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The ethics of counterfeit sports apparel

By: Seth Lennon
Aug 10

In the last couple of editions of this blog, I discussed the evolution of my own thinking when it came how sports team apparel and memorabilia were sourced. I no longer confined my thinking strictly to the tangible product I picked up via the internet or at the arena itself, but to whether the production of these products was indeed ethical.

As I did the work on my last entries in this series, I was compelled to think back throughout my life to the sheer volume of sports apparel I have owned. I have always had a soft spot for hockey jerseys. The color and the logos always seemed to pop and stand out from anything else out there. However, as I have become immersed more and more in the world of social compliance, I have started to wonder about how my buying habits could be improved.

Immediately once I began this internal monologue, my thoughts drifted back to my sports obsession and to some of the purchasing choices I’ve made in the past- and I was not exactly proud of the decisions I have made.

Let’s be frank about something: sports jerseys are expensive. Authentic jerseys, which are exactly what the pros wear on the court/field/ice can run you around $250.00 while replica jerseys, sold by the teams as a more “accessible” option when it comes to price point can run you around $150.00.

So, in 2010, as a young professional whose means were somewhat limited, I found a website that offered jerseys for a lot less than the $150-plus sticker price I had become accustomed to. While the old saying “If it's too good to be true…” proves to be correct more than often than not; the allure of picking up another addition to my collection at a fraction of the cost was too good to pass up.

Upon arrival (weeks, not days later), I busted open the package directly from China that contained my newest acquisition. To my then untrained eye, it looked like any other jersey. All the labels and logos were in the right place and the coloring appeared to be on point, so I didn’t have any complaints at the time.

However, as time went by, I started to think more and more about this jersey. How did the supplier get their hands on it? Exactly how did they get this jersey to the market being able to sell it for around $40 rather than the $150 that a jersey traditionally would set me back. At that point, my naiveite faded away and I came to the sober realization that the odds that this jersey was legitimate were slim to none.  I still didn’t put too much to mind about this.

A few weeks later, I noticed that the Montreal Canadiens had launched an intensive campaign warning against the purchase of counterfeit jerseys. The “Let's Retire These Jerseys” campaign sought to not only educate fans on not only what to look for when it came to counterfeit jerseys but the links that the production of these goods had to slave labor, organized crime, and even terrorism. The Canadiens took it a step further and offered discounts for authentic apparel to fans who traded in their counterfeit jerseys.

I not only had buyer’s remorse. I was in a deep moral dilemma. Where was my money going and what was it going to fund?

Flash forward a few years to today and to the questions I had about the sourcing of my jerseys that I detailed in previous entries. Since I joined the WRAP team in May, I have gained insight into the world of social compliance and what it means to ethically source apparel, insight which only served to fuel the guilt I felt for a jersey purchasing decision I made almost a decade ago.

If you do a search on eBay for any athlete’s jersey- you will notice the number of jerseys at prices which are way below the market rate. While some may be older jerseys that their owners are trying to make some extra cash from, most of them will likely be of the counterfeit variety. And if you look at the photos, they are often hard to distinguish from the real thing. Which made me think…how hard is it to spot the difference between the two? Therefore, I decided to perform a little experiment.

I brought in two jerseys. One was a Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins jersey which I purchased at a legitimate retailer, the other one was the counterfeit one, which was a Maxime Talbot Pittsburgh Penguins Jersey. Both jerseys look the same from the outside. It’s hard to tell the difference.

Which one is real? Which one is fake?

Over the span of a couple of days, I polled our staff here at WRAP Headquarters. They had the chance to touch and feel the jerseys and to examine them thoroughly. Once they were done, they submitted their answer to which one they thought was the counterfeit jersey.

The WRAP staff examines the "exhibits."

The result was a 5-5 tie. While the Talbot jersey was counterfeit- the care that was taken to approximate the look of the genuine article was extensive, even trained observers who know their way around the apparel industry had to put some serious consideration into their response.

The proliferation of these types of products is only getting worse. You go to any major sporting event and there are vendors outside selling products that while it is sometimes obvious that they are not the real thing, the price point cannot be beaten. While a lot of the price of a jersey is wrapped into the royalties that must be paid out to the teams and players due to their collective bargaining agreements, there is also the reasonable expectation that the products are indeed ethically sourced.

Make no mistake about it, there are no such guarantees with counterfeit products. While that cheap price is enticing, is it worth all the baggage associated with it? Is it worth being made in a factory where the workers have no guarantees for their safety? Is it worth the knowledge that the jersey I bought was produced by an individual who is likely making a couple of dollars a day? Is it worth the 60-70-hour weeks these people are being forced to work? With everything I've learned over the past few weeks, it really isn't. 

 

 

 

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