By Aniket Maitra
Walking through the streets of any major city in India, you will notice that shirts have a lot to say. They may say ridiculous things like “take me home with you, I’m single” and even the most profane phrases that could not be said on most airwaves in the English-speaking world. Some of the T-shirts even have top brand names written all over the shirt. Nike, Adidas, Reebok….. there’s no end to the list. But perhaps you’ll notice something interesting about the shirts that you’ve always noticed. The Nike sign seems a little too curved. The Adidas sign is backwards. And perhaps the Reebok sign doesn’t even look like Reebok logo. All these shirts are worn by the driver of the smallest auto rickshaw to the vendors on the street.
The world of ideas today has produced imitation products of all sorts. This is not an uncommon story in a country where most people probably can’t afford Nike shirts or Reebok shoes to go with a typical outfit. But it’s produced a completely new consumer market whose implications should be looked at a little closer.
While the world of Nike factories might be well-known in the news for exploitation of labor in countries in Southeast Asia, China, and Mexico, their products have moved beyond that into a market system that has been created solely by brand consumerism. While perhaps involving labor violations, these name-brand imitation shirts are the ultimate source of revenue for street vendors in places like India whose customers appear to care about the brand but not exactly where the shirt came from or whether it’s actually an original.
The list never seems to end with this story. We all know that Rilex is a brand name watch company and so is Adibas in the trade of sportswear but did we really think there would be Facebook bags? Apparently, these items and watches made by none other than BNW are the norm.
Interestingly, next to some of these stalls are A/C-running and glass-doored authorized Reebok and Adidas outlets in many urban areas. They carry pants, jackets, and shoes that can be bought at standard prices that would be charged in the U.S., UK, or Hong Kong. It appears that the fake and real while competing simultaneously for customers are competing for two different consumer groups.
This explains why fearing the entry of Wal-Mart into a country like India shouldn’t really be feared. Wal-Mart will perhaps never eliminate local vendors in India because those that go to Wal-Mart shop elsewhere in the Indian economy anyway. Tea stalls won’t have to relocate to a coming Starbucks because the college students drinking at Café Coffee Day (an Indian coffee shop chain) aren’t going to drink street tea but the patrons that always come will keep coming regardless of the globalized franchises appearing. This phenomenon also explains the role that corporation have taken in many countries. While considered a mediocre eatery in many parts of America, McDonalds is a fairly fancy sit down restaurant in India.
Perhaps we should take a look at the way globalization is shaping these corporations and sometimes look at the way they are being shaped by the country and how they are shaping the countries as well, sometimes even, for the better.