Designer shoes would break the bank for most people apart from the very well-off or self-confessed fans such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Victoria Beckham. The most people get though are the cheap fakes thousands of websites offer. But the truth behind the skilfully recreated counterfeits is that many designer fakes are made using child labour, in shocking conditions, under the harsh supervision criminal gangs.
One Chinese village run by Triad gangsters was paying workers and children only £20 for a gruelling 90-hour week knocking out thousands of pairs of fake Christian Louboutin leopard-print ankle boots destined for the UK. Children as young as 10 were found to be working in high rise factories until gone midnight, the Sunday Mirror reported. Huan Jiao, village near-Guangzhou in south east China, has thousands of workers in dozens of workshops which have been disguised to look like houses. Each of them makes just one part of the finished item, so that if the authorities close down one of them, the product can still be made, without too many problems.
Shoe boxes bearing names like Gucci, Prada and Chanel were piled up the streets before being loaded on to lorries, while and guards kept watch at the factory doors. Hundreds of children sat indoors, fixing plastic heels to the signature red soles and fake pony-skin uppers to make a knock-off version of Louboutin's sought after leopard-print ankle boot. The boots are then put into a replica box before they sent to the UK to be sold at £160 each − more than 10 times the amount they cost to make.
Many of the workers have left their homes and families in the countryside to get work. "We need to work at least 14 hours and take just one day off a month to make coming here worthwhile,” said Chung, a 15-year-old boy who cuts leather to make fake boots. "They promised us £200 a month, but take money off for living expenses and bills because we have to sleep in a dormitory owned by the factory," he told the newspaper.
Fellow worker, Cheng Bo, 22, said: "We thought we'd make good money but the conditions are not good. The boss promised us £120 a month but then deducted food, electricity and water and dorm fees. In the end we get £80 a month." “The growth of these websites keeps increasing," Louboutin's chief operating officer, Alexis Mourot, told New York paper The Daily News from the Paris head office. "It is all coming out of China. These are not small workshops but large underground operations. The money is going to criminals. Some people think it's cool to be able to buy cheap copies, but, if you look at the consequences, it is a very serious matter."