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Fighting Fashion Counterfeiting, One Tote Bag at a Time

Buy a tote — stop a counterfeiter.

Vivienne Tam 'You Can't Fake Fashion' Tote
Photo by Katie Little for CNBC.com
Vivienne Tam 'You Can't Fake Fashion' Tote

As part of the "You Can't Fake Fashion" campaign, more than 75 designers have teamed up to raise awareness against counterfeit items and to celebrate original design by creating a line of tote bags.

Currently on display at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the collection is a joint effort between the Council of Fashion Designers of America(CFDA) and eBay .

Sporting $200 price tags, the designer totes will be available exclusively on eBay beginning March 20. Buyers on a budget can also choose from four styles of canvas totes that will sell for $45 each. During the program’s inaugural collection last season, the totes sold out within 48 hours.

Tracy Reese, who exhibited her Fall 2012 collection at Fashion Weekon Sunday, stressed the importance of fighting counterfeiting in the fashion industry.

“It happens, and it will continue to happen unless we really continue to fight it,” Reese said.

In addition to counterfeiters, who pass off fake items using a designer’s label, Reese said fast-fashion retailers have also drawn elements from her collections.

“We’ve had prints copied,” she said. “We’ve had styles copied. We’ve had, you know, entire everything — color, embroidery, style — hit billboards in Times Square, and you know we’ve spent a lot of time and money in development and we’re not a big company, and we need to get the benefit of our work before it goes to the broad, mainstream public for $29.99.”

Stopping counterfeiters can be difficult, Reese added.

“It’s hard for us to fight it,” she said. “We can send a letter from lawyers — please cease and desist — and some people have been really great about it, like maybe they didn’t know where the style originally came from, but sometimes you just can’t fight it.”

Although copying a designer’s print is illegal, other forms of imitation, including copying a piece’s overall elements or color, are still legal, said Steven Kolb, CFDA's chief executive offer.

The CFDA has been waging a battle against this sort of copying, called “design piracy” since 2006.

“That’s something we’ve been pushing for in Congress,” Kolb said. “There’s great progress. It continues to be an issue of interest in Congress, and we’ll see where it goes.”

'You Can't Fake Fashion' Bucket Tote
Source: eBay
'You Can't Fake Fashion' Bucket Tote

In addition to fighting for more policing on Capitol Hill, he seeks to educate the public about counterfeiting’s lesser-known consequences.

“It’s about knowing that it’s more than about getting something cheap,” he said.

Fashion fakes are not held to the same regulations as designer goods and can be manufactured using toxic chemicals. Counterfeit goods have also been linked to organized crime.

To fight counterfeiting, eBay relies on technology and brand owners to police the millions of items that are posted on its site every day.

“For us, being a marketplace, our marketplace business model is based on trust,” said Alan Marks, eBay’s senior vice president of global communications. “We take this very seriously — we don’t tolerate any counterfeit items on the site.”

The online retailer uses filtering technology to detect phrases that are commonly used in counterfeit posts. For example, disclaimers that allude to possible doubts about an item’s authenticity are a red flag for the filter, Marks said.

Once a counterfeit seller is caught, eBay may suspend the user from listing items on its site again. If a suspended user attempts to post again using a new account but the same IP address, the online retailer's technology can detect and prevent this violation.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Katie Little on Twitter @katie_little_.

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