Internationally, counterfeit is a huge market and major media houses like BOF, Vogue etc. continuously report on it. Highsnobiety has documented the counterfeit culture in major cities. While brands have tried hard to fight it, some brands like Gucci, Alexander Wang, Diesel have found creative ways of using it as a marketing opportunity. Counterfeit has always existed in the Indian market, but definitely not the way it is today. It does not just stop at a Nike sneaker or a Levis logo T-shirt anymore. To say the least, we were surprised by the quality of the products, the variety of brands and the growing counterfeit market when we took it on ourselves to dig a little deeper…
All About The Hype
With the growing streetwear market and sneaker culture, the Indian youth is getting more obsessed with street fashion and streetwear brands. However, due to limited access to ‘hyped’ streetwear brands in India, many of them resort to the counterfeit market. One of the biggest reasons being the price. Street fashion does not come cheap and a good pair of sneakers will cost you anything over 10k. Our team at @sssmagazine decided to go out and see this for ourselves. What we were expecting were the regular logo T-shirts and some classic sneakers like the Nike Cortez, the Puma Suedes, Vans old schools, or maybe some Stan Smiths. What we definitely did not expect to see were hyped collaborations and coveted international streetwear brands from FEAR OF GOD, Nike X Supreme, Palace, Off-White to luxury brands like Gucci, Balenciaga etc. readily available at popular marketplaces around the capital. We took the opportunity to chat up with the store owners while observing customers walk in and out wearing and buying the latest streetwear trends.
For The Gram
One thing was made clear: the retailers keep a close eye on Instagram and streetwear trends. Not only are they very active on social media, esp. Instagram, many of the store owners are young, updated on trends and run Instagram accounts for their physical stores. “An important part of our job is to be up to the date on what is in trend and to also see which particular collaboration is more popular within the Indian streetwear enthusiasts and mostly what young Bollywood celebrities are seen wearing on Instagram. You cannot sell without information and knowledge on what you are building a business around” said one 25-year-old store owner. “A majority of my customers connect with me on social media since not everyone wants to be seen shopping for counterfeit products” he quoted.
DM For Gucci
Walking into the stores inside one of the capital’s biggest counterfeit market ‘Gaffar’, we noticed that most of the sales representatives were fixated to their phone. While some of them were packing orders for shipping, the rest were busy chatting with customers and taking orders on WhatsApp groups created by them. “You can let me know if there is any particular product you want and I can arrange it for you,” said the store manager, upon enquiring about a colorway they did not have at the store. “Just DM the picture and we will arrange it for you.” The store and the market, he said, were only one part of the business. “We courier to all parts of the country. Many of my other colleagues sell and buy on Amazon, eBay, OLX, and other websites,” as he shared the number for the store’s ‘official’ WhatsApp group.
Fake, Not Cheap
With the rise in quality and precision, counterfeit products don’t come cheap. For example, you can cop a pair of fake Nike Cortez for Rs. 2,500, while an authorized store would sell the same pair for 6-7k and the price may drop to 2,500-3k during the sale period. The more hyped a particular style is, the more expensive the counterfeit retailers sell it for. The same goes for brands that don’t have stores and are not easily available in India.
Yeezys On Rent
We all know that, partly, with the popularity of Instagram, trends come and go faster than it ever did. People feel the need to buy more and have the latest products to flex it on the gram. “Since we don’t have return policies, we get customers who rent products out. Renting out can cost Rs 500 for a sneaker to Rs 1,000 for an expensive one”, quoted one of the retailers at Gaffar market, Delhi. “The problem is, those who don’t know about the value of the real product are not ready to pay the price that we quote for the fake piece. But for those who do know, they don’t want to keep the fake for long, so renting is also an option with us”
No Stopping Them
The counterfeit market in India isn’t going away in the near future. The market for fakes are on a constant rise in India, and ‘has surpassed over Rs 40,000 crore in the organized sector alone’. The blame should be partly on a weak law enforcement in India and the fact that fraudsters can have easy and open access to the market. “Fakes have always been big business. The profits are so high and the risk is almost zero.” He adds. “We don’t see anything wrong with what we do, our job is to supply to the demand. If not us, someone else will.”
Top 5 sneaker brands in the counterfeit market in India:
The available sneakers in the counterfeit market are not limited to Nike, Adidas and PUMA. We were surprised to see brands like Onitsuka Tiger, Under Armour and New Balance in high demand. Rated below are the brands available in order of popularity, based on our observation of store displays, interactions with retailers and customers:
1. NIKE: Clearly, more than half of the sneakers are Nikes, Jordan brand and its collabs (mostly Off-Whites and Supreme)
2. ADIDAS ORIGINALS and its collabs (especially Yeezys)
3. PUMA: Fenty collabs and Suedes are most popular. No, we did not see Thunder Spectra, Sega RS-0 or BTS collabs
4. ONITSUKA TIGER: A big surprise. Although, exclusively Mexico 66
5. NEW BALANCE
OTHERS: Vans, Converse, Fila and Under Armour
Top 5 streetwear brands in the counterfeit market:
2. ADIDAS ORIGINALS
OTHERS: Balenciaga, Palace, Puma, Nike, Gucci, Vans, The North Face
Is the counterfeit market affecting the brands and their legit customers in India?
Some say that the ones who buy counterfeits are not the target customers of brands since they will never buy the original products due to the price difference. Is counterfeit, instead, free advertisement for the brands? Virgil Abloh had famously said, “If it’s working to the point where someone else can profit off that, that means it is really working. You’re not taking anything away from me, you’re actually just advertising more.”
In our view, being most popular in the counterfeit market, although a reflection of a brand’s popularity, is not a good thing for the brands as well as for their legit fans. Customers who value the craftsmanship and design details of an original product will always buy from authorized channels. However, certainly, there are potential customers who are too eager to have the latest pair or to have a pair that won’t drop in India or the ones who buy it for the hype and may end up buying the fakes. Also, some legit customers may not feel it worth buying a coveted sneaker if the market is inundated by its counterfeit. Exclusivity is one reason why brands put a high price on a product and what counterfeit does is ruin that. In our view, on one hand, there should be more regulations on counterfeit markets (which clearly does not exist in India right now), and the brands should make their products more accessible: in terms of price as well as in terms of availability of designs.
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