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Fashion designers are confronted with counterfeits

The South African luxury fashion industry is comprised of the young and upcoming; the well established and the world class mega stylists – all competing to satisfy the luxurious brand conscious consumer. While players in the industry have managed to make great strides in capturing the luxury and ostentatious goods niche market, they have had to grapple many challenges, one of which is fashion counterfeiting.

Counterfeiting threatens many local and international luxury brands. In addition to reduced profitability, fashion counterfeiting gnaws at the brand uniqueness of small fashion designers.  The influx of cheap clothing imports coupled with clothing counterfeits are crippling small and large luxury clothing brands.

Luxury brands are associated with quality, status and affluence. Items or accessories are priced based on the value that consumers place on them and consequentially they are highly priced. This premium pricing attracts bootleggers who want to cash-in on established luxury brands by selling fake branded items.

Fashion counterfeit operations are omnipresent, making it an insurmountable task for tax collectors to track and shut them down. Not only this, but big brands can prey on smaller less recognisable brands. As seen recently, an entrepreneur hit a well-known athletic apparel giant with a trademark infringement suit alleging the clothing giant had stolen his trademarked catchphrase “You’re Never Done”. The catchphrase was used in an ad campaign. Such instances are common in the fashion industry as small designers lose much more than catchphrases – they also lose their designs to bigger clothing brands.

There are measures that small designers can put in place to counter the risk of fashion counterfeits.

Setting up online stores:

Online market places provide an alternative for local designers who want to minimise the risk of their designs being copied. Online stores thrive on exclusivity as the clothing items and accessories being sold are not easily accessible to counterfeiters.

Pop up stores: 

The concept of pop stores enables small designers to build their brands at a low cost. Upcoming designers who have no physical premises can sell their clothing items at places where their target customers shop.  Pop up stores, like online stores have an element of exclusivity, which is a crucial differentiator for luxury brands.  Designers engage with customers and promote their brand, while making sales when they utilise pop up stores.

Join forces with the government and e-commerce stores:

The South African government has in recent years, improved Intellectual Property (IP) protection to handle the growing number of infringement cases. Upcoming designers can enhance their anti-counterfeit strategies by making use of the channels that the government provides.

Register design trademarks: 

Although this option is more costly especially for start-up designers who need to cut operating costs, it provides a workable anti-counterfeit solution. South African law protects intellectual property, but only if a trademark is officially registered. Once your trademark is officially registered in South Africa, a designer can take legal action against counterfeits.


By Quiteria Kekana and George Malelu, co-founders and managers at Quiteria & George