Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Coach, Rolex. For many, these brands symbolize extravagance, quality, and status. In every magazine, ads for luxury goods can overwhelm the reader, implying that beauty and sophistication can be gained merely through the purchase of a name brand. In a culture of consumption, the symbol of success and power can be conveyed through expensive possessions.
However, it is society’s obsession with these logos that has fueled the massive production of counterfeit items. Knockoff products are found all over the country and globe and the market continues to grow. The large demand for these fake goods by consumers presents the question first posed by the literary great, William Shakespeare himself: what’s in a name?
According to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (www.iacc.org), there are $600 billion in estimated sales in counterfeit products worldwide, and there is a $250 billion annual loss to American companies from this intellectual property theft. The enormous fraudulent market is evident in any large city, flea market, or tourist attraction.
Take a walk on New Jersey’s infamous Atlantic City boardwalk, stroll down the streets of New York City, or stop by a local sale, and one can find knockoff purses, hats, shoes and jewelry for “bargain” prices simply too good to be true. Yet, even while consumers are aware of the fact that what they are purchasing are fakes, the demand for these goods continues to rise. The Wall Street Journal reported in April 2010 that federal, state, and local law enforcement officials recently confiscated over $240 million worth of knockoff designer items in a two-part investigation of over 30 U.S. cities.
The huge impact of the illegal counterfeit market on American culture demonstrates the extent to which society has become brand obsessed. It seems social identity is not determined by strength of character or achievement, but by the type of purse carried on one’s arm. Therefore, if the logo is all that matters, why pay $5,000 for a designer Prada clutch, when you can buy it on the streets of New York City for $50?
The success of both the designer market and the counterfeit market introduce a larger question about the need for social acceptance. Do we buy items because we genuinely like the style, or do we buy items based simply on designer name? Are we paying high prices for items that we believe are quality, or are we just paying for the “cool” factor? There is more to fashion than just a name.
Shakespeare did indeed say it best when he wrote in his famous work Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (shakespeare-literature.com). While he may not have intended this line to be used in the context of a discussion on consumer trends, the point remains that a person’s sense of value should not depend on the type of clothing worn or the social group to which they belong.
Labels or names are not everything. What truly matters is the character of the person beneath the shroud of designer clothing and accessories. As consumers, we must identify the motive for our purchases, and place more value on ourselves as individuals, rather than purely attempting to acquire the next new hot item. We might just find that the $5,000 Prada clutch that we forgo for another name will certainly smell just as sweet.