The Evolution of the High End Knock Offs


“Psst! Hey mister, ya wanna buy a genuine copy of a Rolex?” Fake-goods

We’ve all seen them. At street vendors, flea markets – even some pretty hoity-toity stores. The “name” brand bag, sunglasses, coats, shoes etc., with all the fashion flair and none of the price. And we believe, we really want to believe the sales pitch that these are the genuine goods, the LV, the Versace, the Gucci item at a rock bottom price due to a “special purchase”. But we also all know, it just ain’t so. It’s just a little white lie we tell ourselves to assuage the buying guilt…which quickly evaporates once we are noticed/admired by whomever it is we wish to impress!

A little white lie. Doesn’t hurt anyone.  It’s just a _______ (fill in the blank)!

Well, maybe, maybe not, just depends on point of view…

It calls into question the very thing we value in the original product …which is why we have purchased a copy: the notion of designer brand and the exclusivity it infers, the status it implies. When numerous people walk around a flea market with the same Gucci knock off bag, it loses its caché and becomes, well, a joke: “Oh, you bought that one too?….I bought three!”


There is a cost, especially to the originators of the product in lost sales and revenue…but there is also a kind of reverse gain because the brand recognition drives the demand!

How does anyone amongst us think those brands got there in the first place? The companies worked at it, invested, marketed, created a story, gained recognition.  If the quality and design of the goods continues to be the beacon in the market that draws the attention, it seems reasonable to suggest that those wanting a piece of that should but do so with the same level of originality to compete and thrive.  Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but who asked ya?  Moreover, just because someone’s “gotta get them somma that” doesn’t give license to take others’ ideas and profit. We punish people who copy money, books, essays, etc. But have you seen cars lately? Can you really tell them apart except by the logo or name plate? Or phones? Or other popular consumer goods?

Design innovators often work for months and years designing collections and honing them to gain commercial success. Product groups lasted for years. Reputations were gained, almost an aura. Think Eames lounger, Nelson bench, – the Barcelona chair! Iconic, recognized, admired. Now, even those icons are knocked off mercilessly around the world, and, with the production capacity available worldwide (for all things) it’s little wonder. Demand is there, folks are happy with a facsimile as long as it’s an accurate nod to the original and truly don’t care about the integrity of intellectual property or anything else. Same with movies, same with music.  tilt navigation_categories_chairs_lounge_living_pg_eames_molded_plywood_chairs

Living in a world of VAST oversupply, there are all sorts of factories in all sorts of places and they have to do something!  A name brand product is brought to a factory to be copied because the original is expensive there is demand to find more of “the same” product at lower prices; “sell more/make more.” Name brands do not often discount due to demand or market caché – they KNOW what their product is worth and what it brings to the market. So, those seeking “the same” product at a lower price find “alternate” suppliers – who can copy the original for a lower price (?) and maybe supply a facsimile or copy of the label as well. Sadly…and too often…those seeking reproduction items find a ready supply of alternate suppliers who are usually more than accommodating. (Sometimes bootlegging from the same facility making the original Name Brand product!).  And the cycle begins.

So, since it all looks the same in the paper, it turns out most people don’t give a fig about the brand, but DO care about the optics their copy imparts to those observing them. If it looks authentic, then it is…at least for the moment.

Sad but true…these days, rather than patent an idea which is crazy expensive and often inconclusive… we design, build, publish, and then supersede ourselves at a riotous pace because there is always someone peeking around the corner. I call the rapid-ideation process “surround the bastards!” That’s because the only hope of staying ahead of copycats is to outpace their ability to steal ideas. Imagine…innovation as the key barrier to entry!  Meaning I now understand and fully embrace the doctrine put forward by Dr. Edwards Deming who once famously wrote: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory”.  


I am taking him at his word.


Paul Zaidman