Nothing’s like the real thing, except a fake

True thinks her $30 gold-faced Rolex knockoff is about as classy as the real thing, which averages $7,000. “I can’t afford the real thing so I go for the fakes.”

After buying the knockoff from a friend, Ms True (a fake name but a real person) started to sell replica Rolexes to people in the Markham, Ont., office where she works as an executive secretary. The bogus watches go for $30 to $50 each, although street vendors sometimes sell them for $100 and more.

Ms True carries a few samples in her purse and passes them around to colleagues. Then she picks up her orders from her friend, who sells the imitations at the Pickering flea market every Sunday.

Ms True earns from $5 to $20 a watch – generally not a big moneymaker, but she enjoys it. And she feels no guilt about the manufacturers of the genuine goods who have been scrambling for a number of years to stamp out the phoney dealers.

Indeed, the makers and distributors of a whole host of goods – everything from T-shirts to jewelry to handbags – are spending millions of dollars to try to stem the flow of forgeries of their items.

Is all this corporate money being spent in Canada on the legal battle against fakes really worth the trouble?

The fact is, having people parading around in sweatshirts or hats emblazoned with Polo, Labatt’s Blue or Madonna is simply free advertising – whether the merchandise is real or not. Some businesses would pay a small fortune for such promotions.

Reproduction watches, while not boosting a brand as blatantly, may spur some consumers to save up for the legitimate item.

All marketing has a price. Sure, a lot of the bogus goods aren’t up to the standards of the authentic articles. Certainly the watches are nowhere near the quality of the real thing.

But people who sell knockoff watches don’t purport to sell the real thing. Customers buying these imitations at such low prices can’t expect as much.

This week in Toronto, a group of licencing agents, manufacturers and distributors – the likes of Walt Disney, Columbia Pictures and Hugo Boss, to name a few – held a press conference to publicize their latest efforts in the fight against fake merchandise.

As other businesses have done in the past, the group had obtained a Federal Court of Canada order in the summer banning dealers from selling the imitation goods. Subsequently, law enforcement officers seized 30,000 unlicenced articles worth more than $500,000 retail.

But the problem persists. Sad as it is, people want to be seen wearing a Chanel T-shirt or Vuarnet sunglasses. The market is alive and well.

And copying popular originals – a way of life in the fashion industry – can’t be nipped in the bud with a court injunction.

Some high-end retailers, Holt Renfrew among them, openly tout their own knockoffs of the expensive designers. One Canadian clothes designer recalls creating a unique cape-like effect on a dress; but a competitor promptly made a copy of the style and beat the original designer in getting the dress into stores – and at a cheaper price, too.

There’s something to be said about the flattery of being copied.

Notes Peter Kunz, whose company distributes Piaget, Concorde and Movado watches, among others: “If I would see that they’re producing fake Cartiers and fake Rolexes and not copying ourwatches, I would say, ‘What are we doing wrong? Why are they not doing this with our watch?.’ It’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, maybe.”

Mr. Kunz’s firm, North American Watch of Canada Ltd., doesn’t bother to go after the counterfeit culprits. The pursuit is too expensive and the place to attack the problem is at the source, usually manufacturers in Asia where the watches are produced.

It is questionable whether the trade in bogus watches is stealing away sales from the genuine dealer. After all, as Ms True says, most people buying the fakes just can’t afford the authentic.

Mr. Kunz adds: “A person who is going to buy a knockoff isn’t going to spend $20,000 for our watch.”

The Piaget starts at about $5,500. The most expensive ever sold in Canada, studded with diamonds and rubies, was bought for $275,000 by a Kuwaiti prince in Vancouver 2 years ago. That prince undoubtedly wouldn’t comtemplate a counterfeit.