12 percent of street vendors sell imitation brand goods
Japanese tourists shop at a street stall in Myeong-dong, Seoul in this file phohto. About 12 percent of street vendors in the shopping district sell imitation products. / Korea Times
By Kim Rahn
Part of Myeong-dong’s appeal to foreign tourists and locals is the street venders selling various fake luxury brand items.
According to the Jung-gu Office on Thursday, more than one in 10 street vendors in Myeong-dong and Namdaemun Market in central Seoul sell imitation brand goods.
The figure considerably rises when including products which have minor changes in brand logos or colors, as continuing demand from customers and slack regulations encourage the practice.
The office said 25 street venders in Myeong-dong, or 12 percent of the total 210, and 14 percent of the 250 sellers in Namdaemun Market, or 35, were selling fakes, mostly Chanel, followed by MLB and Anna Sui.
Selling these copycat goods is of course illegal. But the street venders seem nonchalant about crackdowns. “Sometimes, the authorities make a fuss. They confiscate items or the whole cart. But that’s very rare. We usually go about our business as usual,” said a vender who was selling fake purses from a stall in Myeong-dong, Thursday.
These street venders operate from 4 p.m. until 11 p.m. Despite the drop in Japanese tourists following the earthquake and tsunami there, the stalls are crowded with foreign tourists and domestic shoppers.
Venders and shop owners say that they know how to avoid being caught when the authorities enforce the laws.
“I think street venders are tipped off about the exact time of the crackdown. They know when they should not sell then. All these crackdowns are just a matter of formality,” said an owner of a small shop selling caps, declining to be named.
He and other stallholders said the district office and police turn a blind eye to the illegalities as they obviously contribute to making Myeong-dong more popular with foreign tourists.
“Of course we know that they are illegally selling goods. But they cannot be expelled from the street. Myeong-dong without these street venders wouldn’t be the same,” he said.
The Jung-gu Office said it launched a crackdown on vendors twice in February together with the Korea Consumer Power Center and Korea Apparel Industry Association.
Some 600 vendors around Dongdaemun History and Culture Park didn’t open on the days of the crackdown. Of the fake items, accessories like hair bands and hairpins took 60 percent, followed by clothes, bags and caps.
“Chanel was the most frequently imitated brand, especially in Myeong-dong where the younger generation and foreign tourists are the main customers. In Namdaemun, fake MLB brand caps and clothes were more predominant. Some women’s sweatshirts had the logo of cosmetic brand Anna Sui on them,” Junggu official Chung Jeong-jae said.
The authority cracked down on products which were identical copies of the original. But they don’t prevent goods that have slightly changed logos or designs from being sold.
“The ear of the dog design of the Agatha brand is erect. But some fake goods have the dog with the ear facing down. Such products are not illegal, so we just warn them not to do it,” Chung said.
He said vendors in Namdaemun are relatively old and half of them didn’t know that their products were imitations, while younger merchants in Myeong-dong were fully aware.
Regarding the rampancy of imitations in the middle of Seoul, Chung said there is a demand. “Foreign tourists and young Koreans want to buy such products, because they are cheaper and almost the same as the original in appearance, although the quality is inferior.”
The local authority orders guilty vendors to destroy all the products. But the orders and enforcement are somewhat loosely interpreted, allowing them to continue in the illegal business.
“Such vendors don’t face legal charges even though they don’t follow the order to destroy their entire inventory. If they are caught selling fake goods again within one year, they may face up to three years of jail or up to 30 million won in fines,” Chung said.
But even a second violation doesn’t stick as the law allows local authority heads to let the vendors off again, to protect the livelihood of the underprivileged merchants, he said.
명동에 짝퉁 상품 판쳐
중구청에 따르면 명동과 남대문 시장의 노점상 중 10% 이상이 짝퉁을 파는 것으로 알려졌다. 손님들의 수요와 허술한 법망이 짝퉁 판매를 부추기는 가운데, 상표 모양이나 색깔을 조금씩 바꾼 유사상품까지 합친다면 그 숫자는 훨씬 더 많을 것으로 추정된다.
명동의 210개 노점 중 12%, 그리고 남대문의 250개 노점 중 14%가 짝퉁을 팔고 있으며, 가장 많은 브랜드는 샤넬, MLB, 안나수이 순이었다.
짝퉁을 파는 것은 불법이지만 노점상들은 단속에 아랑곳하지 않는 듯 보인다.
명동에서 짝퉁 노점을 하는 한 상인은 “가끔 단속반이 소동을 벌이곤 한다. 물건이나 손수레를 압수하기도 하지만 그런 경우는 매우 드물고, 우리는 평소대로 영업을 한다”고 말했다.
노점상들은 그들이 명동을 유명 관광지로 만드는 데 기여하는 부분이 있기 때문에 관할 구청이나 경찰이 눈감아주고 있는 부분이 있다고 한다.
중구청은 진짜와 똑같이 만든 위조상품은 단속을 하지만, 상표 디자인을 조금씩 바꾼 유사상품은 법망에서 벗어나 있다. 구청 관계자는 “아가타의 강아지 디자인은 원래 귀가 서 있지만 어떤 짝퉁은 귀가 내려와 있습니다. 이런 유사상품은 불법이 아니라서 권고조치만 내리고 있습니다”라고 말했다.
짝퉁이 서울 한복판에서 버젓이 팔리는 것에 대해 이 관계자는 수요가 있기 때문이라고 말했다. “품질은 좀 떨어질 지 몰라도 가격이 싸고 겉으로 봐서는 거의 차이가 없기 때문에 외국관광객이나 젊은 내국인들이 그런 물건을 찾습니다.”