A report by the respectable German DIE ZEIT Magazine follows the path of a fake Kånken backpack from Germany back to China.
In the fake industry, there are numerous strategies. One is to deceit the consumer and sell a knockoff as authentic or jump on brand recognition but alter a brand name slightly to Parada or Cuccy. Alternatively, CRIS&COCO source identical replica designer bags and luxury accessories and offer them for a fraction of the original price. Authentic product for a fake price so to speak.
The journalistic journey started with Anna, the wife of Chris, one of the authors of this story. In August 2018, she was lying in a hammock, looking at Instagram. An ad for a backpack from Fjällräven, the Swedish brand with the red polar fox in the logo, got her attention. She ordered a turquoise backpack for 58.65 Euros, a service representative immediately thanked very friendly for the order and promises to ship the bag within the next four days.
I think the authors are dishonest. Now every consumer is sophisticated enough to recognize counterfeit, at least when it comes to the price and the merchandise is way cheaper than original. Deception is more prevalent in the vintage business and on the numerous auction stores, but that is another post.
She never received the backpack, almost a month later, she got a note from the chief customs office Hamburg, “the package is on hold, it is assumed the merchandise is fake.” For Anna, the letter is entirely unexpected. It is routine for customs. Last year, its employees confiscated 5,066,261 fake products in Germany: watches, shoes, clothing, headphones, bags, perfumes, tablets, potency pills. Overall, it was 50 percent more than the year before.
According to a study by the OECD, over 500 billion dollars worth of counterfeit goods is traded each year. The fake economy makes as much revenue as Apple and Amazon together. Moreover, it is becoming more global. In 2013, its share of world trade was 2.5 percent. Three years later, it was already 3.3 percent. The US magazine Forbes considers the business with the fakes for more profitable than the drug or human trafficking. It is the “biggest criminal enterprise in the world.”
Anna’s package is waiting for her at the customs office in Hamburg. The customs declaration reveals that her backpack comes from China. It also says the name of the sender is just Jack. While Anna is standing by, a customs officer opens the package. The backpack is turquoise-pink, as ordered. At first glance, it looks like the original: The logo, the zippers, even the patches look identical. However, it feels different, and it smells like glue.
We at CRIS&COCO are aware of the challenges selling only safe products. We only source original quality and make sure our vendors use authentic materials and use high quality non-toxic and odorless glue.
The DIE ZEIT team discusses the fake-industry with the EU Commission. It says that the topic has been addressed. However, it is difficult. Not least because of the German economy, the companies say: “Beware, China is our largest market.” One could say that in order to be able to continue to sell German cars to the Chinese, one has to tolerate the fake flood.
In search of the producers of the fake Kånken backpacks, the team is flying to Guangzhou, the fake stronghold of China. The city is located in the south, on the border with Hong Kong. It is the capital of Guangdong Province, which is considered the “factory of the world.” Around a quarter of China’s exports are produced here, clothing, toys, cell phones. It’s a giant juggernaut, hot and muggy.
In a nondescript residential area, we slip through a heavy metal door, are led through a dark staircase. It smells strongly of chemicals. The material is dyed on the ground floor. On the first floor of the three-story factory, workers without surgical masks and gloves sit on wooden chairs and sew the backpacks together. In between, children run around, and sewing machines rattle, fans are supposed to provide some cooling. On the second floor is the warehouse. Thousands of backpacks are piled up here. They are packed in packs of ten and sorted by color. There are yellow, green, red, and colorful piles. They almost reach the ceiling. He has not seen anything like that yet, says Kevin. He estimates that there are 10,000 backpacks, everything Kånken. The factory produces nothing else.
We sit down with the woman at a table, get served cold Red Bull. She’s been running the business for five years, she tells us. She could produce up to 30,000 backpacks a month. If we take more than 1000 pieces, the price is between four and five euros per piece. The goods could be shipped to Rotterdam or Hamburg. We will buy some samples to check. One of them is turquoise and has pink straps, just like the one Anna ordered. We can’t be sure, but it is quite possible that our story started here.