Tim Lince

A new generation of anti-counterfeiting advocates are spreading the word about fake goods on social media, often gaining hundreds of thousands of followers in the process. One of the most respected in this fledgling scene, Yeezy Busta, has spoken to World Trademark Review about the support he’s received from adidas and the need for high profile brands to work with influencers to “make wearing fakes socially unacceptable”.

Yeezy Busta is part of a collective of Instagram accounts that focus on educating followers on the prevalence and quality, or lack thereof, of counterfeit goods. The accounts often differ in strategy. For example, the account Fake Education – run by a Detroit-based sneaker expert – conducts regular comparative studies between legitimate and fake products. He has garnered a following of nearly 400,000, regularly attends events (including the recent Sneaker Con in Cleveland) and is a respected advocate for authentic products.

Others, such as Fake Watch Busta (which has 362,000 followers) and the aforementioned Yeezy Busta (267,000 followers), take a different tact. They view photos or videos of high profile figures (most often those in the music industry), study a particular high-end item they are wearing, and determine whether that product is legitimate or fake. In both cases, they post the photo and label it as such – and if it is determined the celebrity is wearing a fake, followers will often call the person out on social media. Media reports will sometimes follow and, occasionally, the celebrity will respond (such as the time rapper Young Thug got in a public spat with Fake Watch Busta).

A natural question to ask is why high profile celebrities, especially in industries that hinge on credibility, would buy counterfeit goods. Yeezy Busta – an LA-based medical student who prefers to remain anonymous – tells World Trademark Review that there’s a number of possible reasons: “It could be because they got scammed, got gifted them, bought them purposely fake, or simply just don’t care,” he contends. “Everyone has different reasons and justifications, however, I believe that before they show them off to the public and show their fans a false interpretation of the shoe, they should get them legit checked or at least do their own research first.”

He is often outspoken in his advocacy for authentic Yeezy sneakers (a highly sought after, and commonly counterfeited, brand collaboration project between adidas and Kanye West). It’s a passion that has its origin in being unwittingly sold a pair of fakes himself (he explained how he created the Yeezy Busta persona in an interview with Complex in 2015). Part of the reason he remains anonymous is to avoid potential lawsuits from celebrities who deny they are wearing fakes or are angry for being publicly exposed for doing so (for example, Fake Watch Busta received a cease-and-desist after claiming musician CeeLo Green wore a fake Panerai watch). However, while no doubt embarrassing to be called out for wearing fakes, he denies his approach should be characterised as ‘shaming’. “I call it spreading the truth,” he states firmly. “I have never called anyone names or insulted anyone, all I do is let the people know whether someone’s shoes are fake or not. I believe that it is effective, since a lot of the time they learn their lesson, or they reach out to me and we solve it, so everyone is happy.”

His ability to accurately determine if someone is wearing fake Yeezy sneakers has been helped by support from footwear giant adidas. “The support from adidas, from people like [adidas global director of entertainment and influencer marketing] Jon Wexler, has truly been awesome – I believe that if the brand were to back me up more, we would be able to get a lot more done in stopping counterfeiters.”

Indeed, Yeezy Busta suggests that companies should partner more with accounts like his because it could become a key weapon in the fight against fakes: “Brands should reach out to the influencers to spread the word and make wearing fakes socially unacceptable. Any original product (that is faked) is highly sought after and most of the time is very expensive, and only those who worked for it and who can afford it are able to get it. It isn’t fair that someone can buy a fake version and get the same satisfaction and reaction from others. It’s messed up, and it’s messed the whole game up.”

In addition to brands partnering with social media influencers, other parties like anti-counterfeiting or trademark associations could consider it too (Yeezy Busta says he has “not yet” heard from any relevant associations). For now, though, it is onwards and upwards for Yeezy Busta, who teases: “I have quite a few things up my sleeve, and I’m excited to share it with everyone this year.”

Counterfeiters are well known for adapting and evolving their production and delivery methods as technology improves and enforcement measures change. Those in the anti-counterfeiting space must continuously innovate too; in product development, authentication, enforcement and, of course, in public awareness. Helping to support the Instagram educators could be a cutting-edge way to make sure the message gets out to the streets that buying bootleg products isn’t an acceptable alternative to the real thing.

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