Can Tech put an End to Counterfeits?

It seems to be an unwritten rule. If you truly appreciate fashion you’d never purchase a fake. All your efforts would go to ensure the creative is compensated for their hard work. However, the ease of social media and the internet has made it even harder to identify legit products. And we’re not talking about “Beats by Andrea” here. Rather, the well replicated pieces that easily pass as the luxury designer brand. In fact, Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba, raised an interesting point when he declared that counterfeiters can “make better quality, better prices than the real product.” Technological advancements have made it possible to create almost authentic fake fashion goods and because the internet has become a free-for-all arena, it’s even easier to advertise, sell and distribute fake goods. In 2014 alone, the counterfeiting went up by 15% according to NetNames, a British company that specializes in brand online protection. And In 2015, Google managed to block only 18,000 “suspicious” accounts. But could tech advancements hold the solution to fighting counterfeits?

Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba [Image: US News]
Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba [Image: US News]
Serial numbers and holograms have been the go-to solution for luxury brands for years. But now we’re seeing a shift to tracking technologies such as near Field Communication (NFC) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips that are embedded in the products and contain stored information about the product. (see how Burberry does it here) Take for example Italian-French luxury outerwear-maker, Moncler. The brand, which is known for its puffer jacket, is utilising the RFID chip in its products to help consumers identify if they are getting authentic Moncler gear or not. The chip, as well as a QR code, is neatly put next to their company logo which can easily be scanned with your smartphone.

Moncler Logo with QR code [Image: Courtesy of Moncler]
Moncler Logo  [Image: Courtesy of Moncler]
The online approach seems to include complex algorithms that search the internet for counterfeit sales to stop them in their tracks. NetNames monitors online activity for its clients to stop online fraud, cybersquatting, piracy, counterfeiting and any other digital threats quickly. The Telegraph UK reported that they have the ability to take down fraudulent websites in a matter of days, saving a brands reputation and investments.

NetNames chief commercial officer Simon Jackson  [Image: Heathcliffe]
NetNames chief commercial officer Simon Jackson [Image: Heathcliffe]
Anti-counterfeit technological mechanisms don’t stop at holograms and RFID chips. One advancement comes from Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology who have developed polythene thread that contains dye molecules that absorb light. It’s easily woven into any garment inconspicuously but once viewed under a polarized filter, it lights up. Not only does the designer have carte blanche on the pattern or design the thread will take in their garments, but also the technology proves difficult to mimic. The thread also works well in synthetic and natural materials so it can be used in a variety of fabrics.

[Image: Courtesy of Fashion & The Steal]
[Image: Courtesy of Fashion & The Steal]
The ever-evolving nature of tech means that these solutions need to be updated consistently. It’s definitely a rat race to keep your protection options one step ahead of the counterfeiters. Otherwise they would figure it out and copy it for their surprisingly similar fakes. However, the fashion industry must continue to pursue new and effective anti-counterfeiting mechanisms not only protect themselves, but also the consumers looking for quality. Heaven knows it stings to not get what you paid for. But are African designers tapping into these options to protect their hard work and ideas? Especially as they make the move to tap into international markets? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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