ISTANBUL, Turkey - Tucked away in a corner of the leather goods section of Istanbul's sprawling Grand Bazaar is the non-descript Kiyici Canta, which blends in amongst hundreds of other similar-looking stores in one of the Turkish capital's most visited landmarks. But one peek inside the store, and the contents are pretty remarkable indeed.
Impeccably-copied Balenciaga clutches mingle with replicas of Bottega Veneta's cabat bags, which even the most discerning expert of Intrecciato weaving would find hard to tell apart from the original. There are also copies of bags by Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermes and countless other luxury brands. The copies are so good that they even warrant a recommendation in the Luxe Guide shopping recommendations for Istanbul.
Instead of displaying his wares openly, the store's owner hides the most obvious copies in a secret lair upstairs which is teeming with bags of every brand, shape and colour imaginable.
Experts have had a hard time pinning down a firm number to quantify the annual value of counterfeit luxury goods products, but global estimates range from $200 to $600 billion. Either way, counterfeiting remains one of the most serious issues facing the luxury industry today, and many brands are fighting tooth and nail with governments in countries like Turkey to stem the flow of the black market goods.
On that note, I asked the friendly and gregarious owner of Kiyici Canta if he has faced any legal issues associated with his burgeoning business. He said that he has had "problems" with Hermes, Dior and Louis Vuiton, but these problems go away because he pays a monthly bribe of 5000 euros to Turkish government officials in exchange for protection from any legal prosecution.
It's a shame that the Turkish authorities allow the counterfeiting to continue, because the country could gain a lot from channeling its energy into making Turkey a centre for authentic luxury goods manufacturing. With its close proximity to the major luxury brands in Western Europe and its clear strength in leather goods production, Turkey has a lot to gain from employing its skills in long-term, legal high-value manufacturing instead of turning a blind eye to the illegal reproductions.