March, 2018

U.S. consumers buy counterfeit designer sneakers from China on Instagram

Original article: GQ

Instagram, the photo-sharing social media app with 500 million active daily users, is becoming a major online platform for the purchase of counterfeit designer footwear from China. Research cited by The Washington Post found that Instagram facilitates US$29 billion in annual counterfeit goods sales.


The irony of this situation is risible: Chinese counterfeiters are using a popular foreign social media app blocked in China to sell fake goods made in their country to buyers in the U.S. Apparently, the Great Firewall cannot always deter the PRC's most enterprising trademark infringers. 

Analysts say that Instagram is ideal for selling fake goods because it's designed to activate people's desires. Popular Instagram accounts can easily attract hundreds of thousands of legitimate followers - plus thousands of bots, of course. Filters in the app's software can make a mundane image look resplendent on a smartphone screen.

In some cases, consumers may be duped into buying a fake pair of designer sneakers. But unsurprisingly, many of the sneaker buyers actively seek out fakes. In that sense, some consumers in America are not so different from their Chinese counterparts, who knowingly seek out high-quality fakes when they don't want to pay full price for a luxury product. 

GQ points out that there's a group on the Reddit website called RepSneakers ("rep" is short for "replica") where English-speaking users discuss how to find the best deals on fake sneakers from China. Naturally, China's ubiquitous WeChat messaging app can be used to connect with English-speaking Chinese sellers. But Instagram is also a popular sales platform for the counterfeiters. It's an app that most Americans - especially youth - are familiar with. Most American consumers would feel safer transacting over Instagram than WeChat. Buyers of the fake sneakers pay cash through Western Union, according to GQ. 

Some observers say that the fakes are as good as the real sneakers, echoing the quip by Alibaba founder Jack Ma two years ago. Mr. Ma sang counterfeiters' praises, arguing that in some cases, counterfeit goods made in China are superior to the genuine product. 

GQ writer Kevin Lovano suggests that counterfeiting can more easily thrive in a world dominated by social media, which he says has "accelerated, in all parts of culture, the inability to tell fact from fiction. And perhaps the best way to tackle the hype cycle is to muck it all up and embrace the confusion. Those bootleg Triple Ss (a type of designer sneaker) haunting my dreams look better and better every day."

Fortunately, not everyone is so sanguine about counterfeit goods. Social-media star "Yeezy Busta," a 20-year-old medical student in Los Angeles, is using the same platforms that sometimes facilitate counterfeit sales to publicly shame people who wear fake sneakers. With more than 326,000 followers on YouTube and 728,000 on Instagram, he has formidable reach.   

Yeezy Busta has suggested he is cooperating with Adidas, the maker of Yeezys. In a January 2017 interview with Complex.com, he said: "I’ve made friends over at Adidas and they take care of me; that’s all I’m allowed to say."

Still, he maintains that it's not financial gain but a passion for authentic high-end footwear that inspires his anti-counterfeiting mission. Yeezy Busta stays anonymous to avoid litigation. "The ones who willingly bought fakes are the ones who lash out. There was a billionaire from Indonesia who threatened lawsuits against me," he told Complex.com. But that isn't possible because the aggrieved party and others "don't know what my name is," he added.