WATCH: Karama traders put faith in value proposition after crackdown on fake goods
Successful efforts to combat counterfeit products have prompted business owners to seek an alternative strategy
The crackdown on Karama's world renowned fake goods stores appears to be working - just look at the deserted streets.
Pressure on the illegal fake goods trade is forcing the hand of many traders, burying the industry further underground.
Shops are closing and less tourists are visiting the once bustling shopping district.
Those continuing to trade are confident of a turnaround in fortunes, but can’t hide a frustration and worry over what the future may hold.
Heavy fines and regular spot checks by the Department of Economic Department are having a clear impact on business.
“I’ve been working here for six years, there’s been a big change,” said Salman, from Bangladesh.
“Before people would come here just for the fakes. Not anymore.
“We sell things for very good prices, not everyone can afford Dubai Mall.
“Many shops have closed, even some bigger ones.”
Buying a fake at a discount price may seem harmless, but the sale of counterfeit products often funds criminal networks.
Only last month The National reported how thousands of counterfeit watches, mobile phones and accessories, valued at Dh33 million, had been seized in Dubai.
The fake products were confiscated during raids at a warehouse in Ras Al Khor, Dubai Police said.
This year, police also raided a villa in Al Hamriya after finding out that fake mobile phones were being sold from there.
Police have said that taking fake goods off the streets also protects the public from potentially unsafe products, not subject to the same rigorous testing procedures as authentic items.
Shop tenants said landlords have offered discounts on rent, reducing rates from Dh120,000 a year to just Dh70,000 to help out struggling businesses.
Huge murals splashed on the side of buildings brighten up the area and pull in tourists, but few are spending cash in the hundreds of independent shops.
For those traders still standing, the business climate is tough.
“I can’t see how the business can carry on like this,” Salman said.
“No one is here. There have been big fines, and that has scared shops from selling the things people want to buy.
“Traders have lost goods when stock is confiscated in raids, so it’s a big risk now.”
Nazaer, 32, from India, has experienced a similar decline.
“Just three years ago business was good,” he said.
“The artwork has brightened the place up and it was a good idea to get more people to come here, but they only take photos – that’s it.
“Some of the shops have closed, they were finding it too difficult.
“Mostly tourists come as they’ve heard Karama is famous for fake brands, but they are often disappointed. I’ve sold nothing today.”
Haris, 37, also from India, has been in Karama for 11 years.
“When I first came here to work there were about a thousand people working here,” he said.
“Every shop had at least three people working, maybe more. It was an exciting place, always busy.
“Now there are less than 700 people working here. Some have gone back home as there is not enough business for everyone.”
Fake Gucci handbags and the famous red soled Christian Louboutin shoes may have vanished from the shelves of Karama, but shoppers desperate for a bargain can still pick up cheap imitations online.
One global brand, Burberry, has come under fire after announcing it had torched $38 million (Dh135 million) of unsold clothing and beauty products to protect brand integrity.
The practice is not unusual to retain exclusivity of products, and prevent items falling into the discount market.
Swedish fashion house Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) has taken a similar stance, burning unsold clothing in industrial incinerators to help power a small town in northwest Stockholm.
Firooz Mohammed from Iran, a father of one boy and two girls, has been in Karama for 9 years, his brother and business partner, for 15.
“We used to have so many branded items for sale here, and it was all very popular, but not anymore,” he said.
“Other shops still sell this stuff, but it is not on display.
“This used to be a good business to be in. There was less control from the economic department and we had special showrooms we could use for customers, but things have changed.
Despite the drop in customers, there is still a buzz around Karama, mainly generated by staff left twiddling their thumbs on the shop floor, cracking jokes and looking to pass the time.
Many of the 400 or so Karama shops have their own cricket team, playing in night matches at local sports grounds. It’s creating a friendly rivalry between traders.
The cricket keeps them going, giving traders something to look forward to after a day of clock watching on the shop floor.
“Bags, sunglasses, watches and belts are very popular still,” said Mr Mohammed.
“The street art is beautiful, but it hasn’t helped us with bringing more customers.
“I hope I am still here in 5 years, but I’m not so sure.”
Updated: July 29, 2018 10:57 AM