Even Counterfeiters Are Trading Down These Days

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Jerome Favre / Bloomberg via Getty Images

These are real Gap jeans. But there are probably knock-offs of them being illegally sold somewhere.

Faux luxury goods have been a scourge of high-end manufacturers for years. Consumers who want the look but not the price tag of designer names like Gucci or Louis Vuitton would fork over a fraction of the price and get an illegally made approximation of the real thing. But in this economy, the hottest names in fakes aren’t European fashion houses. They’re American-mall staples. A growing number of mass-market brands like the Gap and Victoria’s Secret are being knocked off. The biggest reason behind this surge in lower-end fakes is that Americans are trading down, even when it comes to purchasing counterfeit clothes and accessories. “Even lower-priced brands feel like a stretch in this economy, and people are more likely to trade down to counterfeits,” Susan Scafidi, academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, told the Chicago Tribune recently.

(MORE: 12 Craziest Counterfeits — and How to Spot a Fake)

Consumers are buying lower-end fakes because they’re cheaper, but also because conspicuous consumption is out of fashion. Even affluent consumers are forgoing flashy hardware and prominent labels on the luxury goods they buy. There’s just less shopper appetite for goods that scream, “I’m expensive!” — whether they actually are or not.

Another reason counterfeiters are cranking out more mid-market goods is because the luxury brands have been using their considerable muscle to crack down on people that make and sell knockoffs. Labels like Chanel and Tory Burch have sued online outlets that peddle fake goods bearing their logos, the Tribune points out, and other pricey brands have entire teams devoted to antipiracy efforts. Authorities also might be more likely to overlook, say, a stack of jeans or T-shirts than a pile of tricked-out handbags.

(MORE: What Happens When a Business Gives You Change in Counterfeit Bills?)

Ironically, despite the lower price points, counterfeiters actually make more money from lower-end products because they sell so many more of them. Websites where counterfeiters can sell directly to the public give them the kind of sales volume a cramped storefront or street-corner card table could never match. In many cases, the sellers create websites that mimic the look of legitimate Web retailers, so some shoppers might think they’re scoring a great deal — not filling a counterfeit operation’s coffers.