To Buy or not to Buy Fake Chinese Stuff?

So I’m practically parked at the intersection the other day, with only one or two cars moving through the robot each phase. Since I’ve got time, I’m idly glancing at the street vendors and their wares. One of them is toting rugby shirts. Aha, I think, Sunshine has been pestering me about one of those for “proudly South African Fridays” at school (just when you thought you’d finally bought all the school uniforms, they come along with that and you’re out shopping again!).

Without anything better to do I roll down my window and ask how much they are, not even thinking he’ll have one her size. But lo and behold, he whips out a children’s size 10 and wants R180, which I negotiate down to R150, and we have a deal. He doesn’t even pretend to have no change, so business must be hopping. He’s toting a big bag full of these shirts.

Happy with my find at such a decent price (original South African rugby shirts are R500 or something outrageous at Sportsman’s Warehouse, and even the cheaper knock-off ones are still R300 or so) I get home and discover that this shirt is not of the cheap knock-off type quality one usually gets from street vendors. It’s either a very very good Chinese fake with all the embroidered logos and tags, even down to the price tag with the suggested retail price of R599, or, as it slowly begins to dawn on me, it actually is an original, but of course a stolen one, or otherwise that price would not be possible.

The culprit of my tradings in questionable merchandise

I have since seen these same shirts on every street corner, so I tend to think they can’t all be stolen on such a large scale and rather are very good knock-offs. But is there much of a difference? Isn’t the fake shirt a type of theft as well? A theft of trademark, to be sure, even if the price for the real trademark is terribly overpriced.

But even if it was stolen, like when they guy passes you with a large tray of identical-looking soap. Who in the world would think people buy soap, of all things, at the traffic light? Unless you just happen to have had easy access to a warehouse aisle of soap, of course. But if this is so, is the guy selling it on the street corner the actual thief? Or did he just buy it cheap from someone else and is now making a living off of reselling it, probably feeding an entire family of eight with the proceeds? So if you’re now buying these things, are you encouraging theft, in the same way I’ve been chastising the people who consume shark fin soup? That would be wrong. Or am I helping someone on the street who’d otherwise have no job at all? But if I’m honest, you could make that argument about the guy who trades in shark fins as well. Surely he also has a family to feed. It’s just that I feel very sure about the one, having no appetite for shark fin soup myself, and more or less unsure about the other, where I have a personal interest (getting a good deal on a shirt).

Arguing with myself in this fashion, I think buying these things is probably wrong. It’s just slightly difficult to make a quick call between two changing lights.

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