why are people burning paper gucci handbags in china?

A Chinese tradition involving the burning of luxury items to ensure a comfortable afterlife clashes with copyright protection.

by Briony Wright
May 2 2016, 4:03pm

Photograph from Gucci's Instagram taken by Glen Luchford.

With the global trade in fake goods worth close to half a trillion dollars annually, counterfeit products are a problem for most luxury brands. And while poorly made imitations are undoubtably damaging to a label's reputation, one issue Gucci is now facing is a little more complex: exact paper replicas of the brand's handbags are being sold in Hong Kong for the purpose of burning at funerals.

The intended destination for the flimsy totes is an annual festival known as Qingming, during which relatives mourn lost family members and deliver offerings such as food, tea, chopsticks, fake money and, more recently, aspirational products like paper iPhones and Gucci handbags. In Chinese tradition, the idea is that the afterlife mirrors the world of the living and burning paper items ensures they are prosperous in death.

While Gucci has issued a warning to the rogue Hong Kong retailers, the brand has acknowledged that it does not intend to take legal action or seek compensation and that it "fully respects the funeral context and trust that the store owners did not have the intention to infringe Gucci's trademark."

The issue in this instance is likely less about the curious practice than the fact that it is a trademark infringement which, if ignored, potentially sets a precedent for other parties looking to profit from Gucci's intellectual property.


Text Briony Wright