Inside The World Of Counterfeit Shoes

Published on November 30, 2018

Wondering about those Yeezy Boosts you saw some guy wearing in the bar last night? There’s only a slight chance they’re real.

Vice recently released a news segment about a counterfeit sneaker kingpin that runs a six-figure shoe business out of China. High quality “fake” shoes are a huge industry among the sneakerheads around the world that are looking to expand their collections but can’t necessarily afford to keep up with the high price tags on some of the products that are hitting the market. That’s where the world of high-quality replicas comes in. While companies like Adidas and Nike call them counterfeits, the “fake” shoes are still a highly lucrative business opportunity on the black market.

Inside Putian

The documentary, which originally aired on Vice News on HBO dives right into Putian, China, which is locally known as the capital for the fake shoe market around the world. Putian is about a 10.5 hour drive from Shanghai, China’s glittering super city. The small town is home to the factories that create a majority of the world’s high quality replica shoes. Because the black market is so open in Putian, creators don’t have to worry so much about police raids or government crackdowns.

Fakes are just part of the local economy, and the products are openly sold both locally and internationally. One high quality replica, for example, can go for a couple hundred USD online. This may seem high, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the resale prices of the rare, real versions of the same product. Some of which can go for thousands of dollars on the resale market. The problem, though, is that the demand for high quality fakes means that the shoes must be as close as possible to the real thing, and customers are picky. One single review can uproot years of work in establishing yourself as a source for good, high quality fake products.

A Love For Shoes

The Vice documentary follows famed internet kingpin Chan (or Ch@n on reddits thread for counterfeit shoes) as he talks about the industry he’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars in. Living in Putian, Chan is able to run his business entirely from his computer. When brands create a new shoe, his sources in the actual factories work to bring him a pair of the originals. He uses those to create the replicas by stripping them down piece by piece. Some of these versions are obtained before the shoe is even announced so that counterfeits can be made in time for the launch of the real product.

It’s not just shoes, either. The counterfeit industry ranges from clothing to handbags, shoes, and even perfumes and cosmetics. There are legal repercussions to smuggling counterfeit products into the country. Think of the sources of these counterfeit products as being the same as the sources for illegal drugs in America. The dealers bring the shoes into the country. Next, they’re selling them on the black market, but those products have a source overseas that’s sole job is to supply more. Companies can sue individuals that create these products for lost profit, and copyright laws in America mean that the products are illegal to sell for a profit.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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