We love our fake luxury – even if we're supporting organised crime
Is imitation truly the sincerest form of flattery? The luxury goods industry apparently doesn't see it that way, with billions being lost each year to the trade of counterfeit goods.
Where once the ladies who lunch considered it de rigueur to have a designer handbag hanging off their tiny wrists, it is now considered both foolish and flashy. Equally their husbands' shiny Rolex watches, once viewed as a symbol of success, are no longer admired, unless of course they are fake.
According to research carried out by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), the upper and middle-classes are now snapping up fake designer handbags, shoes and watches as fast as they can say Christian Louboutin.
Everyone loves a bargain. The feeling of getting something at a cheaper price makes people feel good, especially these days when belts are being tightened across the globe.
People are now openly proud of the great deal they got on their knock-off Prada bag or faux Cartier watch. Whereas once fake goods were sold out of the back of vans, they have now 'gone mainstream', with more than half of all consumers admitting they have bought black market goods.
The findings were made during a PwC study, 'Counterfeit Goods. Who Is Buying What, And Why?'. The report concluded that with fake goods now crossing all echelons of society, the manufacturers of the genuine articles are being left out of pocket and are furious. Asia was found to be the principal source of the world's fake brands, with China the largest source economy.
More than 115 million suspect goods were stopped in the EU last year, worth an estimated €1.3bn. Just 3.5pc were found to be genuine and the rest were destroyed as fakes. Watches, clothing, bags and shoes, and pirated CDs and DVDs, made up a big proportion of goods seized. Almost all, 87pc, came from China.
Disgruntled manufactures are beginning to fight back. Earlier this year, Swiss luxury goods manufacturer Richemont (its premiere watch brands include Cartier and Alfred Dunhill) was awarded a $100m (€74m) judgment by a US court in a case brought against a Chinese company, Nanyang Technology, for running websites that sold knock-off versions of its watches.
The PwC study said the growth of the internet and technological advances were behind the flood of fake goods. The research showed that the majority of people go online, using the internet to buy fake goods. Buying fake medicine was the most popular purchase, which is very worrying. At least a fake coat won't kill you.
And yet, while 90pc of those surveyed by PwC said they considered buying fake goods 'morally wrong', 53pc of consumers admitted they had done so. It seems the lure of a Gucci handbag is stronger than the fear of getting caught.
'Purse parties' are replacing the old 'Tupperware parties'. People don't want plastic boxes anymore. In the front room of affluent suburbs, knock-off bags and scarves are falling off the shelves, as the attendees' race each other to buy them.
In the past, 'black market' conjured images of buyers digging through merchandise and nervously haggling with sketchy vendors. But the gentle surroundings of the 'purse party' seem to make the illegal aspect of the negotiations obsolete and turns law-abiding women into guilt-free lawbreakers.
The general public seems to be unaware that buying the occasional fake can do any harm. But buying counterfeit goods and receiving them via post is about to end with customs getting powers to burn them on the spot. The new rules, which will come into force in January, are designed to plug gaps in the counterfeit business.
Up to now, customs did not have the power to destroy small packets of goods coming through the post. But with the amount of goods in the post increasing by 300pc in just two years because of internet purchases, the EU decided it was time to update the law.
But while owning a counterfeit luxury product has become socially acceptable amongst today's consumers, 80pc of people surveyed said they would be deterred if they knew that sales helped to fund criminal activity.
Consumers need to be made aware that the seller of knock-off bags at the side of the road is just the last man in a big chain.
Perched at the top of the ladder are the criminal organisations. Profits from the sales of these counterfeit goods are going towards the funding of organised crime.
If people knew that their fabulous but fake Louis Vuitton bag was helping criminals, perhaps they'd feel a little less smug about it. As Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang, there 'Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing'.