Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a phrase especially relevant in the world of luxury fashion. In a latest effort to clampdown on China’s counterfeiters, imitators say they are fans of brands, not fakers.
Hong Kong-based House of Hello (HOH) must be enormous fans of Hermes, who’s Birkin lookalikes sell for 2,229 Chinese Yuan Renminbi, or the equivalent of just under 300 euros.
According to China Daily, HOH built its entire business on copying the designs of big-name brands. Their retail prices are relatively small for a near identical bag – that is you’re not fanatical about perfect seams.
HOH Creative Designer Tina Lee positions the brand as an affordable luxury for every lady who wants to lead an elegant life, arguing that her design represents a disruption to the traditional high fashion industry, rather than a theft.
Does copyright mean anything in China?
So should copying be regarded as a tribute? Take the new store Colette: Forever which opened in downtown Shanghai this year: named, without irony, after the iconic Paris boutique complete with identikit logo font and colour. Whilst every fashionista in the Western Hemisphere knows Colette shut its doors at the end of last year, we also know the Chinese version has nothing to do with the fashion emporium founded by Colette Roussaux and her daughter Sarah Lerfeli.
In any western country mimicking a well-known retailer would be strictly met with regulations and intellectual property laws forcing the business to change or shutter. A ‘tribute’ to a store would not hold up with international IP infringement, whereas in China, the murky waters of copyright can easily be avoided.
China Daily explains the mentality amongst Chinese entrepreneurs: “I like it, so I am allowed to create one just like it.” The publications says the phenomenon is in part a result of the opening up of the Chinese economy, when the country transformed into the world’s factory, supplying major fashion labels around the world.
Chinese garment producers have the know-how, why would they not opt to sell direct to consumer and increase their margins?
“In recent years, the dramatic rise of labor costs in Chinahas caused an increasing number of international brands to move their production lines to cheaper countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. The loss of international orders has forced traditional manufacturers to explore new business models in order to remain competitive,” states China Daily.
Copycat brands are coined mountain village brands
Some of them decided to establish their own fashion brands to sell the items they produce. However, because most lack professional training and experience in fashion design, many choose to make goods that appropriate the designs of established brand-name products. These brands are often known as shanzhai, or “mountain village” brands, a term that became popular after a boom in copycat tech companies that set up in Guangzhou in the early 2000s.
Some commentators say that IP-theft will gradually disappear as the Chinese government looks to enforce laws that support domestic brands, as well as foreign ones. This is part of the President’s ‘Chinese Dream’, which considers creativity and innovation crucial to rebuilding national pride and gaining greater cultural power globally.‘
In recent years, luxury brands have made renewed efforts to counter the rampant counterfeiting in the Chinese market. However, they have struggled to make headway in a culture where copying is acceptable behavior for most Chinese consumers.