They are emblazoned with top fashion labels such as Burberry, Mulberry, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, but can be bought for a fraction of the normal cost at car boot sales, in markets and on websites offering "designer replicas". Now, as France and Italy step up their fight against the multimillion-pound industry in counterfeit designer fashions, there are calls for the UK to follow suit and clamp down on the trade in fakes.
John Whittingdale, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Intellectual Property Group, said: "It should be given higher priority: it does real damage to our luxury British brands. There is a case for increasing penalties for knowingly selling fake goods, and for making it easier to obtain convictions. There is a need for the Government, and the trading standards authority, to take it more seriously, not least because those responsible are often linked to organised crime."
Susie Winters, director-general of the Alliance Against IP Theft, said: "Greater priority should be given to counterfeiting and intellectual property crime, from government and the police. There is a clear link between counterfeit goods and organised crime, with the profits from these illegal goods used to fund serious criminal activity. It is not victimless crime, and we need to work with trading standards and the police to clamp down on the counterfeit trade."
Neither Ms Winters nor Mr Whittingdale thinks we should follow in France's footsteps by making it a criminal offence to buy counterfeit goods, but both believe a lot more can be done to tackle the counterfeit fashion trade.
Last week, the French luxury goods group Comité Colbert unveiled its new advertising campaign against counterfeits, with slogans including: "Buy a fake Cartier, get a genuine criminal record." Visuals for the campaign were created by luxury brands including Christian Dior, Lacoste, Louis Vuitton and Longchamp.
And in Italy, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana sponsored a convention to clamp down on the spread of counterfeit goods. The association advocated closer collaboration between the fashion industry and police and customs officers.
A spokesman for Burberry, which was awarded a £65m payout in a counterfeiting case in the US, said: "Counterfeit goods are a major industry issue, impacting brands and customers alike. Burberry vigorously protects its intellectual property rights. While we have seen significant success to date, we will continue to take action against, and press for the maximum penalties to be imposed on, those engaged in this criminal activity."
Guy Salter, deputy chairman of Walpole, which represents British luxury industries, said the group is continually working to pursue counterfeiters through the courts. "We cannot relax our vigilance for a moment."
But some are more relaxed about the issue. David Wall, professor of criminology at Durham University, said a distinction should be made between people selling "real genuine fakes", where no one is under the impression that they are buying an authentic luxury product, and those who sell highly deceptive products, which truly rip people off.
And the chief executive of Prada, Patrizio Bertelli, said recently: "Fake goods aren't totally bad; at least [the trade in them] created jobs at some counterfeit factories. We don't want to be a brand that nobody wants to copy."Reuse content