Desire for cheap luxury drives counterfeit market in Vietnam

By Ngan Anh   November 21, 2017 | 08:54 pm PT
Fake goods ranging from eyewear to handbags are openly available at high-end shopping malls and street-side markets across the country.
Current laws do not impose fines on users of counterfeit goods. Photo by VnExpress

Current laws do not impose fines on users of counterfeit goods. Photo by VnExpress

Le Thu Trang recently switched from a Gucci bag to a Prada design for a fresh look, but the decision did not put a massive dent in her bank account.

Both of her bags are counterfeits and cost 20 times less than the originals that can be found in the stores of luxury Italian brands.

“I like to carry Gucci and Prada bags, but buying luxury goods is not easy because they're expensive and fashion trends change quickly,” Trang said. “In that respect, fake bags are very appealing. They're nice and quite cheap.”

Trang’s case illustrates a trend among consumers, especially young people in Vietnam, who like buying fake products ranging from eyewear and shoes to garments and handbags. Their desire for cheap luxury has helped counterfeiters thrive in the country.

On the streets of Hanoi and in some of its glistening air-conditioned malls, countless fake Hermes and Louis Vuitton handbags, Rolex watches and Gucci fashion accessories are openly on sale.

Consumers who want an expensive logo or style can pick up goods for surprisingly cheap prices, even though they know the goods are illegal and might be confiscated by international customs agents who can impose heavy fines.

Wealthy businessmen, savvy importers and even enthusiastic housewives are looking to make a profit from selling fakes from bricks and mortar stores or online, despite efforts to stop intellectual property right infringements.

Retailers are also unconcerned about selling fake goods. “This is a knock-off, but no problem,” a woman said, pointing to a white polo shirt emblazoned with a Louis Vuitton logo.

“Why should I have to worry about the police? I don’t sell drugs. I didn’t steal this shirt,” she said in a store on Hanoi’s Hang Ngang Street. “Lots of people here sell fake goods like me.”

In a nearby handbag store, fake products with Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton logos on them are on sale for $20-50.

“The originals cost thousands of U.S. dollars,” the dealer said, convincing customers that her handbags look like the genuine article. “Same design. Same material. This one is made in China.”

Fake products such as garments, footwear, eyewear, shampoo, body lotions and pharmaceuticals can be found all over Vietnam, from high-end shopping malls to street-side markets.

Most of the knock-offs are smuggled in from China, Phan Hoan Kiem, head of the Market Surveillance Agency in Ho Chi Minh City, said at a recent meeting.

However, some counterfeit products are made in Vietnam. Many households in Lich Dong Village, Thai Binh Province produce glasses and label them with famous international brands such as Ray-Ban, Gucci and Chanel, while Thao Noi Village in Hanoi is notorious for producing fake Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton handbags.

Without drastic measures to combat fake products, Vietnam could become a major counterfeiting center in the future, an official from the Department of the Intellectual Property under the Ministry of Science and Technology warned.

Many handicraft villages that specialize in counterfeit goods have sprung up as farmland disappears as a result of the industrialization and urbanization process, he said.

Fake products, including garments, footwear, eye-glasses, to shampoo, body lotions and cosmetics can found all over VietnamFake products can found all over Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress

Fake products such as garments, footwear, glasses, shampoo, body lotions and cosmetics can found all over Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress

Lack of enforcement

Vietnam has detected over 44,500 cases related to counterfeiting and piracy since 2014, said Truong Van Ba, a member of National Steering Committee 389, the government's anti-smuggling body.

Experts say Vietnam is not doing enough to stop the trend. Current laws do not impose fines on people who use counterfeit goods, but in many other countries buying and using these products is considered a crime.

Hoang Van Truc, deputy director of the Investigation Bureau of Economic Crimes, said that only one in seven cases related to fake goods is prosecuted, while the rest receive administrative fines.

Truc added that there’s a lack of cooperation between authorities, especially in border provinces, to prevent fake products from entering the local market. Many laws on counterfeiting and piracy overlap, while the current penalties aren’t enough of a deterrent.

In addition, the fight against fake goods is made more difficult by the fact that some products are imported into the local market in the form of spare parts rather than finished products, making it almost impossible for authorities to identify them.

Many enterprises also offer fake items that are 90 percent genuine, posing another problem for law enforcement officers.

Even anti-counterfeiting stamps, which are used to protect trademarks, are being faked.

The growing taste among local consumers for fake products has contributed to the market’s development in Vietnam, said Phan Thi Viet Thu, vice chairwoman of the Consumer Protection Association in Ho Chi Minh City.

Her association rarely receives complaints about counterfeit products. “If consumers don't say “no” to counterfeit goods, the trade will continue expanding.”

Despite the warning, Trang is still happy with her fake bags. “I'll buy genuine goods when I'm rich. For now, the cheap ones are still my best option.”

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