The other day, it was on the news that Germany alone is losing 60 billion euros every year due to
copied products. Some people think product piracy and espionage is a recent invention of Asian
people. Certainly not, if one takes a look back in the history books.
The First Economic War
The Industrial Revolution started in the 19th century, notably in the textile industry.
Brilliant English inventors developed new machines — not only power and steam machines, but also
equipment especially for the textile industry, such as the first spinning machines. Soon after
that, the first true economic war started between the British Empire and the Continent.
Industrialists from the Continent paid a lot of money to get the plans and ideas for the machinery.
This went on and on until World War II.
After World War II, the textile industry changed drastically. It all started with
international development plans for so-called Third World countries, and sewing machines were the
“starter drug.” Asian countries — above all, Hong Kong — started booming, thanks mainly to
garment manufacturing. People from Hong Kong and other Asian countries were not welcomed at
international fabric shows such as Interstoff in Frankfurt. The top weapons were scissors to cut
and steal the fabric samples. They were sent to Asia and copied, and came back as — in those times
– very bad fakes.
Then Hong Kong lost its first place to Japan, especially for textile machinery. Every person
in the textile machinery industry looks back with shudders to old ITMAs in Europe, when
Asian-looking people often carried cameras into booths, or were found underneath the machines,
drawing the constructions.
Fake Or Not?
But the biggest problem in the textile industry was and is the copying of apparel. Since the
1960s, the volume of copied apparel has skyrocketed. The textile industry in the West declined
dramatically — we all know the story. The fakes became better and better. And many people today
say the fakes are not copies anymore — they were produced during the ghost shift, without paying
the necessary franchise costs.
The losses due to counterfeit products are colossal for the original owner. Everybody in this
industry knows the costs of creativity. It takes a lot of people to be a successful player. That’s
why the industry in general, and top brands in particular, started to protect themselves. Special
marks, hidden bar codes, and even sewn-in chips allow the manufacturer to protect its garments in
one way or another and to trace their origins. Customs officers are working together, and fakes
often are destroyed in airports before they enter the markets. And, the end of the story is not yet
This might be okay for apparel. But, some time ago, a narrow-fabric weaver asked me how he
could protect his inventions. “How can I insert a label or something else in my ribbons?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but I can ask our global readership.” Do you know an answer to that
question? If yes, please let me know by writing to
December 1, 2009