NYC: The capital of the counterfeitingSusan Scafidi in Toronto Sun, January 29, 2011
NEW YORK -- "Prada, Vuitton, Gucci, good prices," says an Asian woman at the corner of Broadway and Canal Street. An interested tourist allows herself to be led over to a van with tinted windows, parked a bit further away. She comes out a few minutes later with a Fendi bag in hand and $60 less in her wallet. Welcome to New York, the centre of the American counterfeit industry.
For some tourists, buying knock-offs of big name products on Canal Street is part of the New York experience, just like visiting the top of the Empire State Building.
"Where are the fake Louis Vuitton bags?" I am asked regularly while in SoHo.
Buying one of these bargain bags may seem like an innocent and widespread action, but for New York City, it's a real problem; the black market robs the city of nearly a billion dollars per year in taxes.
"I would say to tourists, consider the source," says lawyer Susan Scafidi, one of the most renowned specialists on the issue in New York. "As in any kind of illegal trafficking, the money isn't going to a good place. Some of it goes to the people who make sure things go through customs without being caught."
"There's bribery and some money goes to support things like terrorism," she continues. "The factories in Asia don't follow basic human rights for children, this is what you finance when you buy a bag on the street."
New York's black market is worth up to $80 billion in New York each year.
"With the recession, the demand for this type of product has increased," said Scafidi, a professor at Fordham University, where she founded the Fashion Law Institute two years ago, the first of its kind in the world.
On her desk, she has spread out three samples of purses from French brand Goyard. One is inscribed with "Gooyar" and is obviously a very poor replica. As for the other two, however, I have hard time differentiating which sells for $70 and which sells for the original price of $1,000.
"Some tourists think they are buying the real ones because the copies are so well done," says Scafidi.
These knock-offs arrive in New York by the thousands. Most come from China, where 90% of fake products are made (pharmaceutical or accessories), a fact that was mentioned by the New York Post in an article last week at the time the Chinese president was visiting the White House.
Though these vendors are conducting illegal activities, no American law targets the buyers, unlike France or Italy where you can receive prison time for knowingly buying counterfeit products. New York is therefore trying to target the sensibility of tourists to discourage them.
"The problem is that tourists are paying for the experience, as much as for the bag," Scafidi says. "Following the vendor into alleys or into hidden rooms is all part of the thrill."
Scafidi uses the example of a group of European tourists that were kept in the basement of a store for several hours because of a police raid a few years ago.
In 2008, a police operation forced the closure of 30 Canal Street boutiques and resulted in the seizure of a billion dollars in product.
"Realistically, we will never eradicate this market, that would be like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon, but the efforts must continue," says Scafidi.
Meanwhile, it isn't hard to come across fake Rolex watches, Tiffany necklaces and knock-off Louis Vuitton, Coach, Dior and Dolce & Gabbana purses.
"Chinatown is changing, the vendors are now spread out in the surrounding alleys," Scafidi says.
Some interesting facts
- The Broadway area between 32nd and 38th streets, near Rockefeller Centre and around the Plaza Hotel are also choice spots for counterfeiters. Vendors display their offerings on the sidewalk, ready to take off and soon as police approach.
- The Fashion Law Institute of New York opened its doors in September 2010. It is the first of its kind in the world and has received support from designers such as Diane Von Furstenberg. The fashion industry employs 200,000 people in New York.