In China's Shoe Business, Pitfalls Of Copycat Design

Shoe shop in Haikou, Hainan Province.
Shoe shop in Haikou, Hainan Province.
Duan Linna

BEIJING — Summer shopping included the hunt for a new pair of sandals, which was also an opportunity to take stock in where the Chinese shoe industry stands.

In itself, it is not surprising to find a "cohabitation" of different quality from different brands in a single shopping center. It's also natural that different brands target different customers, at different price points. The problem with Chinese shoes companies runs deeper: the blatent copying of designs from foreign brands.

One example: an ingenious design of the heels of the wedge sandals from the French brand Chloé appear identically in a large number of Chinese brands' summer collections this year.

Design is intellectual property. It’s the expression of a person's intelligence and creativity, and it should be protected. When such copycat behavior becomes commonplace, it not only is an act of unfair competition and unjust enrichment, but also discourages business culture from innovating.

The net result is that the Chinese footwear industry will fail to upgrade and will be shut out of international competition.

10 billion shoes

It might be true in China’s fast-moving consumer goods industry that such breach of copyright is openly tolerated, which allows original and copycat to “harmoniously coexist.” But this phenomenon underestimates female consumers’ ability to distinguish the real from the fake, and will ultimately be fatal for the copying brand.

China's shoemakers must commit instead to move up from low-end processing factories to independent manufacturers of shoes with their own brands and design.

Today, China has the world’s biggest shoe manufacturing industry. Each year, it produces 10 billion pairs of shoes, which represents two-thirds of the world’s annual production. Yet, few Chinese shoemakers are able to turn out a high-end brand design of their own. Chinese footwear businesses find themselves in a fierce competition, not only with their peers in China, but also with those in India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Although a business environment that encourages innovation and protects intellectual property is yet to be established in China, the rules of the game are not going to change. And more and more Chinese consumers are starting to set the bar high before they commit to a brand. And the key to gain such allegiance is in the design. The recognition of a certain style is the first step to establish consumer loyalty, particularly for fast-moving consumer goods industries such as footwear.

A female consumer can recognize in a pair of shoes both the designer and the brand. It is often sewn in with shoemakers' hundred years of history, like an invisible patent that raises the value of the brand.

China’s economic growth will ever more rely on domestic consumption, as rural as well as urban area’s average income has grown 10-12% in 2013. And Chinese people with greater purchasing power are looking for products with better quality and stronger identity.

A Chinese consumer buys only 2.5 pairs of shoes per year on average, far behind the average 7.5 pairs in the United States. This implies a huge potential for China’s domestic shoe market. Valuing independent design and promoting the brand must be the golden rules for Chinese shoemakers to seize the opportunity in the booming economy.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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