Scrolling through Instagram, you’re bound to see local influencers and celebrities wearing the best that Sandton’s Diamond Walk offers. But bubble has popped. The “Fake Gucci Community SA” account separates the real from the fake, and the drip from the downtown specials. From rap artists and celebrities to socialites and content creators, the myth of an increasingly accessible luxury market has been busted. Instead, we’re left wondering what the prevalence of these counterfeit fashion items mean for our industry, our society and efforts towards sustainable fashion.
We interviewed Michael*, the user behind the infamous IG page to get the scoop. And it’s about time we do. As it stands, Fairbridges Wertheim Becker Attorney’s reports that, South Africa is one of the fastest growing markets for counterfeit goods, with its value estimated at about R362 million in 2011. Despite clear regulation around counterfeit goods (including a hefty R50 000 fine) and the severe impact on South Africa’s already struggling local textile and growing retail markets, this is not just about laughing at fake leather or an upside down Gucci logo. Michael* says that while his page shocked internet users, the severity of South Africa’s counterfeit market comes as no surprise to him.
“I wasn’t shocked when I noticed that celebrities were getting robbed unknowingly, or are doing it on purpose. I thought to myself – here is the target market”, he says, also suggesting that many of these influencers and celebrities may be key drivers of the luxury counterfeit trade, rather than being unsuspecting victims.
But Michael isn’t the only one telling the story of the growing fake fit market in SA. Local Tok-Tok user, @avril_albetti used sleuthing techniques to show the lengths to which South Africans go to present themselves as luxury brand owners via the short video platform. In one of Albetti’s clips, they allege that the Gucci store in Cape Town is selling consumers shopper bags even if they haven’t bought product, which are usually given to patrons as free with their purchase. While this is not necessarily illegal or unethical, it is interesting that formal ‘real’ businesses seem to be leaning into our need for luxury items at whatever cost. It’s not a big step then – using ‘more is more’ logic – to understand why some people opt for affordable, counterfeit options which allow them to present an ever-changing wardrobes. Of course, these ever-changing wardrobes also mean the use of low-pay labour, likely environmentally dodgy manufacturing processes and further pressure on an already earth-unfriendly industry. For Michael and the Fake Gucci Community, public figures hold some level of responsibility for standing on the right side of these issues.
“People look up to you – if you are not a fashion influencer – for the kind of person you are, and not for the clothes you wear. People should give up the pressure to keep up with the time, cause that time expires. You don’t want to be known for the wrong reason,” he says.
The level of backlash in response to the page is revealing. Celebrity DJ Lamiez Holworthy and megastar Somizi have been the ‘target’ of the page, and have spoken out via their platforms to refute Michael’s claims and indeed the whole ‘exposure’ mandate of the page. But it could be argued that these public figures underestimate the impact of the fugezi market on their fans, as well as the industry and environment.
Writing about the issue, Davis and Gilbert Attorneys Brooke Singer, Amy Mittleman and Alexia Rosell illuminate the scale of losses to the industry – which are both monetary and natural resource losses, as textiles, energy and water are used unsparingly to keep the industry of copycats going. They write:
It is estimated that, globally, counterfeiting has become a trillion dollar industry, which has caused total losses of up to $98 billion dollars across the fashion, cosmetics and textile industries.
Michael does not see the page as a solution for any of these issues, but it has certainly made the public more aware – both in terms of the scale of the counterfeit market operating locally, and the extent to which the fake items significantly outweigh the real. While it’s not possible to tell what the impact of these exposures will have on individual purchasing decisions, there is certainly something to learn from being a regular viewer of the page (I’ll admit, I’m hooked). For Michael, information and awareness is needed in order for consumers to make informed decisions.
“I want people who buy from certified resellers and the store to separate themselves from those who buy fake,” he says.
So whether it’s a Supreme x Chanel capsule collection that doesn’t exist, a shinier-than usual Gucci belt buckle, fakes are here and thriving in some of South Africa’s swankiest suburbs. And while it may be easy to make the case for a R3000 purchase over a R30 000 one, it’s not just about getting busted, it’s about the impact of the purchase on the consumer, their network and the environment which takes strain under every plastic pair of fake Louboutins.
How to distinguish fake from authentic Gucci
According to Luxity, a South African secondhand luxury online store:
The Gucci market is flooded with counterfeits, so it’s important that you know how to authenticate Gucci bags and shoes! Authenticating Gucci products is a real skill as there is no one single way to determine whether it’s real or not. To help you distinguish an authentic from a counterfeit, we’ve compiled a list of steps taken by our very own authentication team to determine the authenticity of Gucci shoes and bags.
To ensure you’re buying authentic Gucci read Luxity’s guide here.
- In order to protect the anonymity of our source, we have used a pseudonym for the purposes of this article
- Images: Main Image is Unsplash and others are screen grabs