It is illegal to sell or buy counterfeit designer purses in Italy. In some cities – Venice for example – the sellers are fairly subtle – they aren’t in every public plaza – and they look like they are ready to run at a moment’s notice. In Florence they are everywhere, intermingled with the vendors selling non-counterfeit – but cheap and likely made-in-China bags from street stalls. In Rome, you can’t walk down a tourist street without tripping on one.
The vendors are from Senegal – and according to an article I found have the goal of earning money to bring it back to the holy city of Touba. It’s clear they have a camradarie and are well organized. The set up is the same – from the Canary Islands to Barcelona to Athens to Rome. I’ve got to admit, it has me mesmerized. Not the purses – but the idea of a world-wide street network that probably does more business than McDonalds.
I think I’ve stumbled on their suppliers in Rome!
Our apartment is in the International District of Rome – in an area not frequented by tourists. (It’s a great, roomy apartment in a secure building.)
I’m not sure how to describe it, but I’ll try. The streets around the apartment have retail on the first floor. The shops are unusual. They seem to specialize – polo shirts – high heeled shoes – nightgowns – socks and leggings – jean shorts – you get the picture – and have perhaps two racks of clothing in an almost empty store. They are also clustered in groups based on what they sell – for instance all the shoe stores are on one part of a street.
At the back of each store is a small desk with someone (or a few people) sitting there. Many of the stores are linked by side doors. Either the stores are showrooms for factories (imports from China) or fronts for something else (such as the special massages advertised in one.)
The street across from us is the purse street. Unlike the other stores, the purse street stores are stuffed with purses in plastic bags. Shelves and shelves of purses in plastic bags. Most are labelled “Made in China.”
I’ve noticed a steady stream of street vendors entering the stores and filling up their blue plastic bags. It happens both in the morning and the evening. The evening business is steady. I took a few photos (from our window – it’s happening right now.) There is even a “lookout” – see the guy with the white jacket – he’s there every night when the vendors are filling up their bags.
The only part I can’t figure out is where they are hiding the counterfeit purses. I’ve walked into the purse shops, and there isn’t a designer label to be found. I “window shopped” while the vendors were in the shop filling up their blue bags. The bags looked like normal cheap bags – the type they sold in Florence in the stalls – not the type that are laid out on tarps in the street.
I found this article from L.A., where the author talked about having a label put into a bag while she watched. Maybe that’s how it’s done.
I have another week in this apartment, and I plan to figure it all out. Stay tuned!