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Italian shoemakers regularly complain about their designs being knocked off at Asian factories, but they may need to accept some culpability. According to a New York Times article, one Italian shopkeeper commissioned “3,000 Nike clones” from a Chinese factory and made plans to order more. Both shoemakers and consumers must fight this design piracy problem. You can help by learning how to recognize a pair of authentic Italian shoes.
Study the Italian shoe company logo. Place the real thing (or go online and check out the genuine company's logo) and suspected counterfeit side-by-side to see if you can differentiate the two. For example, in the aforementioned sneaker case, the Nike logo looks “more like a check mark than a swoosh.”
Examine the construction and quality of the Italian shoes you suspect of being knockoffs. Look for uniform stitching, nicely finished edges and quality liners. Counterfeiters regularly churn out knockoffs with haphazard stitch lengths, sloppy finishing, inferior quality leather, cheap fabric liners plus embellishments and trim that are poorly attached. A house like Gucci or Armani submits its shoes to so many quality control checks, even an uneven stitch catches the attention of inspectors.
Connect with the company. Many Italian shoemakers use Skype connections and invite you to hold a shoe up to your camera while communicating with an employee about the craftsmanship. You can also scan the shoe and transmit the image to the company so staff trained to spot flaws, mistakes and crafting errors can verify or dismiss your suspicions.
Use common sense. As a shoe fashionista, you know how expensive trendy Italian shoes can be, so if the $1,500 platforms you spotted on Jessica Alba in People magazine beckon to you from behind a $150 price tag, stop in the name of shoes! Follow the advice your English teacher hammered home when handing out homework assignments: check the spelling. If your inspection of that dreamy pair of platforms reads “Made in Ilaty,” report that vendor to the police, pronto.
Use the “TRUE ITALY” standard to evaluate your shoe for authenticity. The government has set up this program to protect manufacturers of all types of exported products. Search for the TRUE ITALY tag or label on the shoe or the matching, 20-digit authentication code and/or product serial number that can be verified on the TRUE ITALY website (trueitaly.com). You won't find these in the same place on every shoe, so check with the company if you can't find any of the three identifiers. File an Anomaly Report if you have purchased counterfeits.
Contact U.S. Customs if you still have questions about the authenticity of the shoe. In 2010, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that, “For the fifth year in a row, footwear was the top product seized, accounting for 24 percent of the entire domestic value of IPR infringing goods.” Call upon Customs officials to identify suspect marks, design flaws or other fishy aspects of the footwear. You can also contact the National Security Council via its National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.
Sales professionals at high-end shoe boutiques don't mind taking a look at an Italian shoe that you suspect of being counterfeit -- even if you didn't buy it there.
If you don't buy your Italian shoes from a reputable merchant, your chances of winding up with black market shoes are extremely high.