to a 10,000 Euro fine. The Europeans believe counterfeits are not only morally reprehensible, but they have such a detrimental effect on the brands and businesses that are the heart and soul of the European luxury market.

Let's see... a $10 fake bag will cost much more than it's authentic counterpart if you get slapped with that fine!

I highly recommend Dana Thomas' book: "Deluxe, How Luxury Lost Its Lustre" - perhaps if I don't convince you, she will!

Cate said...

I think both fakes and "reals" are tasteless. One speaks of blantant trend-and-consumer-ism, and one speaks of very poor choices on your part. I agree with MarcyLynn, buying from boutique designers that you can research (and at times, actually talk to!) is the best way to go--but if that's out of your price range, then places like Target are the best for cute and inexpensive handbags.

Ambs said...

I bought a fake by mistake once. Not being an avid Designer new-collection-follower, I saw the bag on sale at a mall stall, and fell head-over-heals for it - there were no logos, the size was perfect, and the price was decent, so I bought it and loved it.

A few weeks later I found a 'you asked, we found'-style blog entry, where someone had asked what bag some celeb was toting. And when I looked carefully, I was surprised to see that it was my bag! The same style and embellishments... the only difference was the logo, the colour and the quality of material.

At first I was put off. I became reluctant to wear the bag out - I guessed I might be accused of supporting fakes, or just being cheap. But then again... I loved the bag before; what's changed? It still goes just as well with my clothes, and it's still exactly right for my needs... now I don't really know what to think.

WendyB said...

I would never buy a fake. What worthy seller would be knocking off this stuff and selling it for rock-bottom prices? I think it's obvious that it is unethical and most likely criminal from top to bottom. Just because the luxury brands do regrettable things (that at least they get called on to correct; criminals don't have any qualms about their public relations) doesn't give me any reason to support polluting factories, slave labor in Asia and God knows who (terrorists? drug dealers? both?) thinks it is a good idea to sell ugly poor-quality ripoffs on the street. If people don't like labels, there's a million other non-luxury-house, non-ripoffs to buy. If you do like luxury brands, save your pennies and by the real thing...that's my attitude.

Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances said...


If the logo was different then I don't think it can qualify as a fake. It's just a plain ol' knockoff -- and those are much better accepted, rather ubiquitous, and not illegal in most cases (as far as I know).

I certainly wouldn't look down on you for using it!

Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances said...


You might be surprised. At we occasionally feature real, unused Prada bags for a few hundred dollars. They're nice bags, too.

jeni said...

I feel the same way that you do. I wouldn't want to buy a fake, but I wouldn't want to buy the real thing either if it cost more than $100 or so. So I just buy handbags from department stores that are well-made but only cost $50 or so.

Laura V said...


I'm with Meg...there's a difference between "fake" and "knockoff".

I know there are a whole bunch of issues surrounding knockoffs, but they're different than the ones surrounding fakes, and I think they're a good bit less problematic.

There are always questions of where the line is drawn between the two -- when is something merely imitating the look vs. when it's trying to pretend to be something it's not -- but in most cases it's pretty clear.

lisa said...

I'm against fake handbags for personal rather than political reasons - namely, they look tacky and I think the potential embarassment of being caught carrying a fake would prevent me from ever buying one. (Remember that episode of SaTC where Samantha bought a fake Fendi?) I wouldn't say I would never buy a real one, because someday when I have the disposable income I might buy one I really love. However, I think I'd want a beautiful well-made leather bag rather than a canvas one with an all-over logo print.

Sarah said...

Labor laws and terrorism support aside, I don't like faux designer bags because I think that original designs are the intellectual property of their creators and copying them without permission is a little too much like stealing to me.

Zenobiah said...

I prefer shopping for handbags at That way I get a one-of-a-kind, designer handbag for less than 100$.

Support the up and coming designers, like this one:

Mikaela said...

I think fakes are incredibly tasteless. I love handbags and have a nice collection of Gucci, Mulberry, etc. That's just my preference, but I don't think you need to spend copious amounts of money if you don't want to, just buy the nicest bag you can afford. I intend to have my bags forever, and quality costs more.

Kim said...

Hi - I've been following your blog for a while now and you've definitely inspired me to think a lot more about fashion. I made it my New Year's resolution to not buy any clothing in 2008 sold by retailers who outsource production to sweatshops and factories that flout international labor standards. I figure that if I stick to what I prefer anyway - vintage and secondhand - I'll save a lot of money, I'll have an easier finding things in my size (I'm an XS) and I'll get to know that none of my money is supporting this system. Do you have any suggestions for dressing stylishly under these restrictions? A lot of the stuff produced by specifically sweatshop-free companies is pretty casual and sporty-looking, and my style is more girly and retro. And it seems like hardly any of the American retailers I used to buy from have a clean record when it comes to labor rights.



Rachel said...

I've never considered buying a fake, but it's less a matter of morals than of just not liking the label-covered monstrosities that tend to be faked.
My current bag was not a cheap one, but it's no major brand that anyone's heard of. It's also made in the USA, without child labor. []
In the end, I don't carry a fake purse, and I'm happier that way. Who needs one of those label covered things anyway?

Anonymous said...

I'm more than happy with my never-heard-of-him Italian bags from stores like TJ Maxx and other discounters, and even in department stores. I care primarily about the design and the quality of the materials and craftsmanship than whether the bag is adorned with a giant, ostentatios, desperately-seeking-attention logo all over!

m said...

I think people who wear labels lack imagination and style. You can't buy either. I can afford designer bags but wouldn't be caught dead with real or fake ones.

MeganGMcD said...

I will not buy fakes because of labor issues.
However, I have a friend who works in the fashion industry and broke a lot of stuff down for me. Very rarely are you paying for the quality of an upscale bag. When you dish out the money for an upscale bag you are helping the company pay for the costs of their shops in very expensive real estate districts, the ability to give " it people" free bags, etc and so on.
I know this to be true because I can get a handcrafted leather artisan bag from the source for less than 200 dollars.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't buy either--and not just because of the ethical issues either. I find "luxury" goods to just be a way of saying "look at me, I have a LOT of expendable income." Vuitton and other purses just scream "money" and "attention." I find that people who wear them often simply want the things associated with the purse/item, such as better service and attention from wealthier men and women. It's kind of any easy way out I think, rather than dressing stylishly and having good manners, you're just saying "here's my pass."

And I want to vomit everytime I see advertisers tell me about "the quality" and that "i deserve it," First, most of the money is going to higher-ups in the corporation rather than the workers, and MY $1200 is going to be used purchasing an under $100 purse and more valuable things, such as saving lives through charity donations. Don't starving children in Africa "deserve" luxury, Louis Vuitton?

Erica Asahan said...

Erica Asahan wrote:

I absolutely will not carry around anything fake. However, I don't mind buying any merchandise that're "DESIGNER INSPIRED!" If a merchandise looked like someone but carries their own name, I think is okay ~ If that makes any sense. For me, a fake is a fake and designer inspired is designer inspired. For example, Louboutin shoes ~ OH Deer makes similar shoes, but OH Deer is obviously much less expensive and a brand carried by Nordstrom and other high end boutiques.

Anonymous said...

I'd never buy what I'd consider a purse from a street vendor by any means but at the same time I own a Dooney & Bourke purse I bought direct from the factory online store. It certainly was not $1200. but was more like $150. and recently I realized it SO WAS NOT even worth it. it's been semi-durable but the leather on the bottom of the purse and on the straps is quite worn and peeling from normal use. I'd rather just buy a purse at JC Penney or Sears or somewhere like that in the future. if I don't like it in the end it'll be much easier for me to part with it! I learned my lesson I think I cap off at $40 - I'd spend up to $40 on a purse in the future but more like $20-30 in all reality!

Stylewise in the end I don't mind carrying an impostor of a designer handbag. You can't do things to keep up with the jones' and you have to buy what you think looks nice and that fits your needs!

the Photographer said...

I think the rule of thumb for sales it take the amount it costs to manufacture, package, ship and market and you will have your final cost. Or therabouts.
For me, I don't carry a handbag and have issue with fakes. But I also think the designer houses can produce some less expensive products for the masses. But if they did that, there wouldn't be any exclusivity hence supply and demand and subsequent high prices.

Even with all the fake stuff out there, the designers are getting advertising. Their BRANDS are all over the place even if it's on a product they didn't actually produce.