Coming into adulthood amid inflation and a soaring cost of living, it’s no wonder Gen Zs and Millennials are all about the thrift life. The tiangges, ukays, and flea markets, once derogatory terms for inferior products, are now the toast of a demographic that lives for steals and good deals.
Add in social media hype and increased environmental awareness, Gen Zs (born between 1997-2012) and Millennials (1981-1996) believe that a solid fashion identity doesn’t have to break the bank. But while bargain shopping is one thing, the culture has also given way to a rising patronage of fakes—counterfeits, dupes, and “Class A” imitations.
Practicality > price
In a 2019 survey by the International Trademark Association (INTA), 79% of Gen Zs admitted to purchasing counterfeit products at least once, with 57% citing affordability as the reason. The results were similar in a 2022 study by the Philippines’ Intellectual Property Office on Filipinos aged 15-30, but with 79% citing accessibility as their top reason for buying fakes.
These are findings echoed by Milo (24) who admits to wearing fakes when he was a high school basketball player. Like others interviewed for this story, he asked that we not include his last name for his privacy.
“You want the coolest sneaker designs, but they’re not always available. They’re either too expensive or region specific,” says Milo, who bought dupes of the Kobe 6 “Grinch,” of which the original can fetch a price tag of PHP29,000 (USD$528), and the “Stranger Things” Cortez, which didn’t see a release in the Philippines.
For the special edition Cortez, Milo got his from the online market platform Shopee for PHP1,600 (USD$29), a far cry from its market value of PHP6,000–PHP10,000 (USD$109-$181) in overseas stores.
But Milo clarifies that he reserved imitations for training or leisure. In-game, he placed his trust in authenticity. He argues, “You don’t want your shoes blowing out in the middle of the quarter and getting injured, but when you’re doing the groceries or taking a walk, do you need the latest Nikes?”
For him, part of wearing fakes is admitting that they are. “Teammates would say my kicks look cool, but I’ll point out the odd stitch or the misaligned logo,” he says. “The idea is to never pretend.”
Now that he’s earning, Milo says his goal is to invest in a collection of original pairs that will last. He shares, “I’m at a point where I can afford high-quality sneakers, and I plan to build a rotation so they won’t get worn quickly.”
Barely anyone can tell
For Kaka (28), a reseller of authentic sneakers, people patronize counterfeits because of how good the imitations are nowadays. She shares, “Most times, people wear better-looking fakes than the ones sold in Greenhills. Manufacturers have improved with replicas that only die-hard sneakerheads can tell the difference.”
Like Milo, Kaka’s experience with fakes was a question of finances, explaining that “I didn’t have much money back then in college, and I’d sell both legitimate and OEM sneakers (which were stated BTW; I didn’t fool anyone), so I can get extra money for the month.”
“I’d be happy to get a profit of PHP300–PHP500 (USD$5–$9) on my markups back then.”
Kaka says her shift to legit sneakers came when she fell in love with a pair of the classic New Balance 574, which introduced her to the superior quality that dupes can’t replicate. But as an authentic reseller today, she barely faults those who cop or make a living out of counterfeits.
“They are some resellers who deceive their clients, which is problematic. But for the rest, it’s not up to me to decide if people should cop fakes or not,” she says. “Maybe that’s all they could afford—like me back in 2013. You always got to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”
Brands will survive
But what about copyright and IPs? The loss in profits? The same INTA study found that while Gen Zs strive to maintain a strong moral code—76% aspire to be ethical shoppers—they employ a situational morality regarding fake fashion.
In short, right or wrong depends on the situation. In this case, Gen Zs believe that multibillion-dollar companies thrive despite counterfeits.
“Mayaman na sila (They’re already rich), let me get mine,” says Francis, an artist, when asked about how fakes affect designers. “The industry won’t close down if I buy a pair.”
The sentiment isn’t exactly unfounded. Per Statista, the worldwide sneaker industry revenue is projected to be USD$86.58 billion in 2023, with an expected 5.34% growth in the next four years. Nike, the sportswear king, grew by 4.88% in 2022, with an annual revenue of USD$46.71 billion (PHP255 billion).
Credit it to social media marketing, influencers, and basketball’s unwavering popularity; sneaker culture has never been more profitable—and expensive—despite counterfeit capitals, like China. Add in the resale market, and sneakers don’t come cheap.
Affordability then becomes the crux of the fake-fashion debate. Gen Zs and Millennials are more exposed to the allure of eye-catching aesthetics thanks to the internet, but they have yet to build their purchasing power—and that could take years. So instead of drowning in envy or self-pity, they choose to make do with the closest available option they can find.
So is the culture of authenticity truly dead? According to Francis, “With Gen Zs, it’s how the clothes fit you, how you build your style identity more than brand names.”
Francis adds, “We don’t have the funds [to buy originals] anyway, maybe someday, but for now, fakes meet our needs. So if you can cop legit, great, but we choose the lifestyle we can afford.”