Why youths buy counterfeit products knowing they’re fake

Youths are choosing to buy fake goods over the real deal and their reasons include accessibility, quality, and peer influence.

Fong Wai Kei

Enjoys writing in comic sans unironically.

Published: 3 May 2023, 4:07 PM

A Kanken bag is paraded down the streets, its grey body and grey straps basking in the sun’s glory, except it’s missing one small detail — the logo. 

In its place was nothing but frayed threads. Yet, this bag continues to see the light of day. 

“Even though it’s fake, I think it looks alright at a glance,” said 23-year-old Khong Yan Yi, owner of the bag. 

“And it’s still functional so I’m not rushing to buy a new one.”

The Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine undergraduate feels a sense of pride in telling people that her bag is fake as it meant that it was a worthy purchase. And she isn’t alone. There’s a growing retail market for fake branded goods, in brick-and-mortar stores or online spaces, allowing more people to come across these goods.


The bag in question. PHOTO CREDIT: KHONG YAN YI


Picture the streets of Phuket and Thailand: their markets lined with rows and rows of goods, from accessories to bags and clothing. This is where most people get their cheap alternative counterfeits from. Now, we also have these markets right under our noses in Singapore — on our smartphones, thanks to the rise of e-commerce platforms, like Shopee, Taobao and Amazon. 

The abundance of sales also fuels our shopping desires. Sales used to be inspired by Public Holidays and double-digit dates, such as the famous 11.11, the ‘Singles Day’ sale. However, sales are becoming so frequent that it’s almost ridiculous – any date can be declared a sale nowadays. And with more of such sales, the more inclined I am to buy goods based on the idea that I’ll be saving money (when in actual fact, not buying in the first place is the best way to do so).

One example would be buying imitation Adidas socks. I find myself perusing through the multiple listed items from the comfort of my home, or conveniently, on my commute to school or work. I sift through the vast array of lengths, materials and colours that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy from being at one physical store, let alone from the actual brand. 

Similarly, these four youths share their experiences about actively purchasing fake goods and their rationale behind it. 

Communications Undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Tina Aw, 21, chooses to save money over splurging unnecessarily over a certain good. She said: “Why spend over $80 on a Hydro Flask when I can get something almost similar on Shopee for only $20? Or why spend $180 on a Kanken bag when a $50 imitation does the same job?”

However, she draws the line at certain goods, such as skincare and tech products, which could potentially inflict harm.

“I don’t want to end up with poorer skin than before just to save some money,” Tina said, citing concerns about the presence of chemical substances and lack of rigorous testing. 

“I won’t buy fake AirPods either because I’m worried they might explode.”

Initially, Tina’s fear of judgement from her peers were what hindered her from venturing into the fake goods market. She was apprehensive that they would begin looking at her differently when they find out she uses imitation products. 

This was exacerbated by the fake goods controversy that followed Single Inferno’s star Song Ji-ah in early 2022, who received extensive backlash from the public and media outlets.

However, over time, she realised that her peers shared the same sentiment. Now, they trade information on the best deals and quality goods. 


For some customers like Tina, she would be comfortable buying a fake Hydro Flask bottle, but not fake AirPods. PHOTO CREDIT: TINA AW, SHOPEE


For Elysia Ho, 21, curiosity got the better of her as she gradually saw more pairs of Crocs at lectures and along her hall corridor. She even saw them on her way to the school field, where she would attend her weekly trainings.

She was amazed at how most were actually fake – it was hard for the untrained eye to determine the authenticity, which was essentially most of her peers, including her. As such, this prompted the National University of Singapore Life Science undergraduate to purchase her very first pair of fake Crocs online. 

She got hers for a third of the price Crocs usually cost, and wore them almost everywhere. To her surprise, the fake Crocs were equally comfortable. 

“When I bring along my boots for training, I can easily wear Crocs with socks on the way to the field without compromising my fashion since everybody does that,” she said.

After wearing them extensively, her everyday shoes began to wear and tear after a year. So, Elysia bought another pair at, again, one-third the price. Ultimately, she saved more money buying two fake pairs over one legitimate pair. 

Equally as popular as fake Crocs are fake Jibbitz – charms that can be clipped onto Crocs via the ventilation holes – that are equally, if not more, sought after. 

“Everyone I know who wears Crocs definitely gets fake Jibbitz, so it’s become sort of a norm,” Elysia said. “To me, they’re also just accessories, and not a necessity.”

These also become conversation starters and topics among peers when comparing the increasingly amusing designs, like fake chicken wings, functional headlights and even smaller Crocs. 

Where an authentic pack of five Jibbitz can cost over $10, one fake Jibbitz amounts to no more than a few cents. Coupled with the myriad of designs, more individuals are allowed the avenue to engage in self-expression through personalisation of these accessories since their authenticity may not be a priority when it offers the same functionality. 


Elysia’s fake Crocs, complete with fake Jibbitz, amounting to less than one-third of the actual price. PHOTO CREDIT: ELYSIA HO


Ultimately, the demand for fake goods could be due to a multitude of factors. For one, the rising cost of living and limited student budget makes purchasing quality imitation products appear to be a more financially sound decision, compared to owning the real deal – especially if there is no discernible difference in quality. 

Furthermore, as youths become concerned about how they are presented in public, they may feel the urge to gain association with certain brands, albeit fake. This is exacerbated by social media trends too, creating a sense of social pressure to keep up with their peers. 

Although she relishes in finding a good deal, Tina feels bad for participating in the fake goods market, citing ethical concerns. She believes she will stop buying them after graduation and buy the real one with her own salary, should she be able to justify owning it. 

“I admit, it’s really satisfying when you find good quality imitation goods because it feels like you struck a good deal,” Tina added. “But as I grow older, I realise that I should be a more ethical consumer and support a creator’s original work and brand.” While it is arguable that such big, high-earning companies would be unaffected by her lack of purchase, she still cannot help but feel a pang of guilt from her role as a paying customer in the fake goods industry.


An example of one of the many Longchamp bags sold online. PHOTO CREDIT: SHOPEE


Another undergraduate celebrates owning her dream Longchamp bag, hailing it as not only practical, but also aesthetically pleasing. Given her tight allowance, she was unable to justify spending hundreds of dollars on the real one, but seeing her friend carry the fake $40 version emboldened her to buy her very own. 

Although she prides herself in owning an imitation that shares a similar level of sturdiness, colourway and details, she remains embarrassed going public about owning a fake luxury bag, afraid that she will be judged. It is also why she chose to remain anonymous for the story. 

Unlike the others, Yan Yi feels little shame in using fake products. Although she thinks that she will own fewer fake products with time, it’ll unlikely come to a stop. She believes that everyone has different things that they value and hence, invests in them with respective amounts. With every expenditure, budgets become tighter, and compromises have to be made, including using counterfeits over the real deal. 

“Some people might find it cheapskate but to me, that’s not what it is,” she said. “It’s about putting your money where it’s worth!” 

You may like these