Is fake luxury shaming wrong?
For avid fans of Netflix’s hit series, Bling Empire, you may remember expert jeweller Florent Bonadei exposing fellow castmate Kelly Mi Li for wearing fake designer jewellery to his Diamonds Forever party, generously hosted by billionaire BFF, Anna Shay. While the entire series is based on the obnoxiously glamorous lifestyles of the wealthy, there is still a bias against fake luxury, which is also reflected, albeit to a smaller extent, in our “regular,” less spectacular lives.
Many of us are chasing the pipe dream of a “successful” life, and while mindsets are slowly but surely changing, we often associate success with financial abundance, and with that comes status products such as luxury cars, homes, and fashion to prove to others that they have “made it.” Perhaps that is the reason why we unconsciously tend to look down upon others who either cannot afford the same items as we can, or worse: try to blend in with fake versions, as it invalidates the hard work and time that we have put in to achieve our very own success. Hence, this act of putting down others draws a clear boundary between the haves and have nots.
Living in the age where we live and breathe media content, many influencers clamour to get their hands on the luxury market’s newest and coolest in order to stay relevant, with these luxury items often being seasonal and “expire” in a matter of weeks. Predictably, many young fans follow suit, with wealthier ones buying the real deal and the rest resorting to inauthentic versions. On a similar note, we should also recognise the banality and futility of “flex” culture, and the impact it can have on impressionable audiences. Popularised by popular culture and celebrities in it, we have become accustomed to associating designer items with being part of the “cool” crowd, and have the yearning to attain the same “it bag”, but we often fail to realise that possessing luxury does not necessarily mean success per se. Plus, the image of wealthiness is subjective. While a monogrammed tracksuit may appeal and evoke envy from some, others may find the same outfit tacky and prefer a more understated get-up. Therefore, we shouldn’t feel confined to others’ expectations of us, and rather find a style that makes us feel good without having to be involved in questionable ethical practices that fake luxury more often than not use.
Comparing and weighing the pros and cons of purchasing real and fake luxury has become more complex over time, especially for younger consumers who want the look but cannot afford the real thing. Although high fashion pieces are frequently associated with animal cruelty with them often being made of animal parts such as mink fur or alligator skin, an increasing number of luxury brands have been moving towards being anti-cruelty, such as Furla, Versace, Giorgio Armani and Gucci. This change in material usage is a combination of consumer feedback, the sustainability trend, and advancements made in technology and hence material quality. Instead, these brands have been hopping onto the vegan and vegetarian product bandwagon, with many of them, such as Stella McCartney, using vegan silk and vegetarian leather in their designs to promote sustainability while maintaining the quality that customers pay a handsome sum for. On the other hand, apart from having unsustainable mass-producing practices on a larger scale, fake luxury has also been known to be tied to funding crime syndicates, seriously infringing on the copyrights of the original brands and having lower quality.
That being said, for a large portion of us students, being able to constantly afford pricey luxury products with little to no regular salary is out of the question. This is especially true when we try to keep up with the trends, as we jump from one to another between seasons. TikTok has been the saving grace for many young fashionistas, however, as creators like Darcy McQueeny teaches her viewers how to ‘ball on a budget’, advocating for sites selling fake luxury sites such as DHgate, making their dream bags and clothes attainable at a much lower price. These creators normalise fake luxury items among their impressionable viewers, thereby blurring the classist boundaries that generations before drew by gatekeeping costly designer products from those who cannot afford them. In addition, more creative individuals have started putting their own spin on these designer pieces, taking buttons or metal logos from the original and creating new items with it. The popularisation and normalisation of fake luxury and inspired pieces then begs the question of where do we draw the line between inspired and outright copying products from designer brands, and are we really wrong for consuming such products when we students want the look but cannot afford any of their pieces?
While luxury products are often out-of-reach for people of our age group, purchasing fake luxury has equally bad repercussions, despite costing just a fraction of the real one. Hence, the problem doesn’t lie in whether we should favour one over the other in pursuit of temporary trends. It is understandable that many of us have the urge to go for the cheaper, inauthentic version of a hyped-up fad to appear cool, but we should understand that this desire to possess the newest thing stems from a place of wanting to prove ourselves to the world. How far are we willing to go to construct and cement our social reputation of being successful, even as students with limited budgets?