Brides shopping online in preparation for their weddings may want to be cautious of websites that appear to sell name brand dresses at a fraction of retail prices. These sites, many in China, are creating knockoffs or counterfeits of other brands' designs. This practice made headlines in 2010 when 82 websites were shut down in an anti-piracy bust. Products of all types are counterfeited, and in the apparel and accessories categories, luxury brand handbags are a common target as are designer formal and bridal gowns. Retired formal and bridal dress industry expert Lynette Robinson created a Buyer Beware of Replica Gowns blog to showcase photos of original dresses compared to cheap copies of the same styles from companies selling counterfeits. In a phone interview, Robinson stated that because of the lack of copyright protection in China, manufacturers in that country will often take photos directly from a competitor's website, post it on their own site, and offer to make the dress for far less than the original dress sells at retail. Robinson, who produced her own original designs in partnership with factories in China and elsewhere, said that often the counterfeiters have never seen the original dresses. They refer to photos of popular dresses and cut copies based on measurements submitted by their online customers. The fabric and construction quality of the counterfeit dresses is usually far inferior to that of the original gowns.
Bridal and formal gowns can easily run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, which is why shoppers would understandably be drawn to websites that appear to offer deep discounts on styles, especially modest styles which must be ordered online if the shopper does not have access to local stores that specialize in modest styles. However, be aware that not only are counterfeit goods illegal, the quality may be far below what is expected. The Mori Lee dress manufacturer provides yet another warning of knock-off dress disasters along with a helpful list of counterfeiter websites.
For the crackdown mentioned above, agents from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) had been making purchases from suspected sites, and if the products shipped were confirmed to be counterfeit, the domains were seized. The following notice was placed on the closed sites, ". . . Intentionally and knowingly trafficking in counterfeit goods is a federal crime that carries pentalties for first time offenders of up to ten years in federal prison, a $2,000,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution." Special agent John Chakwin is quoted on the ICE website, "These counterfeits cause legitimate U.S. industries to lose billions in revenue annually which deny Americans good-paying jobs. Counterfeits may be funded by criminal organizations, and they deliver shoddy and sometimes dangerous goods into commerce." In doing our part, the Fashion Belle site has a policy of refusing to list websites within our resource pages which we know are engaging in copyright violations, even if those sites are selling modest styles at low prices.