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Fake Denim in China and Brazil

Dr Rosana Pinheiro-Machado

Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil

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This project is about fake denim as an aspect of my doctoral thesis - entitled "Made in China." The thesis consists of a study of the trade in fake goods from China through Paraguay to Brazil about the flux of fake goods in the route China-Paraguay-Brazil. Since 1999 I have been carrying out ethnographic research in these three countries, which is now completed. Regarding the consumption of fake goods, the point that has always caught my attention was to understand the motives that lead subjects to choose fake as against original products. From the beginning it has been clear that this is not simply the outcome of inequalities in resources since the consumption of both fakes and originals is found distributed through all social classes and income groups.

During my research in the popular markets of South America, the presence of fake denim was relatively speaking residual. In China, however, whether in the tourist malls of LouHu in Shenzhen and Xiushui in Beijing, or in the street commerce directed to the Chinese population, I came to appreciate that there is a broad and diversified market for denim models and brands, such as Diesel, Armani Jeans, D&G, Guess, Levis’s, True Religion, etc.

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China and Brazil are often identified by the WTO as the biggest consumers of fake products in the world, which is usually related to their status as developing countries. The differences found in the consumption of denim, however, reinforce the idea that the desire for the copy is not directly related to simply lack of money, but to the value that each good assumes in its local and relational context.

As I have argued elsewhere, popular groups in Brazil make as effort to consume original brands as a sign of social distinction. Denim is a paradigmatic object, since, to have the original model, sacrifice is involved, whether in cash payment or in the payment of long-time installments. Another option is to resort to the abundant market for local denim brands.

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In China, the context was completely different. The strong presence of a market for fake denim representing global denim appeals to different social layers and places. My objective in this project is to observe the role of denim in the context of social transformations with a Post-Mao ethics and aesthetics. My focus is the meanings that the fake goods assume in social life, especially in Canton Province, where I paid attention to the differences in meanings and the confluence of influences in the areas of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and the countryside.

Forthcoming October 2010:

Pinheiro-Machado, Rosana "The Jeans that Don’t Fit: Marketing Cheap Jeans in Brazil" in D Miller and S Woodward (eds) Global Denim, Oxford: Berg