Not-Japanese Fabric of the Week: Fakes!

What’s in a selvedge? (How to spot the fakes on etsy)

{ What’s in a selvedge? (How to spot the fakes on etsy) by rastis100 on Flickr; used with permission. }

I interrupt this regular column to alert you to a problem that has recently come to my attention: counterfeit Japanese fabric. I found out about this when I inadvertently posted a ripoff print in this column a few months back (I immediately removed it). Michelle of Keyka Lou Patterns has a thorough post on the topic with some links to comparative photos.

Apparently, both the print and fabric quality is poor, yet the retail cost is often comparable to the genuine article. A couple commenters in this Etsy Forum thread mention that these prints might be test prints or mill overruns but I doubt very much that is the case here, and Kokka (via a three-way email exchange between a Kokka rep, Kelly of Superbuzzy, and myself) confirms my doubt. Kokka — who seems to be seems to be getting the worst of it — is aware and very concerned about the issue.

I hope it goes without saying that knockoffs are wrong. They hurt the manufacturer, the designer, and, of course, YOU. So how do you know you’re getting the real thing?

1. Too-good-to-be-true prices. As with most things in life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Just be aware that many knockoffs come with prices comparable to the real thing.

2. Check the selvage. As far as I know, the knocker-offers haven’t been so bold as to copy the original selvage info — there is usually some no-name brand printed there instead (see photo by rastis100 above). Look for the Kokka, Lecien, Cosmo, Hokkoh, Daiwabo, Kei, and Yuwa brands. If you are buying online, and there are no selvage photos, check the item’s description. If the seller does not list the manufacturer, instead calling it generically “Japanese fabric,” be suspicious.

However, oftentimes legitimate Japanese fabric has no selvage information at all, so …

3. Ask the seller, and make sure they guarantee authenticity. If buying online and you’re not sure about the authenticity, ask the seller. If they are squirrely or unwilling to stand behind their products, buy elsewhere.

4. Be wary of shops based in Asian countries other than Japan. The knockoffs seem to be originating from Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, and China, making it difficult for the Japanese manufacturers to track down the offenders. I definitely do NOT mean to imply that there are no legitimate shops in these countries, just that you need make sure the shop has a good reputation and guarantees its products.

5. All of the above goes for trims and finished products. It’s not just fabric designs being ripped off, but also ribbons and sewn products. If you see familiar Japanese fabric prints used in mass-manufactured items, be suspicious.

All True Up sponsors who sell Japanese fabric sell the real thing. I now know that I have had two sponsors in the past that have allegedly sold knockoffs, but now that I am aware of the issue you can count on me pre-screening.

Finally, if you have any information regarding the sources of Japanese knockoffs, please email Kelly of Superbuzzy at info@superbuzzy.com.

Thanks very much to Kelly and to Lisa from This and That From Japan for helping me with this article.

11 Comments

  1. Amanda says:

    Ha! I just bought some “Japanese fabric” from etsy/China about a half hour before seeing this. There is no selvedge shown in the picture, and the brand is not listed in the title, though Kawaii is in the list of tags. Now you’ve got me wondering!! Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Insung says:

    Thanks for the information! Superbuzzy and This and That from Japan had been my favorite shops to get Japanese fabrics!

  3. Badskirt says:

    This is such a helpful post for many people who weren’t aware that fakes are circulating. Other ways for identifying fakes is that they are sometimes offered in colourways other than the original designs. Sometimes the registration is off and details are misaligned.

    Thank you for posting and for verifying with Kokka, as well.

  4. This is a good Public Service Announcement. It’s hard to keep an eye out for all the fakes, but it is important to support the original designers. And that reminds, me I better make sure all my Etsy listings say Kokka!

  5. MelanieO says:

    Interesting… I was just shopping for Japanese fabric earlier this evening. A seller in China was selling at a quarter the price of the others. Seemed suspicious to me, so I moved on. Glad I did.

  6. Thanks for posting this. Last year I had to get a specific print and the only place I could find it from was Thailand. I had purchased some from a local shop before but they were sold out. I was wary but needed the fabric for a special order. When it arrived the color was off, the print was blurry, and the fabric was much more lightweight than I expected. It wasn’t a disaster but it was annoying. The info about the selvage is very helpful.

  7. Nathalie says:

    Very useful post and links, thank you. Rather naively perhaps, I never imagined that fabrics were being faked like this. I’ve bought from Kind Supplier (who gets a few mentions in the links) via etsy in the past, and still didn’t suspect anything was amiss. The fabric turned out to be thick HomeDec linen where I was expecting clothing linen but the print seemed fine (although I haven’t done anything with it, so don’t know how it would wear with use). The selvedge states it’s HomeDec fabric (from ? – can’t remember the name but not one of the obvious rip-off ones) so I was annoyed the seller had failed to mention it in the listing. It was cheap and cute so I wasn’t too concerned about returning it, but I never did buy from them again and certainly won’t now if it transpires they sell fake stuff!

  8. kirsten says:

    Basic rule of the market: If there is a market for it, someone is trying to make fakes or sell frauds. This is why you have fake medicine, fake car parts, fake watches, fake fabric prints, etc. Anything where the BRAND is valuable will have the brand faked, anything where the design is valuable the design will be faked.

    to give you an older example: Jet is a fossil. its where we get the term jet black. When Queen Victoria went into mourning she wore all black as was custom, and she NATURALLY supported a local industry, the making of Whitby/English Jet jewelry. what happens when a celebrity makes something popular? they fake it…. That is why there are legitimate and valuable antiques that are NOT jet, they were fakes (even though they are not fake antiques).
    (Bakelite, Vulcanite, and French Jet which is a type of glass being the most common)

    i sell fabric, trims, (and jet) and even i have been tricked before… remember that if you are dealing with a re seller, THEY may not know any better, so one of the first things to check is if your seller knows that there ARE fakes, and how to tell the difference.

    • Kim says:

      Excellent point, Kirsten, and one I should have made in the post … the sellers themselves might not know that their goods are fakes.

  9. Cloud says:

    It is really upsetting seeing knock offs of designer prints :( We only sell the real deal (Kokka, Michael Miller, Alexander Henry mainly) and we were told recently about a potential knock off Michael Miller fabric.

    Michael Miller only sells to independent retailers – not the big chain stores. We were told we were ‘too expensive’ and that one of our Michael Miller fabrics was available at Spotlight (big chain store here in Australia). After investigating ourselves we realised that it was a knock off being sold at half the price.

    The fabric weight was off and the selvedges said ‘MM Fabric’ not ‘Michael Miller’. We notified the Michael Miller rep… there will hopefully be repercussions!

    Another thing that will tip off that a fabric may be a fake – the colours won’t be as vibrant and the dyes may also run when washed.

    Thanks also Kim for backing up your sponsors (like me) as being sellers of the real fabrics. I can certainly vouch that the originals cost more but are well worth it for the quality.

    I’m also happy to show peeps my selvedges any time ;)