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Why South Korea Is the Home of Counterfeit Culture

The inability to buy hyped streetwear brands in South Korea has fuelled one of the world's most sophisticated markets for counterfeit goods, according to a new documentary from Highsnobiety.
Counterfeit Culture by Highsnobiety | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Grace Cook

NEW YORK, United States — The inability to buy hyped streetwear brands in South Korea has fuelled one of the world's most sophisticated markets for counterfeit goods, according to a new documentary, "Counterfeit Culture", from Highsnobiety.

South Korea is the world’s 14th-largest economy, and Seoul is the fifth wealthiest city in the world, reports the 15-minute documentary, which was shot during Seoul Fashion Week in March and is Highsnobiety's first. The country is unique in that its younger generation is obsessed with street culture and adopting global trends.

But covetable brands like Supreme, Stüssy and Champion are almost impossible to buy in South Korea, a situation that has spawned a tribe of widely available "copycat" brands. Fake Supreme hoodies can be acquired for the equivalent of $25 on the sidewalk, while a shopping mall store carries an exact replica of an embroidered Saint Laurent jacket, recently worn by Justin Bieber. The only difference is that the label of the jacket reads "Classic Fashion" instead of "Saint Laurent". Meanwhile, Off-White and Champion x Vetements grosgrain ribbons can be made to order into belts.

“You can find counterfeit streetwear all over the world, but the stuff we found in Seoul was remarkable,” says Alec Leach, Highsnobiety’s digital fashion editor. “Whoever is making counterfeit versions is clearly keeping an eye on Instagram and street style reports.”

The documentary also raises questions about whether or not quality or brand name is relevant. “It seems that a lot of Koreans aren’t really aware of what they are wearing,” says Leach. “Most of the guys we spoke to on the street were very vague about what they bought and why.”

Certainly, that would reflect a wider cultural trend, demonstrated in the purposely fake-looking "Fake Gucci" t-shirts, and Demna Gvasalia's Kering logos for Balenciaga.

Sensitivity to streetwear trends is just one reason why South Korea's counterfeit market is soaring: in 2012, South Korea confiscated 57,005 counterfeit goods domestically, up from 5,363 in 2006. A report commissioned by the International Trademark Association and the International Chamber of Commerce suggested the global economic value of counterfeiting and piracy could reach $2.3 trillion by 2022, with China and South Korea being among the biggest producers of counterfeit goods. And, according to the documentary, brands are put off from opening a store in Seoul because of this issue: it’s a Catch 22.

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