Consider the horrific conditions in the sweatshops that produce fakes and use this information to inspire others to action

July 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

With the summer of 2010’s atmospheric dial set to “braise,” many of us in the States who have been slow-cooked over the past couple of months have spent our days sprinting for a spot in front of jacked-up air conditioners or poolside within a few tiptoes of a refreshing splash. Whether cool or hot, dry or damp, comfort has been the priority of the summer.

To the ready pool goer with a snoot stained blue from zinc oxide, taking a quick dip or lounging in front of an AC unit to get out of the heat may seem obvious, but the reality is that a large portion of the global population is denied the luxury of choice.

So while we casually chat about car seats heated to the temperature of short order grills or spend far too much time divining the different shapes of sweat marks that we see while riding the subway, let’s not forget those without options: the thousands abused by the counterfeit trade.

Take time to remember the assembly line workers who are forced to punch out fakes in hothouses. Remember that some of these workers receive an amount of water measured in thimbles and when dehydration and heat stroke strike, compassion is generally the last thing to be found on the factory floor. When a worker falls from exhaustion, they aren’t attended to. They’re replaced.

The conditions can be unfathomable and frightening, but this is the cruel reality of how fake goods are made. These sweatshops lack the elegance of the ateliers, the design boutiques and the laboratories where the original goods that inspire these fakes are created. And there is none of the eager camaraderie that produces these authentic pieces art. There is only shared desolation and the fragile empathy that comes from the knowledge that others are enduring it with you. This is not how life should be lived, certainly not when those who enjoy the luxury of choice can do something about it.

Let’s not forget this is an epidemic that we can do something about.

Take some time this summer, this week, perhaps tomorrow to speak with a friend, a coworker, or a stranger about the fake trade. Tell them about the reality of this exploitative industry and let them know about just how real the danger is to everyone involved, including the end buyer. It’s not just a handbag, a set of shoes, a set of tires, a wristwatch, or a bottle of pills they’ve gotten on the cheap. It’s a nightmarish collection of broken lives and injury. At the heart of the fake trade is the denial of basic human rights.

But it can be stopped. And you can help stop it. It begins and ends with education and awareness. Increase your own and that of others and we can help deliver the luxury of choice to others.

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LAPD investigation reveals that gangs have turned to counterfeiting to balance their criminal portfolios

June 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Flip on the local news for a few minutes and you are sure to be bombarded by stories about the battered economy. And while evidence of this financial anathema may seem overwhelming, we are resilient creatures designed to take a few knocks, grow some calluses and move on. We adapt. But it is not just the happy elements of society that adapt, it is all parts: from the highest echelon of grandmothers and confectioners all the way down to the skeezier sort that prefers to hold tea socials at dog fights. The recession, it can be said, has caused some gang leaders to adjust as well, and they have become savvier business managers because of it.

The only thing is that they are using counterfeits to do so.

A recent series of investigations by the LAPD uncovered that gang bangers have started treating their catalog of criminal activities like a stock portfolio. They are using the sale of counterfeit goods to offset the risk of more traditional illicit enterprises. By slinging bootleg CDs and DVDs, they are making dollars faster than they would with traditional crimes. Better still for them, they can do it without all the usual hazards.

Classic criminal enterprises like drug sales, prostitution, kidnapping, burglary, extortion, shakedowns, and the like require violence to make a profit, whether it is actual or threatened. The drug trade is the only industry on the planet where building a better product or improving a manufacturing process will not help you grow. Instead, growth requires that you violently dispossess competitors of their trade routes and assets. Because the demand for drugs is so high and the quality is of relatively little importance, you can succeed in the business by maintaining a good supply chain and having the dry powder and buckshot to keep the deed.

Gang leaders are concerned with casualties only as far as it affects their profits. If your crew is band-aided up watching Maury Povich instead of slinging rock, it is going to be tougher to make your mortgage payments. Unfortunately, the counterfeit trade seems to have bridged this gap, by keeping “employees” out of harm’s way and selling product.

The LAPD report claimed that the money made by the gangs through the sale of fake goods has funded the purchase of weapons and the growth of other illegal businesses. Because counterfeits are relatively cheap to make and the distribution cost, or the amount it costs to successfully get the goods in the hands of consumer and the cash in the hands of the gang members, is relatively low, it has been a very effective way for the criminals to raise capital.

This is another example of how a seemingly ‘victimless’ crime is anything but. In the case of the fake trade, there are the victims that produce the fakes against their will and do so in at great risk to themselves and others. Then, there are the other victims harmed indirectly by the sale of sham goods, like those who are wounded by terrorist attacks or gang shootings.

The LAPD claims, as we do, that the best way to prevent this activity is to curb the demand for the fake goods. The police will keep fighting on their end, as all enforcement agencies will, but at the end of the day, it can feel like throwing haymakers in a steam bath. Where we need to focus our efforts as civilians is to stop the demand for fake goods.

Once the world knows just how parasitic and abusive the fake trade is, it will only be a matter of time until the sham industry’s lifeblood runs out of it, like a cheap dye seeping from some shoddy material. So spread the word and encourage your friends to do the same. We can end this abuse in our lifetime.

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A question of taste and counterfeiting

May 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

It would be a far better world if we all were blessed with a surer sense of our own taste.

No buyer’s remorse to follow you around like a rabid ferret fixated on your ankle and no more of the court martial review board that convenes inside your head over an outfit choice.

Taste is one of those curious abstract ideas like love, where hearing the word causes a very specific reaction despite its uncertain meaning. In the case of taste, while we may not have the slightest idea why certain things toot our tubas, the moment we are asked what we like, most of us will start babbling and it will be days before we inhale.

At its most basic, taste is shorthand for our vast collection of likes and dislikes.

Ask why people have such different tastes and you’ll get the usual explanation of upbringing and associates, of synapses and neurotransmitters, and of means and access. But if Donald Trump has taught us a single lesson, having means does not guarantee taste and conversely, Coco Chanel has shown us that upbringing and access (daughter of a laundry woman and market stall holder who lived in rural France) have very little to do with it either.

Taste has an odd relationship with counterfeiting. To say that anyone who owns a fake has taste is ridiculous, but when you consider that the sham buyers make these poor decisions covet a piece of authentic luxury, the verdict becomes a bit more muddled.

Whether or not the purchase of a luxury item suggests taste is a debate for another time, but the fact that a sham buyer has an eye for elegant engineering and craftsmanship cannot be denied.

As I was thinking about this dilemma, I read a passage from Stanley Marcus’s book, Quest for the Best. Marcus was the president of Neiman Marcus, a fine writer, a master marketer and salesman, but above all he was driven to find the highest quality in every aspect of life. One of the requisites of being the “best” in Marcus’s view was that a manufacturer has the finest method of construction.

And this is where the wheels come off the sham-wagon.

Taste requires a deep appreciation of craftsmanship. The beauty of the end product is simply not enough. We need to consider the process that builds a piece: the drawing, the stitching, and the cultivation of the material. In this sense, the product is certainly not greater than the sum of its parts.

So when you buy a sham, you deny not only the authentic product itself, but the inspiration behind it.

It turns out the patrons of the sham arts are not only tasteless, but uninspiring to boot.

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We are being totally irrational…most of the time. Dan Ariely offers insight into our behavior.

March 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Whether or not you believe in fate isn’t just something that gets asked at high school dances, anymore.

The question may be worded differently than it was when the lighting and acoustics of the school gym were a little more important in your life, but the answer still reveals if you take an active role in the choices you make each day.

Left entirely to fate, the decision-making process is on autopilot. But most people believe they play a big part when it comes to making choices. Before acting on an impulse, they consider the options, think about repercussions, and click yea or nay. A nice rational process, right?

It turns out that we might not be as sensible as we think.

One of the speakers at SXSW on Sunday challenged the commonly accepted belief that we make our decisions based on rational factors. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and a social scientist at Duke University, gave the audience some pretty compelling reasons why much of the routine is often out of the decision-maker’s control and based on things that are…well, irrational.

There is a difference between what we believe influences our decisions and what really sways us. It’s a common belief that humans are capable of making choices in their best interest, but the truth is we’re often not. We procrastinate, we break diets and commitments to exercise, and we don’t schedule regular checkups with our doctors. We exist sub-optimally.

Ariely believes that when emotions take over, and they often do, humans are more likely to focus on their short-term desires. The longer goals of health and financial well-being are overridden by feelings that would postpone a swim or put off paying bills right now.

The next time Chatroulette! feels like an obvious choice over a jog or a Pilates class, unless you’re a social scientist or an avant-garde marketer with a professional interest in the site, it’s fair to assume that your emotions are driving the procrastination trolley.

The same holds true for counterfeiting. Most consumers who buy something fake understand they are doing something they shouldn’t be. In the moment, their emotions override longer goals of honesty and they make a purchase.

To prevent any self-sabotage, Ariely suggests using pre-commitments and incentives. So if you join a gym, it’s best to do it with another person. You’ll both be more likely to go. Even better is the use of an incentive where each time you duck a workout, you have to pay a penalty.

Ariely became interested in the subject of decision-making after an explosion burned 70% of his body and he was confined to a hospital for three years. The daily routine of recovery involved an excruciating bandaging process that he believed could be done in a less painful way. Despite his protests, the attending nurses insisted on a certain technique – quick and fast.

After he was discharged, he began conducting research on pain. When the experiments validated his original belief that lower intensity of pain over a longer time is preferable for patients, he set out to understand why the nurses, who wanted nothing but the smallest amount of discomfort for their patients and the shortest healing time, could be so willingly wrong. After witnessing the disconnect between what the nurses desired for the patients and their behavior, Ariely was curious about what other aspects of our lives might exhibit this kind of irrationality.

This desire to understand human behavior became the driving force behind his research.

Ariely finished Sunday’s discussion with a demonstration where he had audience members bid on a $20 bill. There were two stipulations, the first being that the winner would pay him whatever they agreed on and would receive the bill. The second stipulation was that the next highest bidder had to pay him as well without any reward. In a race of two, no one wanted to be second, so the bidding kept growing.

The emotion of the potential deal clouded the participants’ judgment so fully that they couldn’t see the long-term problem created by the game.

He concluded his talk at SXSW by assuring the audience that these types of contests are best avoided.

So a solid rule of thumb says that after an initial jolt of excitement hits in any situation, it’s a good idea to ask if what you’re feeling at the time is in sync with your long-term goals before making a decision. A little patience and self-awareness is all it requires.

You can see more of Ariely’s work at

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Whether fake Ferraris or sham aspirin, it’s important not to lose sight of counterfeiting’s true victims

March 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

At the fifth annual Harper’s Bazaar Anti-counterfeiting Summit in May 2009, attendees were abuzz about a particular item parked outside the Hearst Tower. Roped off and resting on a green carpet on 8th Avenue was a dazzling piece of automotive craftsmanship: a 1967 Ferrari P4.

Finished in that famous shade of red, the car was the vision of a true artisan, the perfect blend of engineering and elegance. It was the kind of vehicle you imagine cutting corners along the Amalfi Coast or snaking along the roads of the Tuscan countryside.

As it’s rumored that only one completely original version of the car still exists, it was a rare experience for car buffs and casual observers strolling between 56th and 57th streets. But because this beauty was part of the Anti-counterfeiting Summit, where everyone attending was committed to ending the sale of fake goods, the auto had to be flawed in some way.

There were comments about the hubcaps and the windscreen being counterfeit. The more refined eyes were able to detect a pair of phony wipers and sham taillights, but identified by themselves, these components only represented a fraction of a larger problem – the entire vehicle was fake. From the steering wheel to the tailpipe, there wasn’t an authentic piece of Ferrari engineering in the car.

When you think about what it took to build the fraud-o-mobile, it’s both striking and depressing. The project required a huge amount of time and effort, but it wasn’t the kind of sacrifice that should be admired or rewarded.

It isn’t flattery. It’s forgery. It’s the difference between a healthy relationship and a parasitic one.

As the Faux-rari shows us, counterfeiting continues to seep into every nook of the marketplace, including the realms we thought were too complicated to fake. By pushing their wares, the sham peddlers drain the life force of authentic craftspeople. They are able to do so not only because they are motivated and sinister, but because of the large appetite for cheap versions of coveted brands.

If we increase our understanding of the counterfeiting epidemic, we can reduce the appetite for sham goods. No matter how innocent it may seem, buying a fake just isn’t an option when you understand what’s required to produce it.

Don’t confuse the end product with what’s truly at stake. It’s an easy misstep to rank the dangers of certain counterfeit goods. While a bogus handbag might not seem as big a deal as a fake pill that contains none of its advertised active ingredients, we need to remember that this only considers the consumer’s point of view.

What about those who are truly abused by counterfeiting: humans forced to work in despicable conditions and children sold into these jobs who are later mangled by faulty machinery or broken by neglect?

We need to reorient ourselves. Let’s think less about what purchasing a fake does for us and, instead, consider the people hurt by these purchases. The consequences are bigger than a passing desire to find cheaper versions of things we love.

When human rights and creative vision are threatened, the stakes are just too high to obscure what’s really at stake.

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New “Faux Fragrances Are Never In Fashion” Ads

January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

If sweat were patented, countefeiters would fill buckets with their own trying to violate it

January 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor. -Cicero

Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it. -Plato

It’s early in the new year, so there’s a high likelihood that your resolution to exercise more is intact, but if you’re anything like us, historically these vows have had the shelf life of an un-watered orchid.

Most of our day would be put to better use exercising, unless you’re an emergency room doctor or crossing guard. Exercise is a truly wonderful thing and though, like us, you may not engage in it as often as you’d like, we all know the value of a good sweat.

Sweat is a particularly odd currency, when you think about it. It signifies effort and resolve, commitment and sacrifice, tenacity and perspective. It’s one of those unique things like hard work and baking – the latter shows our hand as far as our new year’s resolutions are concerned – that is a reward in itself.

Sweat means you care enough about something to fight your own limitations for it.

So, that said, we’re either ready to go for a jog or throw in a copy of Rudy.

Advertisers are aware of the motivating power of sweat. They know it sells. Can you think of a commercial for a sports drink or a new shoe line where the volume of the little bulbs of sweat peeling off athletes isn’t identical to the water off a sheep dog that has recently come out of a lake?

Here’s what the advertisers know: hard work is inspiring and contagious. That kind of commitment deserves our admiration and if we happen to buy a pair of shorts and pick up an energy bar along the way, so be it. But any effort so unbridled demands that we acknowledge it and, in the best of situations, we might even mimic it.

That said, we just put Rudy on pause and jogged over to the closet that’s become a graveyard for our infomercial peddled exercise equipment and grabbed the nearest dusty item that, were it not for the fluorescent plastic, looks like it belongs in a medieval dungeon.

The only thing about this ‘sweat sells’ knowledge is that the counterfeiters are aware of it too. In fact, all they require to throw together some sort of sham version of a legitimate item is that it fits in the aforesaid phrase: “______ sells.” If it sells, it’s going to be counterfeited, and if it is counterfeited, there are dangers that follow. And while they can’t counterfeit sweat, they can copy the items designed to stimulate its production, like the large quantity of fake exercise equipment – the Ab Coaster – recently seized by U.S. Customs in Long Beach, CA.

Customs is cautioning would be consumers to be wary of purchases made on Craigs List and online. Fake exercise equipment can lead to serious injury because the construction and the materials are of a lesser quality – they may work the wrong muscles and in the wrong way. And be wary of the stories that sellers may provided to give the fake item a hint of authenticity. The only way you’re sure to get a legitimate product is to buy from the manufacturer or a licensed dealer.

Make an informed purchase. And with all this talk of sweat, let’s not lose sight of how those exploited by the counterfeiters toil in miserable conditions to produce the fakery.

We won’t tire of this fight. We’ll expend ourselves to win it. and we encourage you to do the same.

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