Chinese knockoff raid jolts a throng of fake-fashion influencers

A Chanel counterfeit luxury bag in Hong Kong. — Bloomberg

BEIJING: Christmas came early last year for Brandon Lee King, a youthful online influencer who lives near Birmingham, England.

An eagerly awaited shipment of luxury goods arrived just in time for the festive season, and like many of his peers, he was keen to show off his haul.

In a video posted to his TikTok channel and viewed by nearly two million people, he unwrapped £2,000 worth of seemingly high-end Nike shoes, new in their boxes.

There were also what appeared to be a £2,500 Goyard messenger bag, a rare Dior T-shirt (£600), a retro Manchester City FC jersey, a pair of Palm Angels sweatpants and an £875 Kaws Companion figurine.All told, the items would cost more than £6,700 at retail. But they came from Pandabuy, a Chinese eCommerce site offering “designer” fashions at a fraction of what the labels would charge.

The site, little known just two years ago, sits at the centre of a thriving online trade in allegedly fake branded goods, which are promoted on TikTok, Reddit and the social-chat platform Discord.

“They don’t look too bad,” he said of the Palm Angels sweats, assessing the quality of each item in his Dec 21 post.

“You can tell they’re not the real thing, but just from looking, I don’t think you can really tell.”

Earlier this month, Chinese authorities raided Pandabuy’s offices in Hangzhou and several warehouses, seizing goods amid allegations that it was distributing massive amounts of knockoff shoes, clothing and watches.

The crackdown marks a rare win for retailers who have been battling to shut down Pandabuy and stop online personalities from promoting the site.

While it’s unlikely more than a temporary win, the raid sent shockwaves through the digital coterie of influencers and their followers, who pepper the video creators with questions on how they can obtain the same questionable loot.

“Thanks Pandabuy, it was fun while it lasted,” said a Discord user who goes by the name of Spamsilog.

Brandon, who didn’t respond to Bloomberg News requests for comment, said on his TikTok channel that he received the items free for promotion purposes. He gave viewers links to specific listings, and offered tips on how to use photos to search for designer goods.

Pandabuy didn’t respond to requests for comment.

As a “shopping agent,” Pandabuy doesn’t make or sell the products itself. Rather, it acts as a middleman, providing a sales platform and services like photography and shipping to independent vendors of Chinese-made products – anything from tech gadgets to home furnishings to fashion items.

Anti-piracy advisory firm Corsearch, which aided in a UK police investigation of branded products on the site, found none to be legitimate.

“In almost every instance it said replicas or reps, which means they were fake or counterfeit,” said Joseph Cherayath, a Corsearch investigator whose team analysed the website and provided intelligence to support authorities.

“And the buyers and the people who were obtaining the products very much knew that was the case.”

Buying counterfeit goods isn’t illegal in the UK, only selling or making them, according to Get Safe Online, which advises UK consumers on how to protect themselves against online fraud.

The raid on Pandabuy marks the latest twist in a decades-long cat-and-mouse game between counterfeiters and the copyright holders and law enforcement trying to quell a rising tide of knockoffs.

Other shopping agent sites, including Sugargoo, CSSBuy and Wegobuy, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Coordinating the six-month probe that led to the crackdown wasn’t easy: UK police are limited on what they can share with foreign governments, according to detective inspector Andrew Masterson of the City of London police intellectual property crime unit. — Bloomberg

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