(the images in this post are not my own. You can link to the original image source that I got the picture from by clicking on the image)
“And we stunting like
Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada
Basic b—-es wear that s–t so I don’t even bother”
-’Gucci, Gucci’ by Kreayshawn
The USS George Washington had just pulled back into port and many of the young “urban” Washington Sailors were wearing Beats headphones in all sorts of colorways and designs that neither of us had seen before.
“You know they just got back from port in Thailand,” he said to me.
Now it all made sense. Looks like the counterfeiters have jumped on the Beats bandwagon. It doesn’t take them long to recognize a trend and copy it.
Rewind to two weeks ago. I’m on Khao San Road looking to buy souvenirs for friends, family and myself. At the North entrance of the infamous backpacker conclave, I notice a short Arabic street vendor selling Beats by Dre headphones in the “normal” colorways that you see on retail shelves. An older, athletic-looking trio from France (based on their accents) were checking out the headphones. The blond, tall, glasses wearing female in the trio was looking at a text message telling her what headphones to purchase. She was trying to relay this information to the vendor but she didn’t seem sure that he knew the product she wanted. Since I was close to the action, I stepped in to lend a hand. The message on her cell phone asked for the Red Edition Beats by Dre. The exact same ones she now held in her hand. I let her know that she had the right product. Before she purchased them for the 1,900 baht ($60 USD), while the vendor was not looking, I told her I would test the headphones with my Itouch. We all knew the headphones were fake, yet you still want your fake product to at least work.
Mecca of the Counterfeit Buyer
Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila, Hanoi, even Singapore- every one knows where to go to get the counterfeit handbags, buy pirated dvds and get their Iphones unlocked. In most of these cities and others like it, it’s a dedicated street or area. In Bangkok, it’s an entire mall.
MBK Center, also known as Mahboonkrong, is an eight-story high shopping mall in the Patham Wan district, right next to the National Stadium Station on the Bangkok Skytrain (BTS) and within walking distance of Siam Station. The center has more than 2,000 stores, restaurants and services available to the over 100,000 people (one third of whom are foreigners) that enter it daily. You won’t find a GAP, Nike, Banana Republic, Zara or Adidas here. What you will find are knockoffs and souvenirs galore (at slightly higher prices than you’d find on the street).
Each floor has areas designated to sell certain things. For instance, if you are looking for inexpensive cases for your Iphone (one case I purchased sells for nearly $200 in Japan), Ipad or Android, there’s an entire section devoted to cases, repairs, decoding, etc. for next generation mobile phones and tablets. Go up the escalator, turn right and you’ll find a multitude of vendors selling dvds, cds, mp3s, PS3 and XBox360 video games.
While I’ve been in Japan, I became a fan of the tv show Dexter. Unfortunately, we don’t get the recent season here until nearly a year after it airs in the U.S. Not a problem. At the MBK Center, I could have purchased an HD quality 4-disc set for less than $10 USD. If I wanted, I could have also bought a dvd of any movie currently in theaters. And most of these would not have shown people walking in front of the movie screen.
Around another corner and I reach the holy grail of counterfeit goods- the designer handbags and luggage.
Swap Meet Louis
“Wooah, Louis Vuitton never made a sweatsuit
But you’re swearin’ up and down, that you got the Louie boots
So you roll to the swap meet, girlfriend buttless
Rip phantom top on your seven six Cutlass”
-’Swap Meet Louie’ by Sir Mix-A-Lot
The houses of fashion that give us Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Dior and Fendi need to realize something. Most of the people walking around with knockoffs of their products probably wouldn’t buy the real thing if that were their only choice. They can assume that their marketing efforts and the desire for middle class people to appear wealthy works, but frankly it doesn’t. And frankly, there isn’t that much special in the handbags they do design to merit one spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars buying the real thing.
But it isn’t just the fashion conscious buying knockoffs. Mister and Missus backpacker with their uber chic Northface or Osprey backpack who just arrived from Laos and Cambodia (you can tell because each is wearing either a Beer Lao or Angkor beer tank top), need new sandals, sunglasses, swim suits and underwear. Do you think they have the budget for Rainbows, Ray Bans, Billabongs and Calvin Kleins? The difference in paying 300 baht for the knockoff and 3,000 baht for the real thing is a huge difference in a country where you can eat good for less than 300 baht a day.
Take a look at this Association for Consumer Research study from 2003 to see who they determined were the principle buyers of counterfeit goods. Women are more likely than men to purchase counterfeit products and most of their influence comes from celebrity culture. And in Thailand, among certain circles, it has become socially acceptable to wear and use counterfeit merchandise.
Whether you are buying knockoff handbags, belts, software, dvds or watches, one thing to keep in mind is that when you travel, your counterfeit items can be seized by customs. Especially if you are bringing products back to countries where the real products are based like France and Italy. In France in particular, bringing counterfeit goods into the country can cost you five years in prison and a 300,000 Euro fine.
I suggest that if you are bringing counterfeit products in, you have them on your possession, not in your checked luggage. Walking through customs with a confident look while carrying your knockoff Louis Vuitton handbag, should not alert any suspicion. Look the part and you will not be parted with your counterfeits.
Those Beats headphones on Khao San Road? They sounded terrible. The mids and highs had no thump to them and the sound was very distorted. The trio looked at me as I listened to my music and without alerting the vendor, I slightly shook my head no and gave them the answer they were looking for.
Have you purchased counterfeit goods and/or pirated entertainment in the past? If yes, what did you think of the quality of those goods and would you purchase again?