They were already waiting in anticipation as this reporter parked her car and ventured out in the sweltering heat of Meena Bazaar.
“Designer bags, madam?” whispered one of the pack members. “We have Gucci, LV, Hermes, you name it madam. All for good price.”
Taking no more than two steps and another enterprising salesperson stepped forth to practice the same pitch, this time quoting a starting price of these so-called ‘designer handbags’ at just Dh89.
Thwarting a few more wayside entrepreneurs, curiosity and the rising mercury in the outdoors thriving market of Bur Dubai got the better of me, and I agreed to check out a few of these bargain buys.
Snaking through the narrow alleyways, Syed stopped in front of a residential building that has seen better days, informing us the store was in fact on the mezzanine floor, away from prying eyes (read authorities here).
With the cellphone clutched in hand, ready to call for help, the broken steps led me to the cleaner confines of a storeroom of sorts, packed with goods that easily cost millions in losses to the world’s top designers and fashion houses, all courtesy the fake, counterfeit market.
Shelves upon shelves were bursting with the mentioned brands, along with Fendi, Prada, Miu Miu, Mulberry, Dior, Aigner – the mind boggled.
“These are all real ones madam,” came Syed’s eager response to the unspoken question.
However, it didn’t take long for the truth to spill out with a little probing.
He explained: “These are real madam. They come from the same manufacturing plants in China that make the expensive bags you see in showrooms. However, these are made from leftover materials or are rejected items due to some scratches or other defects.
“People don’t find a few defects if you can get it for a good price; so we ship them here and sell them.”
Syed’s story is repeated over and over as we make our way through the cubbyhole shops that are hidden away in buildings and backyard storage rooms across Bur Dubai.
Mathan, another such enterprising sales person, pawning off a Hermes $10,000 bag for a mere Dh230, said: “People love buying Louis Vuitton handbags. They are cheap also, with a medium-sized bag costing only Dh140.”
Five minutes later, the cost was reduced to Dh100 when this reporter chose to walk away.
Babu, who called himself the oldest seller of ‘designer’ bags in Meena Bazaar, said the biggest buyers of such counterfeit goods are the tourists, mainly from the UK, followed by Russia.
“Those Indians from England (British Asians) are our biggest buyers; at least purchasing eight to 10 bags per trip. Plus they aren’t tight fisted with their money, so we don’t bargain at all,” beamed Babu.
Almost prophesising, a group of British Asian tourists are led in through the doors by Babu’s sidekick minutes later who reveal they are holidaying here from Manchester.
Tia Kamath, who is an ad executive back in England, said: “This is outrageous stuff here. My cousins who travelled over to Dubai last year told me about this place, this Meena Bazaar. So we had to come over.
“There is no way anyone back home will even recognise this isn’t an original.”
Babu said shipments arrive once every few weeks, packaged within the goods that are shipped from China as legitimate items.
Before I could further my query, he added: “We are backdoor office of the shops down below,” sweeping a hand across the window that looked out over the bustling Meena Bazaar.
“They sell the cheap goods publicly while the real business takes place up here, in these buildings.”
Syed didn’t contradict Babu’s story, but added: “There are different ways to get these goods in.
“They come from China, made in the mainland and then shipped via Hong Kong so authorities don’t suspect these are not real ones.”
But then many simply look the other.
“Here we hide and sell, but in the Dragon Mart, these goods are sold openly,” said Syed. “Surely there isn’t anything wrong in doing so.”
Last year, designer label Louis Vuitton fought back via a lawsuit to teach counterfeiters a lesson.
In a statement, the fashion house said: ‘The fight against counterfeiting is a long-term element of Louis Vuitton’s worldwide sustainability strategy.
‘…One of the biggest threats to that survival today is counterfeiting, whose effects go far beyond buying a cheap bag on a street in a faraway city while on holiday.
‘Following its respect for creativity and protection of intellectual property, Louis Vuitton has a zero tolerance policy to counterfeiting…’
Recently, Harper’s Bazar magazine stated that the selling of counterfeit goods counts for almost 10 per cent of all goods sold in worldwide.
This percentage translates to an estimated loss of $512 billion per year in the global market, or $20 billion to American companies alone.
While several fashion houses have collaborated to fight off the menace via raids and lawsuits, protecting one’s intellectual property rights bears no meaning for people like Syed, Mathan and Babu.
Quiz them if they are aware of what they are doing is a criminal offense, Mathan replied: “Madam, I have a family back home in Kerala to feed. Letting them starve to death, isn’t that a bigger crime?”
His words are cut short as the bell tinkled the arrival of another group of ‘Indians from England’ as they hurried over to fuss over a collection of Prada and Fendi bags.
Until there’s a market for it, they will find a way to sell; it’s as simple as that.