Counterfeit products have local outfitters breathing through the wound.
Two of the biggest black-owned, straight-to-market fashion labels in the country have spoken out against the influx of replica and counterfeit products – a problem they asserted was stifling the entire local textile industry.
Popular clothing label A Brand Called You! and local takkie powerhouse Bathu Shoes are any cool kid’s dream fit in 2020 – hence they were among the targeted brands violated by criminal syndicates.
However, while the two outfitters have experienced a similar problem, they are resolving it in different ways.
A Brand Called You! claims to have lost “hundreds of thousands of rands” due to the mass-reproduction of its uniquely fashioned jumpsuit designs.
These are custom-made to customers’ needs – the brand’s party trick – which is the reason for its name.
The company first became aware of the copyright infringement last year, when its clients began alerting it to the counterfeit items being sold. The infringement has continued, so A Brand Called You! has been forced to consult copyright lawyers.
The label has dressed numerous celebrities, including the late Oliver Mtukudzi, singer Makhadzi, actress Maduvha, football club boss David Thidiela, politician Floyd Shivambu, and musician and TV personality Stoan Seate.
The fashion house, co-owned by Mushavhi Peter Mbelengwa and Tshilidzi Nelwalani, is bleeding money as a result of a “Chinese clothing counterfeiting syndicate” flooding the market with unauthorised replicas of its designs that display the company’s logo.
Having conducted investigations, the co-owners are convinced that the syndicate spotted their items on social media. This year, when the lockdown regulations compelled many fashion labels to increase their online presence, the alleged syndicate capitalised on the opportunity to market its counterfeit merchandise.
“I believe the manufacturers behind this are Chinese because the fake goods were found in China-related malls and complexes,” says Mbelengwa.
“They mass-produce fakes of our items and sell them at much cheaper prices. I saw a counterfeit of our T-shirt, which we sell for R400, going for just R50. When you look at the item at first, it’s easy to assume it’s one of ours – but if you examine it properly, you’ll notice that the quality is substandard.
“Although the counterfeiters are using our trademark, the name on the tag inside the clothing item – ‘Tee Da’ – is one we don’t know. We believe it’s the name of the company producing these goods.
“When a guy first sent me pictures of these fakes, the retailer selling them had a lot of stock – but by the time I got there, not much was left. I’ve also received calls from Polokwane and Musina reporting counterfeit goods, which means this syndicate may be covering the whole country.”
Mbelengwa and Nelwalani say that the copyright lawyers they’ve approached are handling the matter, but don’t personally go on raids of outlets selling counterfeit goods.
This is the reason another brand, Bathu Shoes – which is experiencing a similar problem – has chosen a more proactive way of tackling it.
Theo Baloyi, founder and CEO of the popular sneaker brand, says that instead of consulting lawyers, his company approached law enforcement authorities in Johannesburg and the SA Revenue Service. Officers then went to the retail outlet with a search warrant, located what was left of the illicit merchandise and confiscated it.
Bathu Shoes had requested fully fledged raids in the areas its internal investigations identified as problematic. One of these was the Smal Street precinct in the CBD, which is known for retailers that sell knock-off brands.
Baloyi believes all well-known fashion labels are vulnerable to forgery.
“Counterfeiting is a risk that’s part and parcel of the designing and garment industries. You can’t run away from it,” he says.
“Luckily for us, our brand is popular and people were willing to fight for us. Some of our clients told the people who were responsible for the counterfeiting that they could try to sell other fake international brands, but not ‘our Bathu’.
“The retailers started receiving threats from indignant customers, so they removed the illegal items from their outlet and began selling them privately.
“By the time we went there with the officials doing the raid, there wasn’t much stock left. We confiscated about 1 000 units.”
When City Press contacted Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, she said: “Counterfeit products are the responsibility of the SA Revenue Service and the department of trade, industry and competition.”
In its response, the SA Revenue Service said its customs officials were still gathering information.