In an effort called "Operation Bad Gifts," US Customs & Border Protection uncovered a planeload of designer fakes at John F. Kennedy Airport's Cargo Center between this month, reports WWD, continuing a December-long crackdown that has now reportedly yielded an estimated nearly $3 million of counterfeit goods.
The CBP raid was conducted between December 2 and 4, meaning it occurred just a week before the takedown of a Queens warehouse containing similarly faked designer goods. Intellectual Property Rights people are cracking down.
In the JFK seizure, CBP found fake Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Michael Kors, Chanel, and Coach goods in the form of purses, watches, sunglasses and sneakers. WWD reports that if these goods were sold at retail, they would have brought in an estimated $450,000 to their original designers. Robert E. Perez, the CBP's director of field operations in NYC, said in a press release that their "efforts to prevent these counterfeit items from entering the United States is crucial to protecting consumers and our economy."
But as I've posited before, this way of estimating market value is flawed: though these types of goods bear copyright-infringing faked logos, they usually go for around one-eighth of the price of an original—say, $100 for a fake Chanel bag as opposed to $1,000 for a real one. The consumer who is in the market for a hundred-dollar Chanel bag is entirely different from the consumer who can afford the real deal—and it's conventional wisdom that most people who can do that likely think fakes are beneath them, as opposed to any sort of moral standards applicable to intellectual property rights. (I'm betting that if you checked the computers of people who bought Chanel bags this year, you'd very likely find pirated music, movies, or TV, even among very rich people. Just a hunch.)
Another headline in today's WWD is extremely telling, and inextricable from the supply and demand for faked designer goods. Titled "Outer Limits: The Costs of Luxury Goods," the piece explores how the price tags on luxury handbags, shoes, and other items has inflated at the same time as the world's richest one percent controls almost as much of the globe's income as the rest of us as a whole:
The 1 percent's global wealth has grown to a new record, rising by 8.3 percent to $263 trillion — or a $20.1 trillion hike — between mid-2013 and mid-2014, according to a Credit Suisse report on global wealth published in October. The richest 1 percent of the world's population owns more than 48 percent of global wealth, according to the report, which warned that growing inequality could be a trigger for recession.
"The average price for a designer handbag rose from $1,500 at retail in 2007 to over $2,000 now," observed [VIP buyer Victoria] de la Fuente. She also cited designer sunglasses doubling from an average $200 in 2007 to $450 now. "Carrie Bradshaw's Manolo Blahnik stilettos were around $500 in 2000. Designer shoes are now more like $1,000."
As the price of these goods inflates, so does the drive for fakes, whether from those people who can no longer afford luxury items but still desire the status, or from people who could never afford them but are inundated with ads and editorials that link human worth with material worth. The topic of counterfeit designer items brings with it an absurdly complex web of economic, social, and psychological issues, and that's even before questioning who actually manufactures the items, and whether they're produced under inhumane, unethical conditions. Some will point out that the high cost of luxury goods is concurrent with the fact that they're often made by individual artisans, which can be true. But the issue of sweatshop labor ranges from counterfeit items all the way to the real-deal designer stuff. Caveat emptor?
Image via Sam DCruz/Shutterstock.