Sneakers
From the ground up

I’ve seen a lot of dumb shit on Twitter but, heinous declarations of outright racism aside, this one probably takes the cake. As if buying counterfeit goods says anything about a person aside from how much disposable income they have or how much they’re willing to spend on an item of clothing.

Yet stigmatizing people who wear fake designer gear is a very acceptable form of classism – sure, sometimes it’s done with a degree of humor, like when a counterfeit is so shoddily done that commenting can’t be avoided, but that’s more of a comment on aesthetics than morality. And with knockoffs becoming ever-more convincing, is it really justified to pay over-inflated prices just so you can own a brand’s official stamp of approval?

I have no doubt that some of you are already storming towards the comment section to lecture me on why counterfeits are terrible and defending them makes me, by extension, a terrible person, but honestly: who cares?

I concede that there’s probably a difference in quality between fake goods and their legitimate counterparts: a replica Saint Laurent leather jacket mass produced in China obviously isn’t going to compare to one handmade in Paris, but those are two different production methods. If both are mass produced, then really, what’s the difference?

I own a pair of snide Céline sunglasses; although they look like a genuine pair in every conceivable way, even down to tiny etchings of the brand’s name on pieces of metal that sit on the hinge of the arm.

The lenses are too dark and I question their quality, but they can be changed. The rest of the body is just injection moulded plastic. That can be produced by anyone with the right equipment. And while I recognize that there are different qualities of plastic with different finishes, it’s still only plastic and only a pedant would be able to discern my ones from a genuine pair.

After two and a half years of use they’ve become a bit worse for wear, but having paid only a third of the retail price of an original pair, I can’t say that I’m particularly bothered.

Thomas Welch / Highsnobiety.com

To go back to that imbecilic tweet at the top of this article, anyone that gets high and mighty about people wearing a pair of fake sneakers really needs to start questioning their priorities in life.

Taking a quick glance at the footwear that I’ve got on rotation at the moment, each pair is made in south-east Asia – probably in a sweatshop with the help of child labor to drive costs down.

Not that conditions in the Western world are much different. According to the New York Times, there are Chinese-owned factories in the Italian garment capital of Tuscany where “Chinese laborers work round the clock in some 3,200 businesses making low-end clothes, shoes and accessories, often with materials imported from China, for sale at mid-price and low-end retailers worldwide.” Italian (but also American and German) law might state that that products must be planned, packaged and manufactured in Italy to qualify for the “Made in Italy” label, but in a globalized world, that doesn’t mean what it used to.

But back to cheap mass manufacturing: the mesh on the toe of my Air Max 97s is already starting to strain, despite only wearing them sporadically for a few months, so they can hardly be considered a high-quality, artisanal product, like a pair of English brogues.

I struggle to think how a pair of counterfeits can be much (if at all) worse considering that they’re often made in similar circumstances and sometimes even in the same factories – according to collectors of replica sneakers quoted in this Complex article, many believe that “a brand like Nike or adidas contracts a factory for a certain number of sneakers, and provides the required materials.

Highsnobiety.com

When the factory runs out of materials, though, it still has the pattern. Replica collectors speculate that at this point, the factory contracts with counterfeit buyers to produce an unauthorized run of the sneaker using substitute materials.”

Whether this is exactly true or not is difficult to prove and my research hasn’t been able to find any supporting evidence – although, it should be noted, I also haven’t found anything that contradicts this explanation either.

But according to an exhaustive New York Times investigation from several years ago, counterfeits are usually produced by either de-assembling an original pair and reverse engineering them, which obviously throws up mixed results, or by simply bribing the factories that brands have officially commissioned to create their stock into handing over the actual blueprints or samples.

Highsnobiety.com

In these circumstances, the design itself becomes indistinguishable, and the only difference lies in the materials. But considering that some 60 percent of the world’s chemical and synthetic fibers are produced in China, chances are that counterfeiters have pretty easy access to the same or similar sources that brands rely on – so, once again, it’s all basically the same, and scrolling through some of the countless Instagram accounts that compare and contrast legit and snide sneakers, the differences are minimal in most cases.

Even Hypebeast employees, people who presumably know their shit when it comes to shoes, could only correctly identify whether a pair of sneakers were legit or not in 64 percent of instances when they put their skills to the test on video.

All this considered, I struggle to think of a single reason why I should ever buy original sneakers again. The fact is, when you buy something directly from the likes of Nike or adidas, most of your money is spent on imagined value and a feeling of prestige that only exists in your head. In consumer capitalism we’re taught that the things we buy are a direct representation of how much we’re winning (or losing) at life.

Thomas Welch / Highsnobiety.com

Although this belief is widespread, it’s purely subjective, and I happen to think that it’s utter bullshit. It’s a marketing Ponzi scheme abetted by willful ignorance that only serves to fatten brands’ bank accounts.

And yes, I understand the moral argument against counterfeiting: I’m well aware that it qualifies as stealing, violates intellectual copyright and so on, but I struggle to feel much sympathy for companies that use cheap, exploitative labor to maximize their profit margins. It’s hardly like these global conglomerates lose much sleep at night over the human cost of their business practices.

Despite the trickery of the counterfeiting industry, they still earn copious amounts of cash: Nike, for example, has an annual turnover bigger than the combined revenue of every single football club in Europe’s top five leagues. Combined is the key word here. They have more than enough money than they need, deserve or can justify, so I feel a remarkable lack of guilt about endorsing fakes.

Highsnobiety

What brand’s also conveniently like to ignore is their own role in nurturing counterfeits. Consumerism actively manufacturers desire through advertising. The marketers that brands employ are tasked with pushing our mental triggers to make us lust over their products. But even if you don’t earn very much money, you’re still exposed to consumeristic stimuli, both through marketing but also through the shared values of a society where spending and consumption are articles of faith. So the poor are still conditioned to have that desire, but they haven’t got the means to realize it.

This, fundamentally, is what creates the counterfeit market. The Supreme-style tactic of creating super-limited stock to crank up exclusivity also plays a part: those willing to pay the retail rate for a pair of YEEZYs are pushed into buying knockoffs because the brand has willingly put the real thing out of their reach. So don’t shed a tear for brands so adored that they become targets for counterfeiters – the reality is that they’ve brought it upon themselves.

Now read as we explore whether or not Instagram influencers are bad for social media.

  • Main & Featured Image: Highsnobiety
What To Read Next