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Health, Beauty & Fashion

$189 for a $1,000 dress? Copy that

Shops selling designer knock-offs flourishing, driven by demand for chic on the cheap
The Sunday Times - October 30, 2011
By: Amelia Tan
| More
$189 for a $1,000 dress? Copy that A retailer recently apologised in The Straits Times for selling fake Herve Leger dresses. The label is known for bandage dresses like the one above. -- PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM, AFP

The label said 'Herve Leger made in China' and it even came with an authenticity card allowing you to register your highly exclusive garment online.

A steal then, since this bandage dress was going for $189 at a shop in Far East Plaza when something similar at the Herve Leger flagship store in Ion Orchard easily comes with a price tag of $1,000.

Too good to be true? Sure, if you believe the dress is real.

The owner of Get Dressed, Ms Novianti Goh, told customers the dress is no fake, and that it comes from her supplier in Hong Kong. But lining the racks of her shop are copies of other designer labels like Emilio Pucci and Karen Millen.

When The Sunday Times contacted her, she said her dresses are factory overruns, but would not say where her supplier is based.

Such shops claiming to sell factory overruns, rejects and even copies of designer togs have been flourishing here in the last five years.

At Scotts Road's Far East Plaza alone, there were at least 10 such shops doing brisk business.

But since a local retailer took out a full-page public apology in The Straits Times three weeks ago for selling counterfeit designer dresses by French-founded label Herve Leger, store owners selling similar products have been on tenterhooks.

The Sunday Times visited close to 10 shops at Far East Plaza which sell look-a-likes of the garment in question, and found that some retailers have kept the dresses out of sight, stuffed into boxes.

Herve Leger is known for its distinctive, figure-flattering bandage dresses, much-favoured by Hollywood celebrities. The brand is owned by American fashion house BCBG Max Azria Group of MLA Multibrand Holdings.

When asked where the dresses were made, some store owners replied with a curt 'I don't know', while others said the dresses came from 'suppliers in Hong Kong' but did not know more about their country of origin.

Herve Leger is distributed in Singapore by local company J&D Investment at Ion Orchard and Marina Bay Sands.

Fashion industry experts and lawyers say counterfeit products from China and top-grade copies from countries like South Korea have become more prevalent because of consumers' growing desire for designer items.

Fake designer bags have long been a highly lucrative industry, especially in Asia. But bogus clothes have also been a burgeoning business in recent years, thanks to advances in technology which make it easier for manufacturers to produce copies.

For example, digital photographs of designer items can be sent via e-mail to manufacturers within minutes of the products being paraded at fashion shows. With the help of highly efficient machines and experienced workers, manufacturers are able to churn out samples within a day and mass produce them in a week.

'You flip magazines and they are filled with beautiful things that make people want them. But not all can afford it and they will get the next best thing, which to many, is a copy,' said local fashion designer Frederick Lee.

'It is a demand and supply issue. The manufacturers see a demand for copies and so they make them.'

These garments are sold domestically and also exported by middle- men who sell them to retailers all over the world. Many designer labels have factories in China.

Top-grade copies are often based on the real items and pay much attention to details like buttons and stitching. And they tend to cost anything from the hundreds to even thousands of dollars.

But cheap copies can be had at rock-bottom prices.

Those in the fashion industry say the proliferation of factory rejects, factory overrun products and parallel imports also make it difficult to tell the fakes from the originals.

Intellectual property lawyer Dedar Singh Gill said the onus is on the trademark owners to protect their goods from being counterfeited. The police may initiate action against businesses dealing in counterfeit goods where there is evidence that syndicated crime is involved.

The big demand for such fakes has spilled online, with more than a few blogshops and websites selling counterfeit dresses and bags - mostly operating out of China and Hong Kong.

Such online sellers make policing even harder.

Experts say the disparity in price is not a surefire way of identifying a fake because factory rejects are known to sell at outlet stores overseas for a fraction of the original price. Fashion houses may want to sell past-season products at low prices.

Professor Joe Spinelli, principal of private fashion design school Raffles Design Institute, said factory rejects and overruns also feature flaws like sloppy finishing and crooked zippers, for instance.

'I think consumers should have a buyer-beware attitude, especially when shopping at smaller retail shops where you are not sure about the origin of the products,' he said.

The issue of counterfeit products will not be solved merely by educating the public on the differences between fakes and the real thing, Prof Spinelli said.

'There is a group of consumers who are consciously looking out for designer knock-offs. They are not looking for quality because to them, a $100 look-alike of a $1,000 dress is good enough,' he said.

'At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who will pay thousands of dollars because they understand the concepts behind the design and the quality of the material. I think this differing of consumer tastes will always exist.'

One credit analyst who has spent $2,000 on copies of designer dresses, bags and shoes over the last two years said she likes brand- name items for their design but is unwilling to fork out so much for them.

'I am not concerned that people will spot that the stuff I am wearing is fake. I feel that with the right accessories, I will look good and people won't be able to tell the difference,' said the 26-year-old, who declined to be named for fear of embarrassment.

But others insist on the real deal. Fashion business owner Jennifer Li, 26, who bought a Herve Leger dress for over $1,000 a few years ago and owns several other designer items, said: 'I am willing to spend on designer goods because of their quality, the fit and material. A Herve Leger dress sculpts your body and wearing one really makes a difference... You won't be able to get the same effect from a copy.'

Singapore Retailers Association executive director Lau Chuen Wei said it is important that fakes are wiped out from the retail scene.

'The cost of operation in Singapore is high. So our competitive advantage is that we are known for our quality and reputation. We need to protect this,' she said.

The experts say the best way fashion houses can fight back is to stay ahead of the curve and come up with better, more complex and detailed designs which manufacturers will find difficult to copy.

Prof Spinelli said: 'This will make differentiation between the original and the copies much easier for consumers.'


Parallel imports: Products made in certain countries for the local market. They are cheaper because manufacturers and retailers avoid paying tax and other tariffs.

Factory rejects: Goods which are damaged or do not meet quality standards and are sold at a discounted price. They are popularly known as 'cut label' products as their labels are snipped to show that they are damaged, a practice which is sanctioned by fashion houses. Fashion labels have licensed retailers, typically outlet malls, which can sell their factory rejects.

Factory overrun: Extra goods produced in a production run which fashion houses did not order. Fashion houses and manufacturers will have to come to an agreement on where to sell these products, such as in outlet malls. They can bought at a fraction of the usual price, especially if the goods are made in seasonal colours and materials.



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