Made In The U.S.A.

We’re probably going to hell for this.

In Adventures on March 12, 2009 at 12:34 am

Shelley and I had another shopping adventure last weekend. Sounds like all we do, right?

She’s been hearing tales about this place that she now refers to as “The Everything’s $35 Store.” The way she made it sound, you knock on a door in a strange part of town, give the guy a dollar and get into a warehouse to buy discount fashions and things. Her mind was filled with fantasies of this place, so we finally set out to find it.

Turns out it’s neither as quaint nor as illegitimate as it sounds. It’s actually called The Frison Flea Market. Frison like prison. It’s in North St. Louis, technically Wellston (site of “the other loop” that isn’t quite as beloved as the one in U. City), just west of where Martin Luther King Drive becomes the St. Charles Rock Road. Open Friday through Sunday until 5, we rolled in around 3:30.

The parking lot was packed. This was a huge warehouse, like an old Wal Mart or something, adjacent to a Metrolink stop, with acres of cars surrounding it. This place is nobody’s hidden secret.

According to the Riverfront Times it’s “the best flea market in St. Louis.”

It is, in truth, a place where dozens and dozens of retailers sell thousands and thousands of knock-off, fake and generally dubiously imported fashions. Mostly handbags, but a decent number of shoes and belts and hats and clothes. Mostly handbags, though. This place is a handbag store that has some other flea market stuff. Mostly handbags, did I mention that? Handbags. Fakes. Good ones and bad. From ugly to uglier. Handbags handbags and more handbags. Purses too.

Here’s the problem: I think fakes are probably a really bad idea. Like file sharing, I’m not a big fan. I think if something’s “too expensive” then you probably “can’t afford it” so maybe you “shouldn’t buy it.” Same goes for if it’s “overpriced” or “not worth it.” Whether that’s a CD or a purse or a car. And as a photographer, I tend to get queasy at the idea of people stealing other people’s intellectual property and profiting from it because it’s no big deal and they can. Feels a lot like the tyranny of the majority, where the unwashed masses make it hard for a select (and yes, in this case fashion-privileged) few to make a living. Based on the decked out Hummer with the Frison Flea Market bumper sticker parked immediately adjacent to the front door, I think it’s fair to say someone’s profiting quite well from this place.

(Devil’s Avocado: Not that I entirely blame the guy who owns the place. He just runs a flea market and can’t be expected to police all the vendors. As he told the RFT, “I’m just the landlord.” The thing is, it’s clear that a majority of the people in the place are there for fashions. And handbags. Gosh darn handbags. And it’s not a very well kept secret. If you’ve got 25 vendors selling 200 $35 Coach, Gucci, Prada, Kate Spade, Jimmy Choo and whatever-else bags, you’ve definitely got a counterfeiter problem. Shelley and I kept asking ourselves, how can this be legal?)

It can’t. Did you know, as I now do, that it’s not illegal to buy or possess a counterfeit designer handbag, but it is illegal to sell them. So we’re fine, but the sellers are all going to hell. Great to clear my conscience like that.

Throughout our time at the “flea market” we kept discussing the morality of fakes as well. I decided at that moment that I was only feeling super-sensitive to it because I’m being so sensitive to what I’m buying in general. She agreed, but wasn’t particularly concerned with the morality or the legality of it. And I wasn’t concerned enough to stop her. The consensus: A $35 looks-like-a-Coach-bag is a lot better than a $350 is-a-Coach bag.

Here’s the thing: It’s not.

Shelley bought one and I wasn’t entirely bothered. I was conflicted; no big deal, yet pretty clearly wrong. But really how wrong? Wrong like speeding and J-walking and gambling. But here’s the thing: after some Internet searching I’m now way more certain that the whole thing’s really wrong. Really really wrong. Really. We’re probably once again going to hell for this. Or at least she is.

I’m now convinced that in no way is this purchase okay. (Funny, I finally sound like a Republican. “I’ve had my fun. Now let’s make this illegal!”) The whole thing felt a little off and now I know why. Thanks, Interwebs.

Counterfit Chic, which is fascinating reading on so many levels. Not only is there so much wrongness in fake fashion, there’s clearly horrible wrongness in legitimate fashion too. Sean Combs using real dog fur trim on high-dollar items advertised as fake fur. Kate Spade berating an unsuspecting fan for toting a knockoff bag. Steve Madden considered a known plagiarist for many of his designs. Who knew? Truth is definitely stranger than fiction in the fashion world.

– The Riverfront Times in 2004 did a story about the very flea market I’m talking about. Among my favorite tidbits from the piece: In 2000 FBI agents, along with police, seized thousands of pieces of this merchandise after an undercover investigation revealed a few vendors trading in counterfeit goods–cheap FUBU and Hilfiger knockoffs. It happened again on December 15, 2003, after a similar probe was initiated by the Recording Industry Association of America. RIAA, the trade group that represents the major music labels, made charges that four Frison merchants were selling counterfeit music CDs. (I take issue with the phrase “a few vendors.” Remember that whole “handbag” fiasco? There were countless vendors selling fake handbags; only “a few” were selling counterfeit CDs and DVDs. I steered deliberately clear of these tables. The fakes were easier to spot than the fake handbags: faded color copies for covers on first-run movies that are still in the theaters.)

I Hate Counterfeit Bags, which blows my mind just because there’s a web site devoted solely to authenticating Kate Spade handbags. She’s probably reading this site right now and thinking, “It blows my mind that there’s a web site devoted to buying American.” Fair enough.

–, which has basic information about lots of things, but in this case it explains in simple terms why buying fake fashions is bad. Not technically illegal, but bad. To get them imported, I read somewhere, one tactic is to import a blank bag and then have the labels applied in the U.S. Another posting mentioned shipping containers labeled as frozen noodles and therefore not opened for inspection. Good to know that fashions are inspected onto their way into the States, but things I might eat aren’t worth a look. Nice. Most importantly, has a list at the end of this piece with links to other great resources.

Yahoo Answers, which taught us to figure out all the ways in which her new bag was quite obviously fake. My simplest, and the favoritest, is that the Cs on a real Coach Signature bag are centered and mirror each other. The missing spaces in the “creed” inside Shelley’s fake purse are a pretty good giveaway too. But the included warranty card, registration and catalog items sure help make the case for the appearance of legitimacy.

IACC, the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, which really explains in rational terms a variety of the problems associated with buying counterfeits. Along with the potential for funding nefarious activities, including terrorism or the smuggling of more harmful things, and these big businesses avoiding bajillions in tax payments, there’s lots of other great stuff like that. My favorite, and scariest, quote from the site: The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that 2% of the 26 million airline parts installed each year are counterfeit, which equals approximately 520,000 parts. Awesome.

Here’s the thing: This stuff is bad. I’m feeling really bad with every new word I read. It’s a huge problem and yet it goes on undeterred. There were actually cops on duty in the parking lot and even inside, for goodness sake! I’m guessing this stuff is everywhere, and the only reason is because PEOPLE LIKE US BUY IT. We should probably stop doing that if we want to make a change.

If we didn’t buy it, they wouldn’t sell it.

Same thing goes for other stuff too–like buying American and fur and lead-painted toys and chemical-filled-food and whatever. Money talks. Our dollars are an important demographic. People listen to them.

If we don’t want to support the potentially awful things that these fake dollars support, we shouldn’t buy the fakes. If we don’t want to support companies that no longer make their products in the U.S. (like real coach bags that until a few years ago were made in the U.S.) then we shouldn’t buy their products either.

Maybe then we won’t go straight to hell. Maybe we can hang in limbo for a little while first.


  1. I think this is simply a symptom of a greater problem. You can’t stop counterfeiting, because “everybody” is doing it, but you can get to the root causes of this problem.
    People feel inferior to other people and want to compensate by creating a false facade of success. This way they can go to their family and class reunions and tell the people they know that they are successful. Perhaps the false handbag will make some people think that they are beautiful when they obviously think they are not. Reaching out into one’s own family and community is a good place to start. People need to realize that they don’t need a designer handbag to be good enough to be in this world.
    As a practical solution, you might want to consider submitting this story to “American Greed”, on CNBC, they are always looking for stories like this. Perhaps the people buying this stuff believe it is real, though that is just too good to be true. Meanwhile, the best way to handle this is to try to be a good friend, parent, brother, sister or son or daughter, so that your friends and loved ones won’t be caught in the traps along the rat race.

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