In 2015, CNN published “The Secret Life of Thailand’s Counterfeiters,” an immersive piece that took a closer look at the booming bootleg product market in the Southeast Asian nation that recently lost its beloved King. To see just how ubiquitous the culture of counterfeit goods is, one only has to look to the streets of Bangkok where, in countless open-air markets, roadside stalls and, in some cases even malls, high-end knockoffs are displayed prominently, tempting tourists and city denizens alike.
Vendors unabashedly proclaim, “not real but very nice” or “same but not same,” while holding aloft Rolexes that let out resounding ticks with every movement of the hand, and Hermes bags that are almost perfect but for a crooked seam or hardware that is just a touch too light. Sometimes the counterfeit is so thorough that only the honesty of the seller, a slight misspelling on a tag or a missing label is the only true indicator that you’re not holding a genuine article in hand.
Yet as Thailand’s reputation for near-perfect knockoffs has grown, so too have the measures taken to combat the sale of these goods. In 2015 alone, Thai Customs conducted more than 847 seizures of counterfeit items, a figure that increased by just over 10 percent from the year before. According to corporate and intellectual property law firm Tilleke & Gibbens, the total estimated worth of the confiscated items was THB 170.8 million, or a little under $4.9 million.
Even as the Thai government partners with other governments, large corporations and brands to wage war on counterfeiting in an attempt to protect intellectual property, new products become available daily, and they fly off the shelf nearly as fast they’re made.
It’s difficult to combat the sheer number of sellers, many of whom come from all walks of life. As CNN points out, counterfeit items, for the most part, can’t be traced back to one source — the industry is far from some expansive criminal enterprise or mob-controlled monopoly. Perhaps some counterfeiters do have unsavory ties (who knows), but the facts indicate that everyone is getting in on the action, from students looking for some additional spending money to small and large businesses, or even housewives looking to make an extra baht.
Even though many tourists flock to the markets for what would normally be insanely pricey high-luxury items, we were more curious about more affordable options, specifically streetwear. In a city with an estimated population of just over eight million and a constant stream of shopping-crazed tourists, there is no shortage of places to blow money. Bangkok’s famous open-air markets put the city that never sleeps to shame, offering days’ and nights’ worth of bargain-hunting, gorging on street food and a steady crush of people that makes Times Square look like child’s play.
Chatuchak Weekend Market, or JJ Market, is the city’s largest and most tourist-frequented outdoor shopping location. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and if you’re not used to navigating chaotic spaces or having any semblance of claustrophobia, it can feel a bit intimidating due to its sheer size. Since I arrived early in the week and had already been to JJ on a previous visit, I decided to try my luck at Rot Fai Market.
Rot Fai, or Ratchada Train Night Market, opens Thursday through Sunday starting at 5 p.m. and closes around 1 a.m. Up until 2013 it was located next to train tracks near Chatuchak, hence the name “Train Market.” However, due to the expansion of the Skytrain lines, stalls owners were forced to move. Despite initial concerns, the new location proved to set the tone for quite a bit of expansion. Now the market is larger than ever before, and it’s full of lots and lots of knock-off streetwear.
Because Rot Fai is also known for its huge collection of vintage items, I was hoping to have a bit of luck and possibly stumble across a genuine collector’s piece that had somehow ended up stacked under a million replicas – one can hope, right?
Even with insane amounts of patience and two visits, I only managed a creative interpretation of the adidas YEEZY Boost 350; an OFF-WHITE T-shirt with fairly convincing tags but a design that never existed; a camo fanny pack with “Supreme” printed jauntily across the front; a long-sleeve Supreme shirt that appeared to be an homage to the brand’s 2003 Nuggets jersey, and a RIPNDIP T-shirt that was probably the most convincing out of the bunch. Oh, and of course I had to cop the “Ultralight Beam” shirt that’s only really debatable if you know the color schemes of TLOP merch for every city — I don’t. As far as the damage to my wallet?
Only $50, after a few rounds of bargaining…
“Supreme” Fanny Pack = THB 190 or about $5
“RIPNDIP” T-Shirt = THB 200 or about $6
“Pablo Tour” T-Shirt = THB 200 or about $6
“Yeezy 350 Boost” = THB 650 or about $19
“Supreme” Nuggets Homage Shirt = THB 300 or about $9
“OFF-WHITE” T-Shirt = THB 200 or about $6