The US military was allegedly duped into buying $20 million in Chinese counterfeits

Where was it all made?
Where was it all made?
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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Clothes and footwear are some of the most knocked off products in the world. Many of the counterfeits come from China, and dupe unsuspecting customers every day. The US military has apparently become one of those unsuspecting customers.

A wholesaler of military uniforms and other gear is accused of selling more than $20 million worth of Chinese-made fakes to the US military and other government bodies, passing them off as the authentic, American-made versions. As laid out by the Berry Amendment, the military is only allowed to buy uniforms and other clothing that have been made in the US. The wholesaler was charged in a Rhode Island court on May 21 with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and trafficking in counterfeit goods.

The court documents say the wholesaler and his co-conspirators sent samples of actual military uniforms and other items to Chinese manufacturers to duplicate. Before mass-producing the goods, the manufacturers got samples and photos of the real deal, including hangtags and labels, to make sure theirs looked legitimate. The process involved copying brand names and trademarks. The wholesaler then sold the goods to military and government buyers, and is even said to have provided fake Berry Amendment certification letters.

Some of the alleged counterfeits were for items the military entrusts with its soldiers’ lives. Among the knockoffs were parkas for the US Air Force. The real version is made of a fabric called Multicam, which helps disguise the wearer from near-infrared (NIR) technologies, such as night-vision goggles. “The counterfeit parkas lacked the NIR-technology that made the wearer difficult to detect by night vision goggles,” the court documents state.

Maybe more troubling were thousands of hoods that were supposed to be made of a fire-resistant material called FREE. A sewn-in care tag on the hoods said “NFPA 2112 COMPLIANT,” which according to the court records is an “industry standard for flame resistant attire.” The counterfeit hoods were not flame resistant.

Other trademarks the wholesaler is accused of copying are Polartec, a popular insulating fleece, and Primaloft, a synthetic alternative to down originally developed for the US army.

We have reached out to the US military for comment and will update this story with any reply. The court documents did not list an attorney for the accused. As the AP reported, his only comment when asked by WPRI-TV was “I don’t know anything about that, sorry.”

That Chinese factories are mixed up in the incident is not too surprising, given that China churns out most of the fakes seized around the world. Chinese factories have become adept at copying pretty much any item you can think of, from high-end luxury goods to consumer products still in their startup phase. These knockoffs flood Chinese marketplaces, and also international ones. Apparently the US military has to stay vigilant, even when purchasing uniforms.