China is one of the main culprits for the production and sale of fake garments and accessories, but what is perhaps less well-known is its widespread and very blatant copying of leading machinery brands. As Niki Tait reports from CISMA (the China International Sewing Machinery and Accessories show) the scale and candour of the vendors was surprising.

The fashion industry is a well-known target for counterfeiters. In the European Union alone, around 9.2 million textile and clothing items were seized in 2003, a rise of 10.9 per cent year-on-year.

And data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) calculates that counterfeiting activities account for approximately 7-9 per cent of total world trade, or about US$450 billion.

China is one of the main culprits for the production and sale of fake garments and accessories. But what is perhaps less well-known is its widespread and very blatant copying of leading machinery brands.

At CISMA - the China International Sewing Machinery and Accessories show - the second largest clothing technology show in the world, copying was rife and very much on display.

A company called Wiki, for example, makes machines for South America under the brands Juki and Yuki 1, the difference between the two apparently lying in some changed parts but both being basically copies of the Japanese Juki.

The Feiyue FY47A-514 MZ-24-LFC2 - a copy of the equivalent Sirubra machine

Juki (Japan) has one factory of its own and one joint venture in China. Unless a machine comes from either of these factories, or its Japanese factory, it is a fake.

Similarly, Brother is keen to point out that its own 100 per cent owned factory and Typical Bother are the only two factories in China that make authentic Brother machines; a machine made elsewhere is an imitation.

Counteracting measures
As Brother explains: "If the fake is branded differently then it is not 100 per cent the same, so there are no counteracting measures Brother can take. If the fake is badged Brother then we still can't take effective action. If a counterfeiter is taken to court it just declares bankruptcy, changes its name and continues to produce the fakes. The only financial loser is Brother which incurs the legal costs." Juki concurs.

Producing 200,000 sewing machines a year, the Toyou Group makes electronic high speed lockstitch, coverstich, top and bottom feed, heavy duty and special purpose machines. The company says its success is due to the fact it "copies the Brother machines."

Tajima has found that although its machines used to be copied in entirety, including the logo, nowadays the copying companies are using their own logo.

Shanghai - home to CISMA, the world's second largest clothing technology exhibition

However, Tajima explains: "The machines may look the same to all but a very technical eye; the difference is in the experience and know-how of the manufacturer and no-one can copy that!

"Many of the visitors to our stand are just looking to see how they can copy our technology and are so blatant that this year we have even had to stop all photo taking."

Instead of being fearful that partnerships and joint ventures will simply pass technological expertise to the Chinese, Pfaff's attitude - as with many overseas companies - is that the Chinese will develop the technology with or without them.

Indeed, amongst the plethora of exhibitors displaying machine parts and spares were specialists from some of the international companies sent to find the counterfeit copies of their spares to see if they were worth using in their original machinery, rather than the more expensive originals.

Experience and know-how
In terms of very advanced technology Thomas Heinricks of Assyst Bullmer explains: "The only real protection against copying is the level of experience and know-how. An NC cutter, for example, is not just a cutter but involves a whole series of complex algorithms which cannot just be copied.

"In terms of software, we have taken the most sophisticated methods available to avoid copying but there is no infallible method. To some extent copies help penetrate the market and people eventually need training, support, upgrades, and hopefully develop onto needing hardware. At that point they have to go legitimate."

All of which meant that after visiting three dozen or more of the smaller Chinese sewing machinery companies you got the impression you could readily buy any copy of any machine in any colour with any badge - in some ways the true customer service and the fundamental meaning of 'mass-customisation.'

What is also clear is that the German and Japanese sewing machinery manufacturers themselves feel that many of the basic Chinese sewing machines now match their own in terms of technology and quality. And it is likely that within the next five years the more advanced machinery is matched.

So instead of paying for a fake, surely it would be more cost-effective to buy a good quality Chinese brand.

Niki Tait, C.Text FTI, FCFI heads Apparel Solutions, which provides independent assistance to the apparel industry in the areas of manufacturing methods, industrial engineering, information technology and quick response.