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Counterfeit World Cup Merchandise Business Booming In Africa

The bright orange Ivory Coast jerseys hanging outside a little sewing shop in downtown Abidjan look just like the real thing, complete with the national team crest, the embroidered Puma logo, and even the shadow
PTI June 01, 2010 16:36 IST

The bright orange Ivory Coast jerseys hanging outside a little sewing shop in downtown Abidjan look just like the real thing, complete with the national team crest, the embroidered Puma logo, and even the shadow elephant head over the right shoulder. But the $5 price tag betrays the shirt for what it is _ a very convincing fake.

Gaoussou Traore makes the jerseys by hand on his beat-up sewing machine, copying the patterns from photos downloaded from the Internet. He's not the only tailor in Abidjan making counterfeit jerseys for the World Cup, but he's earned a strong following for the quality of his work and his prices. He will sell a jersey for as little as $5, if it's ordered in bulk.

"They are almost indistinguishable from the real jerseys," the 28-year-old Traore said, "though a trained eye will be able to tell the difference."

In the lead up to the World Cup, the counterfeit merchandise business is booming. South African police say they have seized more than 100 million rand ($13 million) worth of fake merchandise since the beginning of the year. FIFA says more than 100 cases involving counterfeit World Cup goods have been brought to court.

Puma spent millions of dollars and three years developing Ivory Coast's World Cup jerseys, which feature special fabrics to keep sweat away from players' bodies, as well as a construction based on sprinters' outfits that reduces wind resistance.

The Germany-based company will be outfitting four of the six African teams participating in the competition and sees the first World Cup in Africa as a major opportunity to cement their brand's association with football on the continent, Puma football marketing manager Filip Trulsson said.

While official team shirts can retail for ¤70 ($88) in Europe, Trulsson said the company has adopted a regional system that will tailor the price of merchandise to income levels and purchasing power in different parts of Africa.

At a sports apparel store in Abidjan recently, official Ivory Coast jerseys were being sold for 39,900 francs ($75), which is more than the average Ivorian makes in a month. With a wildly popular national team, the demand for cheaper jerseys in Ivory Coast has spurred an entire counterfeit industry.

The fake jersey business isn't limited to World Cup teams. An array of European club jerseys cover the walls of Traore's little shop, where five sewing machines are run by five apprentices and four tailors for 10 hours per day. Marseille and Chelsea are the most popular jerseys. Any team Ivory Coast superstar Didier Drogba played for outsells the others, Traore explained, pointing to a photo of the player which hangs over the entrance. But Arsenal, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich shirts also sell well.

After buying his fabrics at a nearby wholesaler, Traore cuts the patterns and has all the embroidery done by a friend before the shirt is sewn together. Then comes the final step of ironing on falsified Puma labels on the inside of the shirt. Traore says it's little touches like this that give him a leg up over the competition.

"There's one other guy who makes Elephants jerseys in the neighborhood, but he can't do the complicated embroidery or the iron-on decals that we design on the computer," Traore said.

Born into a family of tailors, Traore started sewing in his father's shop as soon as he could be trusted with the machines. They mostly made Boubous, a traditional west African Muslim outfit consisting of a long shirt and matching pants, often made from flashy materials with detailed embroidery around the neck.

Traore then spent three years as an apprentice sewing counterfeit Levi's jeans in Mali before returning to his father's shop as a full partner.On a whim in 2003, Traore bought sport jersey fabric and made a shirt for himself.  "It was a little tricky to get the seams right," he said. "But once I figured it out, people started asking me to make one for them."

His father was skeptical at first, telling Traore to stick with the secure income from boubous and suit jackets. "But once he saw that it would be profitable, he loaned me 25,000 francs ($47) to buy fabrics and get the business going," said Traore, who now gets orders from amateur football teams from across the city.

When asked if he has ever run into trouble for his counterfeiting, Traore at first looked confused. He didn't know this practice was illegal, and laughed as he pulled out a custom jersey he recently made.

"Everyone knows what I do," he said and pointed to the national police logo on the front of the shirt before turning it over to show the word "Commissaire" _ or police chief _ on the back.

A group of teenagers flood into the shop talking loudly and disturbing the tailors hard at work. They're here to pick up a batch of shirts they ordered last week. But instead of orange jerseys, Traore pulls out a stack of baby blue Marseille shirts.

The oldest boy, Amara Bamba, pays Traore and explains that he and his friends could never afford real jerseys, but at these prices, they'll be back to get their Ivory Coast shirts before the World Cup starts. AP


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