Reader Request: Designer Inspired Items and Knockoffs


Reader Jane Jetson emailed me with this fascinating question:

I am wondering about knock offs. I am not referring to counterfeit or “replicas”. Those are illegal and look terrible anyway. My friend bought a huge “Prada” bag downtown and I cannot imagine people think it is real. There is no way she or anyone I know can purchase bags in the thousands of dollars.

I was looking for a tote bag for a long flight. I bought this bag and liked it very much.

I later read a reviewer say she liked it better than the “original.” The original is a Longchamp bag which costs over $100 more. I just cannot see paying that much for a nylon bag. I was vaguely aware of the Longchamp bag and was not looking for something similar at a lower price. I just wanted an attractive bag. I do not like wearing labels and realize that many designers simply license their names to lower quality products and do not have much involvement with the actual production. I am OK with that too but something about showy labels rubs me the wrong way. I have labeled goods such as ray ban and northface so I am not completely opposed. My question is, what about knock offs? Will someone see my bag and presume I bought a lower grade (and perfectly legal) Longchamp copy or that I have a nice bag? I don’t know where this begins and ends. I am not seeking out copies but I am not that familiar with all the handbags in the expensive, fashionable handbag universe. I also think that certain styles just become popular and are part of the general look and not necessarily a knock off.

There is some research to support the idea that a thriving knockoff business is actually GOOD for designer lines. I’m not sure I completely agree, but it’s an interesting alternative to the typical black-and-white response that all of them are bad and evil and no one should buy them.

I read gobs of fashion magazines and blogs so when I’m cruising around Amazon and eBay I see the bags that are clearly knockoffs of the hot styles, and I have to say that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable purchasing one myself. I bought a bag off eBay in the same way Jane bought her Longchamp knockoff – liked the design, price was right, no idea it was a copy – and once I found out I wasn’t thrilled. But I also didn’t stop carrying it.

After a shape or style has been in the mix for a couple of years, I don’t think a designer can reasonably claim that they’re being “knocked off” anymore. Celine introduced the trapeze shape in bags, but they’re everywhere now several years later. Mulberry’s turnlock is distinctive, but also incredibly simple and easy to duplicate and so long as no one is imprinting their logo they don’t have much of a case that it’s being knocked off. Actively seeking out a knockoff of a current-season designer bag allows you to cash in on the talent of the brand’s design team and some of their cachet without supporting them with your dollars. Buying a bag that looks like a nylon Longchamp tote – a style that company has made for decades – is completely harmless in my opinion.

In terms of what people think, to some extent you’ve just gotta let that go. Some people will see it and think it’s real, some people will see it’s a knockoff and judge you, some people will see it’s a knockoff and not care, some people won’t even know it’s a copy. If you like the design enough to buy it, that’s key. You can’t control what other people will or won’t think about you. Especially in this situation because you have no way of knowing who is well-versed in handbags and who isn’t. If it’s something that’s really going to bother you whenever you carry the bag, though, that can certainly take precedence: If knowing it’s a knockoff makes you worry constantly, then all of the fun has been sucked out of the bag and you might feel better moving on to a different style. Totally your call, of course.

Bags are among the most-frequently knocked-off, but I’d say the same of clothing, shoes, and accessories in most cases, too.

What are your thoughts? Do you buy knockoffs and feel like it’s perfectly reasonable to do so? Never buy them and feel the knockoff market is harmful?

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6 Responses to “Reader Request: Designer Inspired Items and Knockoffs”

  1. shriker_tam

    As far as this particular bag goes, I wouldn’t even call it a “knock off”. As far as I can tell, the Longchamp tote has a distinctive leather flap closure, unlike the other bag. They are both textile tote bags with leather detailing. This is not unique to Longchamp. They are similar shapes, but that shape is not an unusual bag shape.
    As far as the larger question goes – I think it depends. There are only so many ways to make clothes, or bags, or shoes. Certain shapes or designs must, I think, be considered part of our shared cultural referenceand history, and thus up for grabs. Designers are inspired by each other or by the same things independent of each other all the time. It is unreasonable to expect the average shopper to keep track of all the high end brand name product lines and designs just to avoid accidentaly buying a “knockoff”, “inspired by”, design at a lower end (or normal-people-price range) store.
    I personally avoid things that “look like knockoffs” even though they maybe aren’t – like quilted leather handbags with brass detailing. Just because I, like Jane above, am uncomfortable with showy labels, and don’t want to look like I’m aspiring towards them.

  2. Jane Jestson

    Thanks for Thanks for the thoughtful answer.

    I also wonder about the people who buy counterfeits, which are, unauthorized copies meant to appear to be real. A friend recently bought a Prada bag on Canal Street in NYC.
    These can also be found at flea markets and online. There seem to
    be two kinds of counterfeits, the cheap and the good. The Prada bag my
    friend bought was less than $50 and about 2 feet long. There is no way
    she could afford it and for that alone I thought it was a poor choice.
    It didn’t look that great either. The second tier of counterfeits
    is under the counter; look better and cost far more. I think these
    are dangerous to the industry because they are purchased by people who can
    afford the real thing but choose a look-alike counterfeit for hundreds of
    dollars less. I don’t think there is a big difference between buying these types of counterfeits and buying stolen merchandise. The difference for me is that there are more middlemen between the counterfeits and the buyer. The buyer of the counterfeit doesn’t feel so bad due to the circuitous path of the product.

    Counterfeits are big criminal business and for
    that reason alone I am opposed. Maybe no one but the designer is hurt by
    a counterfeit purse but the stakes change when it is artificial heart
    valves and baby formula.

    Last summer I was in Paris and the glare was
    blinding. I staggered to a man in the park selling sunglasses and bought
    a pair for $15. Now I suspect they were supposed to look like a certain
    style but not exactly counterfeit due to the lack of logo and price. I
    guess that is in a gray area. The vendor may have been profiting at the
    expense of the taxing authorities and licensed sellers but he was poor,
    probably not eligible for employment due to prejudice and needed to make a

    All I am saying is this can get very complicated.

  3. crtfly

    I don’t follow fashion enough to know what’s a knock off and what isn’t. I won’t buy anything that has an obvious logo. I feel like that is is paying a company so that I can do their advertising for them. So at least with logoed items, I avoid counterfeits.


  4. Liz

    I believe the legal standard to avoid a counterfeit or pirated designation is there must be a 10% difference between the item and the original.
    That said, I studied with someone who had supervised a designer’s factory in China and was a clothing designer in his own right. He despaired the intellectual and artistic property theft he saw in China–the owner of the factory that made the US designer’s line regularly pirated the designs in another factory he owned and changed just enough–buttons, zipper placement, you name it–to avoid legal problems. And managed to get his items on the market just ahead of trend so he was basically snaking the designer out of profits.
    Since that conversation I have avoided buying designer knock-offs, not only because they usually don’t look as good, but primarily because none of us likes to have our ideas taken and passed off as someone else’s.
    I know it’s impossible to buy things that look completely different from the designer items if they’re part of a seasonal trend, so I usually buy quality items that are classic and don’t have logos.
    And I never buy from street vendors, whose m.o. is usually selling pirated designs. That’s too much like stealing for me.

  5. missdisplaced

    It’s funny because that Longchamp bag you’re talking about is actually also “knocked off” by such industry stalwarts as Ralph Lauren (leather flap and all) and Calvin Klein and I’d guess a whole host of other accessory makers. So, who’s copying who here? I guess as long a they put a oh-so-slightly different spin on it, it is ok. Unless you are a hard core fashionista, it’s hard to tell anymore who originated the design.

  6. Kara

    About 10 years ago, I saw a photo of Angelina Jolie wearing a pair of black peeptoe platform Louboutins, and I loved the shape of the shoe. So when I found a very similar style, I bought them. However, they were Oh Deer! brand (I don’t know if that is still an active brand) and they have red soles. So I was walking around in pair of $100 pumps, that I paid about $60 for on sale, and people sometimes stopped me to ooh and ahh over them. It made me uncomfortable, so I stopped wearing them. That said, I don’t really follow high fashion closely enough to always know when something is a knock off. I try not to worry about it too much. Clothing and accessories at the price level I can afford are pretty much all “inspired” by something designer. What are non-wealthy people supposed to do, carry our belongings in a trash bag? Make our own shapeless garments from burlap?