a look at the colours and styles of mexico city’s bootleg fashion markets
Fashion piracy in Mexico isn’t about exact copies, but about turning the aspirational longing associated with certain brands to needs to local consumers.
"The most popular pieces are Lacoste or Dolce and Gabbana. It's the same design, only the style changes," Nydia explained. She was working as an attendant at a stall in La Merced, a traditional market in Mexico City's historic centre, selling a series of polo shirts adorned with the logos of luxury brand. I told her I was buying a gift, hoping to hear her insights into the most popular trends, what everyone asked for. "Well, any, they all sell," she said, denying me a definitive answer.
In 2011, the then President of Mexico's Confederation of the National Chambers of Commerce, Services, and Tourism, Jorge Dávila Flores, stated that if you added up all the income from the sale of oil, remittances, and tourism in Mexico, it wouldn't even come close to the $75 billion that the sale of counterfeit consumer goods generates each year in the country.
That same year, the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico, a self-described non-profit organisation dedicated to represent, promote, and develop commerce and investment between Mexico and the United States, published a study on the social behaviors that lead to the consumption of counterfeit goods. The goal was to offset a branch of the Latin American economy, that in 2011 was rising out of control.
According to the poll, 8 out of 10 Mexicans had consumed a counterfeit product and would certainly do it again. The reason being, buying a counterfeit product is not considered a crime in Mexican society. It's not even really frowned upon. According to the study, the top three consumed counterfeit goods are, in descending order: movies and music, footwear, and clothes.
Nydia, my Merced market saleswoman, whose stall is less than ten paces away from the metro station, gives me a 30 peso discount on her aforementioned top seller, a brightly coloured polo tee, available in royal blue, purple, red, and yellow, with a luxury brand's logo creatively reimagined in black silkscreen ink print across it.
The shirt is available adorned with various iconography, from automobile logos like BMW, Audi, and Ferrari, to the most recognisable fashion logos, Louis Vuitton, Hermés, Burberry, and, of course, Gucci; the favourite target of illegal knock-offs.
The polo sold by Nydia doesn't resemble any I've seen at fashion shows or in any official collection. It's a garment totally imagined in a Mexican factory, rather than the workshops of Italian master craftsmen. The shirt displays some very exciting features: it has no buttons and includes a popped collar kept rigid and haughty by a border of gold sewn-on logos. The polo displays the brand logo like a peacock. It doesn't matter if you are a fan of Hermés, Lacoste, or American Eagle, the idea is to wear an insignia, any insignia, and wear it all over the shirt.
The design of the piece is almost secondary to the prevalence to the logo; this same design has existed in Mexican markets, almost without any changes, for a long time, and it addresses a loyal demand for a stereotypical masculine fashion. The bold colours, bold graphics, and the occasional flourish of flamboyant decoration are what really freshen up the counterfeit offer, makes it really stand out on the streets and stalls.
So who decides which brands should be copied and reinterpreted locally? Us, the consumers, eager to obtain a piece of foreign culture. But first, we chew it up and process it for easy, local consumption. And, like Nydia says, it doesn't matter which one you choose, as long as the product sells. Loyalty isn't to one brand in particular, but instead to the idea of hope that these brands collectively represent.
In his 1996 book, Cross-Cultural Consumption: Global Markets, Local Realities, David Howes writes that counterfeit production seemed to be the only option in which developing countries could deal with the fact that local products could not compete with prestigious foreign products desired by their consumers. This hasn't changed. The luxury ephemera of the West continues to be craved all over the world, but unlike China's obsession with exact replica, in Mexico and Latin America that luxury is reimagined and recrafted to work for the needs and desires of the local market.
In the footwear section of the market, the most far-fetched copies take pride of place in the centre of all the stands. The best seller? "The new Nikes are very comfortable. They are delivered twice a week because they sell out so quickly," explains Ramón, the guy in charge of the stand, signalling towards a pair of sneakers that look like Nike Roshes, but splashed with a touch of Latin imagination and somehow weighing almost nothing.
"Are we self-colonising by imitating these foreign products?," Howes asks. "Why should the production of fake Levi jeans be more of an issue than the production of fake indigenous textiles from Mexico?" Why? Because, what we really consume is an idea, a premise that has not changed since 1996 and has only been accentuated by the abysmal recession of the world economy since 2008.
Why is Gucci the most imitated? Partly because Tom Ford made the brand ultra popular in the 00s and partly because it was adopted as indicator of glamour and wealth by the hip hop scene. Why are there still FUBU sweatpants in La Lagunilla market? Because the guy who makes them probably grew up wishing he had a pair. Why BMW, Jeep, Land Rover and Ferrari? Because a 165 peso shirt is affordable, an off-road vehicle is not.
Fashion knock-offs continue to be desirable, no matter what trends they follow, price being the key to their consumption. They can imitate the newest styles in streetwear, add more niche logos like Hood by Air, Supreme or Pyrex, or copy spring/summer menswear looks from Louis Vuitton, but the foundation remains the same. In combination with a boastful Latin aesthetic, a distinct fashion is created, peculiarly unique and of ephemeral design, which survives not only because it is in fashion, but because it sells.
Text Cheryl Santos
Photography Cuauhtémoc García