George Davis | Authentic counterfeits
It's becoming increasingly difficult to buy authentic brand-name clothes or shoes in Jamaica. The proliferation of counterfeit clothing will require an article by itself, so for today, I am just talking about shoes.
Never before have there been so many local stores selling items under the name of the top brands, and never before have there been so many fakes on the shelves and in display windows, forcing one to wonder what the Jamaica Customs Agency is doing to infiltrate the container loads of counterfeit shoes that have flooded the local market.
There are stores aplenty in plazas across the island in which any brand you fancy - Nike, Adidas, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, et al - are lined up on display, leading you to believe thatyou were shopping inside one of the stores on the London High Street in White City or Stratford.
Well, you would be a fool as while these scoundrel store owners charge you the same prices offered on High Street, what you are receiving is a replicant of the real thing. I use the word 'replicant' because often, the differences between the fake and the original are so subtle that the uninitiated struggle to distinguish them.
The real crime lies in the fact that the store sells you a pair of replicant shoes for $8,000, the same price that another store would charge for a real pair of the same shoes. The store owners/operators who, troublingly, are always of Asian descent, swear that the items are all genuine, pointing to the trademarks on the shoes.
Some months ago, one store operator asked me whether he could be so bold as to publicly display and offer for sale so many counterfeit goods without ever having been sanctioned by any official of the Customs Agency or Revenue Protection Division. This argument was used when I challenged him about the authenticity of a pair of so-called Timberland boots in his store located inside the Boulevard Shopping Centre. He was adamant that they were real until I told him that Timberland didn't make boots that weighed less than a sheet of writing paper.
He was attempting to not understand, so I told him that the pair he was selling could float in a bathtub of water, while just one foot of the real Timberland boots was so heavy that it would sink immediately upon touching the water.
In the past, the Customs Agency has seized large shipments of counterfeit shoes destined for a store near you. There was a prominent case in 1999, where the agency won a case in the Supreme Court brought by Costco Trading, which was disputing the seizure of shipping containers with 7,346 pairs of fake shoe brands. Between January 2016 and September this year, Customs, acting on the behalf of brand holders, says that it seized approximately J$65 million worth of fake goods at the ports. This seems like only a wet spot in a deep bucket.
US Customs and Border Protection agents effected a record 31,560 seizures of counterfeit goods in 2016 valued at US$1.38 billion. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a report in 2013, noting that the global value of counterfeit and pirated goods was a whopping US$461 billion, with the market for fake footwear brands accounting for US$13 billion of that sum.
Unsurprisingly, the report named China as the piracy capital of the world, leading a motley crew of counterfeit hot spots including India, Cambodia, Turkey, and the Philippines. The city of Putian in China's eastern Fujian province is that country's shoe-manufacturing hub.
There are manufacturing plants that make authentic brands by day, and then by night, switch to making replicants of those brands. These replicants have flooded the Jamaican market and caused this situation: the store owner here buys cheap knockoffs from overseas, ships them here, then charges Jamaicans premium prices for fake goods.
I struggle to think that the country's Customs Act and Merchandise Marks Act can only be applied at the port of entry. The relevant government agencies must be able to raid these stores, seize goods, and punish those who are getting filthy rich off an activity that must cause them to sometimes chuckle and conclude that Jamaicans, from the shepherds to the flock, are all idiots.