Since last July, the Italian Trade Commission has gone to China three times to protest against Chinese companies counterfeiting and infringing on Italian trademarks. The complaints presented 30 separate examples of Chinese companies marketing their products as “made in Italy”, using Italian names for their brands and using the Italian flag to mislead consumers. Unsurprisingly, of the 30 brands mentioned, many are quite popular with Chinese consumers, such as Larentou (老人头) leather shoes, Stella Luna women’s shoes and the Bosnia brand (博西尼). The most outrageous example of a Chinese company falsely marketing itself as foreign is the Jajemon brand (嘉加梦), whose top of the line mattress has a market price of 34,000 RMB, and claims to retail for around 6,000 euros (approximately 49,800 RMB). However, in Italy a genuine top-of-the-line mattress currently costs less than 600 euros.
Made in Italy?
Walk into any major clothing retailer in Beijing and you’ll no doubt see a multitude of foreign sounding brands you’ve never heard of before. A reporter for Global People magazine went to one such a market in Beijing’s Central Business District, and was surprised to see that in the women’s clothing section on the second floor, nearly every single brand had both Chinese and English names. Among these, more than 50 percent of the brands used English people’s names. However, closer inspection of the clothing’s tags showed that almost every single item was produced in some second or third tier Chinese city.
At a high-end retailer in Beijing’s Zhongguancun area, the same reporter noticed that several “foreign” bags that were on sale – many of which had originally retailed for 3,000 to 5,000 RMB – were now 90% discounted. According to the shop’s sales clerk, these products came from Italy. The brand’s design centre was located in Florence and the materials were also purchased locally. Yet, with such steep discounts, wouldn’t these companies suffer major financial losses? After the reporter went ahead and purchased a leather bag, the sales clerk who had helped her spoke more openly: “We’re not actually losing money at this discounted price. The bag’s actual cost is nowhere near as high as we list it for. Our company’s head office is located in Zhejiang Province; the sample bags come from Italy, but the products that go on the market in China are all actually produced domestically.”
Different methods for “foreign-ising” domestic products
The most common method that Chinese companies use to pass their products off as “foreign” is giving the brand a foreign sounding name. The worst offenders, (who incidentally often have the lowest quality products), will simply tack on a prefix or suffix from a famous international brand, such as “______ Valentino” (华伦天奴), and use a logo that bears a strong resemblance to the original. A good example of this intentional or malicious imitation of an international trademark is the Santa Barbara Polo brand (圣大保罗), which blatantly rips off of both the name and logo of the Polo by Ralph Lauren. An even better example is the Jordan brand (乔丹), based out of Jinjiang county in Fujian Province, which is a near exact rip of the Air Jordan brand.
A less common (but even more devious) method of foreign fakery is to register the trademark in Hong Kong or in a foreign country. Due to the relative convenience of registering a company in Hong Kong, as well as the developed nature of the fashion industries in both France and Italy, these three places are the most common targets for faking a Chinese brand’s “foreignness”.
With the foreign registration method, it’s less likely that the Chinese brand’s name will closely resemble that of a well-known international brand. Instead of relying on that kind of cheap parlour trick, which many consumers are beginning to catch on to, more nefarious Chinese companies will directly register their trademark in Italy or France, which allows them to better conceal the truth and more convincingly market it as “foreign” made.
There are two different approaches to this method. The first is to hire a foreigner to register the trademark for the Chinese company, or for a foreigner to take the initiative themselves and then sell the trademark to a Chinese company. Once the “foreign” trademark is sold, then all of the design and production work is done domestically, while the trademark itself remains Italian or French. The second type is even more ingenious (and more difficult to spot): not only is the trademark registered abroad, but some products are also produced locally, after which they are shipped back to China to be copied and sold. According to an industry insider, “What’s happening is that only a single sample of each product will be made in Italy. The product will be brought in to China where they will be duplicated for a fraction of the price. It will still say “Made in Italy” on the tags, while in reality they will have been crafted in China.”
There are other ways to blur the cultural background of brands. The most literal way is to hire foreign models to be the “face” of the brand in advertisements, or to hire people to fabricate a more “European” sounding corporate culture story for the brand.
Here is the list of fake Italian trademarks in China (as filed by the Italian Trade Commission):
Nino Ferletti (尼诺·费雷)
San Marco (圣马可)
L&D/Leonardo Da Vinci (里奥纳多达芬奇)
Giorgio Giovani (乔治乔梵尼)
Dolce Rosa (愉悦玫瑰)
- China orders “Big Four” auditors to restructure (chinadailymail.com)
- Asda in China? That’ll be Mr Liu in Shenzhen (telegraph.co.uk)
- Ford takes legal action against Chinese company over knockoff F-150 (digitaltrends.com)
- China Trademark Squatting: The British Version. (chinalawblog.com)
From Global People Magazine (China)