NEW YORK — Whac-a-Mole, that’s how anti-counterfeiting experts describe their work. As soon as you thwack one culprit, another pops up somewhere else. “We shut down an operation in China almost every day,” says Stuart Lockyear, director of intellectual property at Burberry, “but they just come back.” But counterfeiting is no game. The black market for faked goods is gargantuan, fueled by an unslakeable thirst for discount luxury products from Third World countries, where labor standards are weak and intellectual property law is anemic. In the first half of this year alone, U.S. Customs seized $56 million dollars worth of footwear and apparel. And that’s just what they caught.
The international and increasingly organized counterfeit trade means that apparel makers with brand appeal have to be global in their approach to fighting fake goods. Burberry spends millions of dollars annually staffing seven intellectual property lawyers in counterfeiting hot spots around the globe. Some of what they do falls into civil bureaucracy: filing injunctions against those infringing on their trademark and lobbying governments to pass stricter IP laws; but the bulk of their work reads like a Law & Order script: working with private investigators to stake out shipments of counterfeit goods, setting up sting operations with local officials and hauling the fake merch off in paddy wagons.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"