Fighting Off Fakers

Fighting Off Fakers
Christian Louboutin battles counterfeiting of his brand.

Christian Louboutin is banking on a little publicity to go a long way in the battle against counterfeiting.

As the designer’s popularity has skyrocketed, so have websites with names like Discountchristianlouboutin.com and Cheapchristianlouboutin.com that sell counterfeit shoes for as little as $69. In April, Louboutin launched his own site at Stopfakelouboutin.com, designed to alert consumers, counterfeiters and would-be counterfeiters about the designer’s aggressive, zero-tolerance stance toward outfits that trade in fake designer shoes.

The site features a list of perpetrators selling counterfeit shoes, information on factory raids and law enforcement activity, and the company’s streamlined strategy for going after crooks.

The idea for such a public campaign came from Harley Lewin, a trademark attorney and 40-year veteran of the battle against counterfeiters. The goal, said Lewin, is to change the way consumers think about counterfeiting, rather than simply chase the criminals.

While Lewin has worked with Google and other search engines, as well as Internet service providers, to close the sites and limit access to them through searches, the task is daunting and unending, because if and when a site is shut down, another can be opened within hours. For Lewin, the battle needed to be moved to the hearts and minds of consumers.

“I said, why don’t we fight fire with fire here,” he said. “People really should know this is a trademark and you do protect it.”

Within just weeks of launching, Lewin said dozens of fashion blogs, chat rooms and message boards originating from around the world were buzzing with news of the new site and Louboutin’s efforts to thwart crooks, earning the respect of consumers. “They were 100 percent in favor of it,” he said. “They loved it. I’m a huge believer in the public component to stopping counterfeiting. As long as there is a market for products of these types, people will make these products. Until buying fakes becomes uncool, I don’t think it will stop.”

Lewin said that when he initially began working with Louboutin a year ago, the designer’s shoes were sold on more than 7,000 auction sites a day, most of which were counterfeit products. Today, that number ranges from 600 to 900 a day, about half of which are legitimate.

For Louboutin, the stakes are much higher than simply stopping the flow of illegal goods. After being made aware of the harsh working conditions in unregulated factories — often staffed by children — Louboutin said fighting counterfeiters became an act of conscience.

“I learned that behind the counterfeiting, you basically have children working for nothing,” he said. “If you buy a counterfeit, you’re not just getting a fake, you’re keeping the process alive of child abuse. When I saw that, I was really shocked. I really thought I couldn’t take that.”

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