Thu, Jan 19, 2006 - Page 13 News List

The real deal?

Some of the 'coolest' labels don't have stores in Taiwan, but those in the know are kitted out from head to toe

By Joey Chung  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Outside the Eslite store on Dunhua and Renai roads there are plenty of bargains if you're looking for clothes.

PHOTOS: CHU PEI-HSIUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The "cool" set in town is wearing Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Banana Republic and Hollister clothes -- though officially you cannot buy the brands in Taipei.

"I first knew of Abercrombie and Fitch during freshman year in college. Many of my classmates in school, especially the ones that grew up or had family abroad wore it, almost religiously," says Chen Lien-fang (陳廉方), 23, a recent graduate of National Taiwan University, who grew up in New York.

"Later, as we shopped, my friends and I came across more `outlet stores' that sold clothes from abroad [but] were unavailable in Taiwan. Yet to us, who had been in the States before, we immediately knew what we had found."

And what's even better, "Their prices were about one third the retail price in the States," Chen adds. Sound too good to be true?

Some stores or vendors simply buy the merchandise monthly, either through the Internet, or through taking regular trips abroad. Their prices are often higher than the retail prices abroad.

Others, try to cash in on the craze by offering knock-offs. Finally, there are the kinds of stores that offer real Abercrombie jeans and Hollister track pants at unbelievably low prices. How do they do it?

"Most of the store owners or vendors have contacts with the manufacturing plants in Southeast Asia," explains one of the clerks in an outlet who requested anonymity.

"Let's say Abercrombie in the US orders 10,000 pairs of jeans. But for the fear of defects the plants always manufacture more, say 10,500. After Abercrombie has taken their 10,000, the factories secretly sell the rest to people like us.

"Many of them are marked by cutting a hole through the tags so they're not sellable in the States anymore. We pay the factories a certain fee and take them off their hands and thus sell them for very cheap rates.

"They are not knock-offs, but are exactly the same as those sold in stores abroad. We even have a mutual agreement that to be less conspicuous the factories don't hand us the shipments until that season's merchandise in the official stores are off the rack," the clerk says.

Currently, in Taipei, there are three "hotspots" for the unofficial outlets or vendors that sell these brands. The East Side (Zhongxiao East Road and Xinyi District), Ximending, and Tianmu. In these areas there are up to a dozen shops, many of which are hidden in obscure alleys known only to the experienced Taipei shopper.

Word of mouth, especially among students -- who enjoy the luxury of wearing brands and setting trends, but have less money at their disposal -- do the rest.

Was this trend anticipated? The clerk shakes his head and says a lot of them started selling the brands years before. They simply thought they were good and could move them at cheap prices and for a nice profit.

The craze reached its peak in recent years when almost every girl in Taipei, it seemed, was walking through campus in Hollister pants and a tight-fitting Abercrombie T-shirt with the words "co-ed" printed on the front.

Whether or not these "outlet stores" indirectly started a trend is no longer important. What is certain is that it has created a new mentality among Taipei's youth of what being young and chic should be like.

They wear these seemingly up-scale clothes and walk through town with heads held high, as if they're all part of a select group.

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