Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Why the homeless may soon be looking trendier than you

If you’ve ever been to a market or travelled to a tourist destination, you’ve probably come across counterfeit designer goods of some kind. Buying a pair of knock-off Nike trainers, a Gucci watch or a Ralph Lauren shirt at a heavily discounted price is understandably tempting for many.

But there are two major drawbacks associated with fake goods:

Quality: I bought a “designer” watch in Ibiza and it had stopped working by the time I got home. Lesson learnt!

Social/economic impact: it puts people out of jobs, puts consumers at risk and often empowers crime syndicates connected with child labour, human trafficking, money laundering and even terrorism, according to the experts.

If in doubt, avoid buying pirated gear! (Unless of course it’s the Jack Sparrow kind.)

But there is at least one positive outcome emerging from the counterfeiting crisis. A UK charity is giving the fakes a new future; as much-needed clothing for the homeless. Although they are usually handed to Customs or Trading Standards to be incinerated, His Church has been given the go-ahead to redistribute these clothes to those who really need it.

Buckinghamshire Trading Standards was the first authority to get involved in the scheme, followed: by Trading Standards in Manchester, Liverpool and London; West Midlands Police, the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police; and UK Customs. And now the charity is getting calls from as far away as America to deal with offending items of fake fashion.

Even the sewing machines His Church uses to patch over counterfeit labels were seized by UK Customs officials from the criminal gangs creating the counterfeit clothing and passed on. It’s a win-win situation: the homeless benefit and officials don’t have to pay to store or destroy the garments.

Charity co-ordinator Richard Humphrey told the BBC: "It's all come round in a virtuous circle," says Richard. "It's a genuinely inspired idea which we've put into practice by faith and it's just borne fruit."

Rebranding takes place at the charity’s Lincolnshire warehouse, where around 30 volunteers give up their time to make the clothes legally wearable. According to Richard, the quality of most of the items he receives is excellent.

These high-quality items are then sent to around 250 homeless centres and women's shelters across the country. And even garments that are too heavily branded to patch over can be salvaged; the charity has permission to send them overseas, providing the destination is outside the EU.

"So many of us go through life talking about projects we're going to do and we talk and talk about them but somehow we just never quite get round to doing them,” Richard told the BBC.  

"So I guess we decided to come at it from the opposite end; don't bother talking, just do it."

An apt choice of words, given the topic in question.

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