In the fashion industry, those auto-knockoffs are more elegantly known as "diffusion lines." Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't. Well-capitalized designers like Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani have created whole families of brands, with loyal clients at every level and plenty of crossover customers who may splurge or scrimp, depending on the occasion. On the other hand, Halston's notorious creation of "Halston III" for J.C. Penney in the early 80s nearly destroyed the value of his name, and even in the current era of fast-fashion partnerships, designers proceed cautiously.
Now a t-shirt company in Johannesburg has taken the idea one step further. Love Jozi didn't merely create a diffusion line, which wouldn't make much sense for just t-shirts anyway -- they secretly created a counterfeit line. Or so it seemed for a couple of years, until they finally revealed their marketing scheme to the press. The ostensibly fake "Luv Jozi" t-shirts that had been selling briskly on street corners and in dodgier flea markets weren't made-in-China knockoffs at all -- they were deliberately misspelled imitations, complete with a fake website and marketing.
Since the big reveal, Love Jozi continued to sell both lines, the higher priced one with more fashion-forward cuts and designs and the boxier budget version. A replicable strategy for introducing a diffusion line? Probably not, or at least not for most established brands. We're talking misspelled t-shirts here, not high-end handbags whose buyers wouldn't be thrilled to learn that the same company had been secretly selling real fakes. When it's an indie company in South Africa, the customer may appreciate being let in on the joke; if it were a venerable European fashion house, she might not be quite as amused. Even Love Jozi couldn't pull it off again, having fooled everyone once -- in fact, it would be interesting to see what would happen if the company had to protect its "Love Jozi" trademark against the sales of actual counterfeits.
All in all, far more clever and unexpected than the usual press release crediting a new diffiusion line to retailers' demands for lower price points or even the designer's desire to dress a wider range of customers. Love Jozi's t-shirts are cute, but I'd love/luv to see what the brains behind this coup could do if they were in marketing!
Many thanks to all of you who emailed the story, including the first, longtime Countefeit Chic reader Pam Chestek!