There’s an pretty common idea that genuine products are good and counterfeit products are bad. By and large, this proves true due to obvious design errors or poor quality materials used in counterfeit goods. I think where things get confusing is when you counterfeit goods become very well made with high quality materials.
Case in point, I bought a counterfeit Louis Vuitton wallet in Dongmen Shopping Center in Shenzhen, China. It cost 100 RMB ($15), 5% the cost of the genuine wallet ($300). It had the same pattern you see below and was made with a slightly less high quality leather than the Louis Vuitton version. I liked the design and needed a new wallet.
A few weeks later I had dinner with a friend, who is a successful Chinese businessman. When I pulled my wallet out to pay, he pulled his out, and in the Chinese fashion, pushed mine away. He then noticed that we had the same wallet. He held his up to mine to compare.
“Exactly the same!” he exclaimed proudly.
I’m pretty sure that Mr Liu’s wallet was not a $15 knockoff, but instead cost him $400-$500 at one of Shenzhen’s many LV stores. I didn’t mention it less for fear of showing him that i’m déclassé but because I didn’t want him to feel bad that he paid so much more for the same wallet.
The fake Apple story that is popular right now will really challenge the idea of genuine versus counterfeit especially if it is found that the devices are identical. Identical except instead of being manufactured at the Foxconn plant in Longgong, they were produced down the street using the same parts or possibly similar parts using the same templates, machines and components. To be sure, the retail price of an iPhone or iPad is not indicative of the manufacturing cost. And the same for my Louis Vuitton wallet. I really doubt that Mr Liu’s LV wallet is comprised of anywhere near $300-400 worth of materials and craftsmanship. What do I think it costs to produce? $20. What do I think an iPhone costs Apple to produce (minus advertising, etc)? About $75.
Let’s assume that counterfeiters will have to use higher quality materials and pay closer attention to design nuances, and sooner or later the fake looks and works identically to the genuine article. If a fake is so good that an expert cannot tell that it’s fake, is it fake? You might say that the Louis Vuitton wallet is produced somewhere in France, so the real one must be produced in France. McDonald’s hamburgers, ideally, should be produced in America but are often produced (and cooked and sold) elsewhere, and they taste the same anywhere you go.
Let’s for a moment consider that what is real is not a brand (a rather nebulous and antiquated idea dating back to times when brands were literally branded into products) but rather something that can pass the inspection of an expert with all the senses and tools available. A McDonald’s hamburger is an idea and a concept, not necessarily a thing. You can find recipes online on how to replicate pretty much every popular restaurant food at home by following strict instructions and ingredients. I’ve tried some of these, and they are the same. So you would still call the thing a “Red Lobster Cheese Biscuit“, because that is the name we’ve given it. But you didn’t have to buy it from a Red Lobster restaurant. Oftentimes Pink Berry knock off joints are actually better than Pinkberry.
While also in China I watched a lot of pirated movies. It was the only option. On every street corner is a movie store with DVDs that cost 4RMB (60 cents) each. While these movies were fake, they didn’t seem fake other than the bad english translations, which I didn’t need anyway, and sometimes they were poor quality (hmm.. guy getting up to get popcorn isn’t apart of this movie). In the same way that I experienced the exhilaration of owning a Louis Vuitton wallet, I also enjoyed hundreds of movies. If they were fake, they sure seemed real.
A Mercedes-Benz is a very nice car but a 2011 Mercedes-Benz does not have the same craftsmanship and raw materials than a 1999, nor is a Mercedes-Benz licensed to be produced in China the same as the one you would buy in Germany or the United States. Is the Chinese made MBZ fake? Not according to Mercedes Benz. They’ve “licensed” it.
I think in some ways, demystifying real and fake will work wonders to demystify expensive bullshit that people waste their money on. I’m not arguing for buying counterfeit goods, i’m arguing that you should turn off the part of your brain that sees things with a fancy brand as valuable. They are worth what an exchange of rich people will pay for them, and you aren’t rich, and by association many non-rich persons having a luxury branded item is lowering the value of that item.
How much was my Louis Vuitton wallet worth to me? $15. (The shopkeeper wanted $25).
How much was it worth to Mr Liu? $500.
How much was it worth to my friend Gary who I sold it to, after receiving a very nice genuine Vivienne Westwood wallet as a gift?