Fake Shoes

Reporter: Sally Obermeder

Australians can usually spot a fake a mile off, especially when they're on holiday in Bali, where you find counterfeits on every street corner. When it comes to designer shoes, now Australia itself seems to be developing a reputation for knockoffs. Only difference - these are being sold in some of our leading stores.

Blame Sex and The City for making Manolo Blahnik a household name. Shoe sales are booming and some of the most outrageous and dangerous designs in fashion history are hobbling down the runway. As consumers trade the It bag for the It shoe, marketers are scrambling to give them the look for less, laughing all the way to the bank. Not everyone gets the joke.

"The problem is pandemic. You walk into any store in any high street and you know, you'll find a store full of designer knockoffs" says Matt.US talk show host Jay Leno recently got a whiff of Halle Berry's Camilla Skovgaards.But what's really on the nose, at least as far as this Danish cobbler is concerned, is that at least three Australian manufacturers are copying her designs - for a third of the price. Not that any of the companies are prepared to talk about it on camera. And when Sydney shoe blogger Matt Jordan, aka "Imelda", accused Tony Bianco of doing a one-for-one copy of a Skovgaard shoe, the company's lawyers even demanded a retraction.

"I couldn't believe that they had the audacity to refer the matter to their legal counsel when it was quite obvious that this was a direct knockoff this shoe" said Matt.ustralia has a footwear market worth close to $2 billion. "A one-for-one knockoff is where you're buying the shoe, you're taking it to China and you're replicating it rivet for rivet, buckle for buckle, lace from lace, whereas when something's been influenced, it's been influenced by a broader trend" explains Matt. "There's been a proliferation of mid market brands that have entered into the footwear market in the last I think 10-12 years. And these brands are all catering to that sort of fast fashion, disposable fashion market. And so what we're finding is that these brands are more and more, like, knocking off designers, not just catwalk designers but independent designers. And they're doing it at such a fast rate, it's quite extraordinary."

Even the Australian ads are dead ringers for the originals. A Louis Vuitton's "Spicy" shoe - and a Siren Shoes copy, which has been heavily promoted at Myer. Madonna is advertising Louis Vuitton's shoe - and Siren Shoes' uncannily similar image. And shots of Halle Berry and Cindy Crawford wearing Skovgaard's originals were used by Tony Bianco to promote its copies.

Brisbane duo Shannon Gunn and Gabrielle Thompson spent five years working for a large shoe manufacturer, trawling the world for products to copy. They left to launch their own brand - Tom Gunn. And know it's only a matter of time before they themselves are copied."It's not nice, as a designer, you don't like putting your stuff out there for someone else to benefit from." Fashion, by definition, copies. And the internet has only accelerated things. But while the copies, and lawsuits, are flying the world over, Australian manufacturers have three unusual advantages. Our proximity to the Chinese factories. We're a season behind the northern hemisphere, which means copies can be on shelves before the originals. Even Australian law gives copycats a legup.

"There's a slow notoriety overseas, particularly amongst large fashion houses who, I imagine, are frankly getting sick to death of the fact that people in Australia can come along and rip off designs at will" says David Stewart, an Intellectual property-specialist lawyer.Due to recent changes in Australia's copyright legislation, you need to register each design here before a product is launched to protect it. Australia is about...one of the very few countries that you actually need to do this. Another notable one is China. If you, if you could have got a design and you didn't, then you can't rely upon copyright. And so if you're an international fashion designer based in Milan or based in Rome or based in London and you're not aware of this particular quirk to the way in which Australian law works, then you've got no basis on which to try to protect the creative output of your efforts" adds David.

Mel Speers launched Diesel footwear here and spent over a half a million dollars registering designs - and taking 15 companies to court. "We made ourselves very unpopular in doing it and were probably the first to really enforce. But I'm pleased to say that it worked and we were able to stamp out 90percent of the problem" says Mel. Most of them have been caught with their pants down and sort of been unprepared for web. There's of course a new set of eyes looking at what they're doing. And talking about it. And examining it" says Matt.

"What I actually hope will happen is that the federal government will actually address it as an issue, as something that is embarrassing at the end of the day, for an OECD country to have this as a problem, where fashion designers overseas and indeed even fashion designers locally...this affects Australian fashion designers as much as it affects people overseas" adds David.

Matt Jordan's footwear blog "Imelda - The Despotic Queen of Shoes"

Website: http://www.imelda.com.au/

Camilla Skovgaard

Website: http://www.camillaskovgaard.com

Tom Gunn

Website: http://www.tomgunn.com

Louis Vuitton

Website: http://www.louisvuitton.com

Diesel

Website: http://www.diesel.com

David Stewart, IP-specialist lawyer

Wrays Patent and Trade Marks Attorneys

56 Ord Street

West Perth WA 6006

PH: +61892165100

Website: http://www.wrays.com.au

Email: david.stewart@wrays.com.au

Tony Bianco

Website: http://www.tonybianco.com.au

Wittner

Website: http://www.wittner.com.au

Siren Shoes

Website: http://www.sirenshoes.com.au

Sportsgirl

Website: http://www.sportsgirl.com.au