If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, counterfeiting must square the equation. Vibram’s Five Fingers shoes have been the hottest thing in outdoor footwear for the last couple of years, and counterfeiters have added the funky minimalist style to their list. But Vibram is fighting back hard and it recently fired a shot across the bow of ripoff artists with a clever advertisement in trade magazines. Who needs words when you have fingers?
Counterfeiting is big business and footwear comprises a huge percentage of it. A Nike employee estimated there’s one counterfeit Nike shoe for every two real ones, according to a lengthy piece by the New York Times called “Inside the Knockoff Tennis Shoe Factory”. The United States seized $260 million worth of fake goods in the last fiscal year, 40 percent of which was footwear. Of course, that’s likely to be a fraction of the total counterfeit goods sold.
“Counting the number of counterfeits is frankly impossible,” said Peter Koehler, Nike’s global counsel for brand and litigation.Ordering fake shoes is shockingly easy and the profits rival those of drug smuggling with much lower penalties if you get caught. And while China, the hub of the counterfeiting industry, is cracking down on intellectual property violations, the problem is endemic. And many Chinese take pride in their capabilities. There’s even a name for it: shanzhai, “a term that translates literally into ‘mountain fortress’; in contemporary usage, it connotes counterfeiting that you should take pride in. There are shanzhai iPhones and shanzhai Porsches.”
Much like Bill Clinton’s definition of what constitutes sexual contact, some Chinese officials view shanzhai as not the real fake thing. The head of the National Copyright Administration, Liu Binjie, said, “Shanzhai shows the cultural creativity of the common people,” Liu said. “It fits a market need, and people like it. We have to guide shanzhai culture and regulate it.”
To which Vibram and its lawyers respond in the same way most of is do when wronged: With a gratifying “eff you.”
Read more about counterfeit Five Fingers and how to spot a fake at Vibram’s website. LINK.