They cost the equivalent of just 3 US cents. Yet the white-on-black labels, whether for Gucci, Chanel or Dolce&Gabbana, carry a far greater value for many in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. They’re a way to make a living or a low-cost fashion statement.
At the Madina bazaar in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, shoppers can buy a label or tag for dozens of international luxury brands, and then order a copy of designer clothing on the spot.
Kyrgyzstan’s role as a trans-shipper for counterfeit designer clothes produced in China, the country’s southern neighbor, is nothing new for some international brands. In 2017, Adidas and Reebok asked Kyrgyz customs to block imports of these clothes, headed for markets in Russia.
But, as a producer itself, Kyrgyzstan appears to have attracted far less international attention.
Kyrgyzpatent’s online database of registered trademarks does not appear to contain entries for Adidas and Reebok or Gucci, Chanel and Dolce & Gabanno – some of the most popular fake brands at the Madina bazaar.
The Kyrgyz government has stated that it will defend registered trademarks and has organized public-awareness campaigns against counterfeit goods.
Yet the shipments continue. In November 2018, Russia’s Urals Customs Administration reported that it had seized 17 tons of fake designer labels, including Adidas and Reebok, from Kyrgyzstan. With demand for cheap, branded clothes still strong in Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan, little suggests that it will stop soon.
-- Virginia Vargolska and Elizabeth Owen contributed reporting to this story.