Levis on a mission to curb counterfeit

Counterfeit and fake merchandise is uncommon in South Africa and this has led to millions of jobs lost as a result.

Levi Strauss SA Brand Protection Department aims to stem the tide of losses to the business, which can amount to tens of millions of rands a year. 

Debbie Gebhardt, Marketing Director of Levi Strauss SA, says that in light of these losses, which are also being suffered by many of the other top brands operating in SA, it is surprising that Levi Strauss SA is one of the few South African retail concerns with a brand protection department. 

“We know that other brands are suffering equally from the impact of counterfeits on their bottom line. Raids initiated by our offices regularly lead to the discovery of other brands’ goods, sometimes amounting to thousands of copies of their products and ours,” says Gebhardt.

Levi Strauss SA works closely with the Commercial Division of the police force as well as customs officials to curb the counterfeit trade that is plaguing the SA retail industry. 

“It’s hard to pinpoint exact figures but, in 2007, the loss of revenue to counterfeits for Levi Strauss SA alone amounted to millions of rands,” says Gebhardt.  The Levi’s Brand Protection Department says that counterfeit syndicates swiftly change their methods, their importing routes and their distribution channels, constantly adapting themselves to subvert the efforts of law enforcers. 

“We have a national strategy in place to focus our efforts on major syndicates, and not the smaller operators. “Our Brand Protection Department collaborates closely with our product teams to make Levi’s Jeans more difficult to copy. This includes the refinement of external packaging and internal packaging like washing instruction labels,” says Debbie Gebhardt. 

“There are two primary reasons that Levi Strauss SA takes the counterfeiting problem so seriously. Firstly, we want our consumers to own a quality product, made to the highest standards with the expertise that comes from over 100 years of manufacturing. “Secondly, the employees of counterfeit syndicates are often made to work in the direst of circumstances, where their rights as employees and human beings are completely disregarded. We want to guard against the proliferation of illegal enterprises like this, by squashing the syndicates,” explains Gebhardt.

Reporting on the success of Levi Strauss & Co.’s own brand protection initiatives last year, Gebhardt says that in Bellville alone the Levi Strauss team made 40 cases and achieved 40 convictions for counterfeiting.

In Cape Town central, approximately 30 counterfeit cases were made. 

“Recently, we also raided a factory in Johannesburg where three embroidery machines were confiscated. It is estimated that with just these three machines, between two and three thousand pairs of fake Levi’s Jeans were being produced every day,” she explains.

“Although our Brand Protection Department is undoubtedly making inroads into the problem, the constant fight against counterfeits is not exclusive to the Levi’s brand. It is crucial that more retail brand owners invest in the protection of their brands as part of a concerted national effort to drive out counterfeiting, which ultimately filters down into job-loss. Brands from the retail industry operating in unison will pose a much more formidable threat to counterfeiters,”says the concerned Gebhardt.

At the time of publishing, certain clothing companies approached for comment did not respond.

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