Is Your Zipper Real?

Barely a week ago, I wrote about a company in Brooklyn that fixes Chinese manufacturing mistakes, and asked for similar examples. Some of you posted your stories (I loved the one about the white polymer resin that got contaminated by small black cylinders that looked like “rat turds”).

The Wall Street Journal was good enough to chip in as well. It ran a front-page article yesterday about a guy in L.A. named Barry Forman, who retired from the garment industry 14 years ago because too much manufacturing had moved overseas. But Forman has come roaring back to life, thanks to that same overseas manufacturing. His job is to rescue millions of dollars’ worth of imported clothing by fixing the manufacturing botches. (The Journal article is behind a paywall but here’s the same article reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

But the most interesting example in the article wasn’t about a mistake exactly; it had to do with a load of 17,000 Chinese-made denim pants that were confiscated in Long Beach by U.S. Customs. Why? Their zipper tabs were imprinted with “YKK,” the Japanese company who made the zipper on the very pair of pants I’m wearing (and, probably, yours). But they were counterfeit zippers. I am not sure why someone would bother to counterfeit a zipper. (Have you ever bought a pair of pants because of its brand of zipper? Now that I think of it, how do I know that my YKK zipper is real?)

So Barry Forman was called in to fix the problem. He did this by putting fifteen employees to work with hand drills, grinding off the fake “YKK” mark on each zipper. It took them five days. I am curious how much this intervention raised the price on this lot of denim pants. The economics of commercial piracy are vast and fascinating; I was talking to a lawyer friend not long ago who assured me that a significant fraction of the toiletries and household products I buy every day are fake.


Crosbie

There's also faux-fake.

These are either own-brand products designed to look strangely familiar (as if a well-known brand) and yet clearly the work of the umbrella brand, or they are arbitrary-brand, designed to look just as well designed and branded as familiar brands, but the brand names are completely unfamiliar.

I have been tricked into thinking own-brand was a Heinz brand once (much to my annoyance).

But, I have never felt so ill as I did when I went shopping in a certain supermarket full of arbitrarily-branded goods.

The thing is, because the brand is fake, the product cannot be. The product is a genuine instance of a fake brand.

Hence faux-fake.

It's worse than a foreign country, because there are no locals you can trust to have weeded out the dud brands/products.

snubgodtoh

I'm guessing the firm in China bought a used zipper press--or die or whatever the heck on turns raw metal into a zipper with--from the Japanese firm YKK. Did anyone catch fresh air last week featuring this really neat rap artist Andre3000? He actually says "YKK on your zipper" in a song, always wondered, now I know.

snubgodtoh

Sorry, that was meant to be "one turns raw metal..." on to the spell check discussion.

daveintherain

The problem here is that the end consumer is not the only consumer of the branded zipper. Even though an end consumer might not buy pants becuase of the brand of zipper, clothing manufacturers presumably know a lot about zippers and buttons and many other clothing components, and will make buying decisions accordingly.

The pants maker may also realize that selling pants with fake YKK zippers might be actionable in court as passing off.

CharlesMerriam

The economics here seem broken.
1. Yes, the YKK zipper brand is well known and patrolled. There is additional cost to use this brand.
2. One rarely gets caught.
3. The only penalty mentioned here for being caught is needed to hire a few people for about $2K to fix the problem.
4. Why on earth wouldn't you counterfeit all your goods?

I would suggest that the minimum correct answer would be to impound or destroy the goods. Still, this "fix-it" solution is better for the brand than the alternate of seizure by U.S. Government, and then releasing the counterfeit goods to the public. Yes, the U.S. Government cleaned out its warehouses and gave the counterfeit goods to Katrina victims.

So, why not counterfeit all your manufacturing? Does it make rational sense to follow the law here?

snubgodtoh

From the article:

To get out of the jam, a representative for the brand called on Mr. Forman. Fifteen employees headed to the warehouse and set up a makeshift factory, complete with lamps, tables and tools. They spent the next five days grinding off the fake YKK mark with handheld drills. Because the pants now had generic zippers -- rather than counterfeit YKK's -- U.S. customs officials approved the change and let the jeans enter the country, just one week late.

If the logic presented in 4 were true, the jean manufacturer would not be a rational actor by sinking more irrecoverable costs into this batch of jeans. This--I would bet the farm--is not the case. The firm will recover its costs by selling to a middle end consumer possibly at a slight discount only if the buyer is as scrutinizing as the customs official who apparently knows more about zippers than his/her peers, on average.

My zipper says OPTI and it means diddly to me and I would venture a guess that the sentiment is similar to Express (retailer from which these pants hail). One should consider their source, however. I am from Missouri, not really a fashion Mecca.

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Stathound

I saw a YKK Zipper factory outside Jakarta, Indonesia last year when I was there. Not the flashiest looking building I've ever seen.

George S

The jeans manufacturer will use locally made 'fake' YKK zippers because they are much cheaper than the real YKK zippers, which the US buyer no doubt specified be used on his product. They will not tell the buyer, of course, but will still charge him the same price for the jeans, and hope nobody notices the difference.

Depending on the terms of sale, the buyer was most likely the owner of the jeans when they were confiscated. His options then become letting Customs destroy the shipment and try to get his money back from the Chinese manufacturer, or have someone change the zippers and sell the jeans for whatever price he can and recover as much of his money as possible.

Absolutely nothing will happen to the Chinese manufacturer except he might lose that customer. Should the buyer or YKK take him to court, they will simply be spending a lot of time and money and get nothing back. Even if they 'win', the fines involved are in the hundreds of dollars.

Unless you are a big enough company that you can afford a physical presence in the manufacturing country, and can produce or watch over your product, you will always be susceptible to the use of fake parts, fake or banned chemicals, stolen parts, recycled materials and other abuses such as use of child labor.

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kayko2000

Everything is imitated.

I currently live in Asia, and "fake" this and thats are all over the place. I often see "JunSports" bags, where JunSports is written in a curiously similar font as JanSport. Ever buy a Cuggi purse? A while back, I received an email of a news article describing how people in China were making fake EGGS that looked and tasted like real eggs. They can be cracked and cooked just like the real thing. Like the YKK example, it's just cheaper.

Shanghai has a famous market which (before it closed down) was famous for selling North Face apparel. Or at least that was what they had at just about every booth when I visited. But if you wanted to buy a puffy jacket for

squared_up

The market for counterfeit, faux, or knock-off products is booming. In this era of Mass Media comsumers are looking for the same products that major markets have access to. Middle americans are willing to pay the price for any goods that appear to be exclusive, name brand, or from-the-city. The fact that the item may be of poor quality is outweighed by the celebrity gained.

kayko2000

(continued from above)

But if you wanted to buy a puffy jacket for

kayko2000

(continued from above... sorry, used a "less than" sign that got converted into an HTML tag)

But if you wanted to buy a puffy jacket for less than $30 USD, that was the right place. No, don't expect "GoreTex" labeling to mean anything.

In China, there are good and bad fakes. The bad fakes are made in China. The good fakes are made in Korea. But you'd be surprised, because sometimes the materials used to make a fake are REAL materials, taken from the LV factory, for example.

It just happens that North America does a better job of keeping these things out. On the other hand, I've bought fake North Face backpacks - large ones go for less than $20US, small ones as cheap as $4. So long as you don't use them for anything too heavy duty, they work fine... and they're super cheap. Beijing's counterfeits are horrible (ripped upon first couple uses), but Shanghai and Cambodia's both seemed quite usable. Of course, buying fake merchandise is wrong wrong wrong.

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Blandy

This is the first time I have ever seriously looked at the zipper on my jeans.

On close inspection: YKK.

I've no idea if it's a fake or not, but I really don't care.

ray

If you want to get an idea of the scope of counterfeits being sold take a stroll down Canal Street in NYC. There are places selling "fakes" that are virtually indistinguishable from the real goods, as well as places selling really awful copies.

Raymond Keller

This sounds an awful lot like you have fallen for the fallacy of the cost of production theory of prices:

"I am curious how much this intervention raised the price on this lot of denim pants."

Oh yeah?

I am willing to bet a decent pair of jeans that the price wasn't raised at all because of this additional cost. In fact, because of the damaged zippers, they might have even sold for less.

pkimelma

I know that when I was in China many years ago to work out a manufacturing contract, I found out that the manufacturers of legitimate stuff often used the same tooling to make knock-offs. So, it could even have been real YKK zippers in the sense of material and dies, but just not distributed through YKK. This is a common problem, and therefore it might have cost more to get a zipper with no logo on it (since they would need to create a new die for the stamping machine).

jonwells

One of life's mysteries is the way in which some technological advances disappear. So it was with the zipper of my childhood, which had a locking tooth; you pulled the zipper up, pressed the tab down and the zipper locked. By the time we were raising our own children those were no longer available and to this day parents of young children struggle with zippers that open on their own.

Crosbie

There's also faux-fake.

These are either own-brand products designed to look strangely familiar (as if a well-known brand) and yet clearly the work of the umbrella brand, or they are arbitrary-brand, designed to look just as well designed and branded as familiar brands, but the brand names are completely unfamiliar.

I have been tricked into thinking own-brand was a Heinz brand once (much to my annoyance).

But, I have never felt so ill as I did when I went shopping in a certain supermarket full of arbitrarily-branded goods.

The thing is, because the brand is fake, the product cannot be. The product is a genuine instance of a fake brand.

Hence faux-fake.

It's worse than a foreign country, because there are no locals you can trust to have weeded out the dud brands/products.

snubgodtoh

I'm guessing the firm in China bought a used zipper press--or die or whatever the heck on turns raw metal into a zipper with--from the Japanese firm YKK. Did anyone catch fresh air last week featuring this really neat rap artist Andre3000? He actually says "YKK on your zipper" in a song, always wondered, now I know.

snubgodtoh

Sorry, that was meant to be "one turns raw metal..." on to the spell check discussion.