When it comes to buying knockoff bags from Chinatown, my friends and I are guilty. The idea of owning a purse that could pass for the expensive designer bags we coveted was too enticing for us to resist. The idea that we were committing a crime (of the legal kind, not just a fashionable offense) was the last thing on our teenage minds.

In those days, the police rarely came. In the event that they did, a quick shut-down of the outside shop (which the vendors could do quicker than you can say “911”) was all that was necessary.

Today, the police are implementing new and more aggressive tactics to shut down the age-old business. City Councilwoman Margaret Chin proposed a bill that would penalize counterfeit purchases by a $1,000 fine or a year of prison time.

Chin seemed especially angry that Canal Street is regarded as “the counterfeit capital of the country” and the fact that it draws tourists looking to get a quality ripoff. “Our laws are incomplete in that they only target the supply of these items and not the demand,” she said. “The bottom line is that counterfeiters need to sell to do their job, and we need a law in place to punish buyers for supporting this illegal trade.”

Though I regularly traveled from New Jersey to purchase knockoffs with the money from my part-time job at the mall, now that I work in the fashion industry I see the inherent problem it causes for the business.

By purchasing knockoffs, you take money away from the original designer and the more affordable brands that you’d alternatively turn to for a great handbag or dress. That’s not to mention the blow the government endures in lost taxes; Chin estimates that counterfeit products cost the city almost $1 billion annually in tax revenue.

Still, a $1,ooo fine or a year in jail is pretty steep for a high-school student with meager earnings and designer taste. And what about the mass-produced brands like Steve Madden, Forever 21 and now, Zara that rip off high-end designers? Should they be punished as well or is that form of counterfeiting okay since it’s taxed?

What do you think? Do you agree with Congresswoman Chin’s bill? Should the government punish the buyers? Is the punishment too severe? Have you ever purchased a counterfeit product? Did you feel any buyer’s remorse? What other steps can the government take to police counterfeit shopping?

-Jessica C. Andrews


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