Denim producer Levi Strauss & Co is investing R10 million over the next four months into the re-launch of its flagship brand, the Levi's 501, amid widespread counterfeit clothing challenges.
In response to the problem of fake products, last month Levi Strauss South Africa established a brand protection department to stem losses to counterfeit syndicates. Debbie Gebhardt, Marketing Director of Levi Strauss SA, said: "We are one of the very few local retailers that have our own counterfeit department. This shows how committed we are as a company against counterfeit clothing."
She also urged consumers to be more vigilant when buying their favourite clothing items. "If you buy Levi's products at a street corner, there are a lot of chances that it might not be authorised. In our bid to curb this problem, we are not really after the man on the street, but we are in full search of the supplier," she said.
Quinton Boshoff of the corporate and commercial law specialists Bowman Gilfillan - who also sits on various anti counterfeit goods committees, including the SA Institute of Intellectual property - said: "Counterfeit products contribute about 10 percent of the goods globally produced and are said to be worth $6 billion. In South Africa, the majority of counterfeit goods are clothing and footwear estimated at around R10 million a year"
In October last year, the SA Police Service seized counterfeit clothing worth R1,2 million - including fake Nike, Adidas, Puma, Levi's, Soviet and Billabong brands in Rustenburg in North West.
"About 90 percent of these counterfeit clothes come from China and are usually stopped and seized at customs and some at the marketplace.
"In most cases, counterfeit clothes are highly flammable, as they are not SABS approved and contribute largely to the loss of taxes," Boshoff said.
Commenting on Levi's investment, Boshoff said: "The South African environment is ready for more investments. Our legislation complies with international requirements and we have strict penalties for perpetrators."
If a person is found in possession of counterfeit goods, he is fined R5 000 per item or 3 years imprisonment or both. If it was the second offence, the penalty is increased to R10 000 per item or 5 years imprisonment or both.
Asked how counterfeit activities might affect the re-launch of Levis products, Gebhardt said: "Counterfeit tendencies don't pose a threat to our launch since we have good strategies and plans in place."
South Africa is home to one of four manufacturing plants that Levi's operates and owns globally. It is based in Epping, Cape Town.
According to the company, it produces up to more than half of men's jeans sold in South Africa and almost all of which are produced locally.