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Polo SA scam

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[h=2]Polo SA not Polo Ralph Lauren[/h]http://www.timeslive.co.za/lifestyle/2014/03/10/polo-sa-not-polo-ralph-lauren


[h=3]Global marketing gurus have done a brilliant job of marrying lifestyle aspirations with premier luxury brands.[/h] Wearing a pair of Gucci sunglasses, donning a Guess T-shirt, clutching a Louis Vuitton bag, all topped off with a spray of Chanel No 5 epitomises an elitist way of life that millions aspire to.

But there is more to it than the prestige. Whether justified or not, there is a perception of quality associated with top global brands, some of which have been around for more than 100 years.

So when the price tag for a single item is more than some people spend on food a week, customers must feel it is well worth forking money out for.

But what happens when the iconic brand you are buying is not actually what you think it is? Like finding out that Polo in South Africa has no link to the multi-billion-dollar Polo Ralph Lauren brand in the US.

Like the Cape Town businessman who first alerted me, my colleagues were peeved when I broke the news to them. They had all either bought Polo products - or wanted to - and had assumed that the items sold locally were part of Ralph Lauren's classic international range.

It is an easy mistake to make. The two brands share a name and a similar range of premium goods. But, more significantly, they use an almost identical motif: a polo player on a horse.

The key difference between the two motifs is that on the local Polo products the horse runs to the right. The Ralph Lauren horse runs to the left.

It turns out that Polo South Africa - which was founded in 1976 - owns the local trademark rights to the word "Polo" and the horse motif.

Ralph Lauren, who launched the famous Polo brand in 1967 and boasts stores in the world's major cities, is barred from selling any of its own Polo goods, except perfume, in this country.

Does this blurred distinction not have the potential, at best, to confuse consumers or, at worst, mislead them?

Cape Town businessman Rob Laurie learned that Polo South Africa was not linked to the US brand only last year when taking a visiting French businessman to a local Polo store.

The associate "lost his luggage and I had to take him to buy some Polo clothing, which is virtually all he wears", said Laurie.

When the visitor told Laurie the Polo garments in South Africa were "not genuine [not Polo Ralph Lauren]" , Laurie dismissed him as being "a typical French snob" and didn't give it another thought. But when two business associates later backed up the Frenchman's claims, he contacted Polo South Africa, which confirmed the two brands were unrelated.

"Of concern to me is the price of the products, which are pitched at international levels, but the consumer is not aware of the situation," said Laurie. "This should be brought to the attention of consumers, who can then make their own choice as to whether they want to buy the product."

Polo South Africa sells its classic golf shirt in its stand-alone stores for R700. A long-sleeve men's shirt at its Rosebank, Johannesburg, shop was selling for R899 this week, a pair of men's leather shoes for R1790, and women's jeans ranged from R499 to R899. All the labels say "Made in China".

Ralph Lauren's classic Polo golf shirt costs $85 (about R905). On the US company's website, jeans are listed as starting at $98 , flip- flops go for $20, men's dress shoes for $1350 and suits start at $1495 (about R16000).

I asked the LA Group, which owns Polo South Africa, why it would choose to produce a brand so similar to the US version? If the name and motif were not "borrowed" from Polo Ralph Lauren, was it just an incredible coincidence?

I got nowhere with group legal adviser Rae James, who refused to answer such questions either by e-mail or on the telephone, saying they had "no relevance". Instead, she reiterated her e-mailed statement that Polo South Africa has a "use agreement" with Ralph Lauren that entitles the company to use the Polo trademark in Africa and prevents Ralph Lauren from trading in the same territories.

"To differentiate the product, it was agreed that the polo pony would face differently," the statement read. The trademarks were registered and owned by the company throughout Africa, she said, and had been used for more than 35 years.

"There's nothing more to it," said James when I asked for more details. When I suggested there was, asking whether she did not think Polo South Africa was misleading consumers, she said the company was unaware of any market confusion.

A simple query on where the local garments were made went unanswered.

While ducking my questions, which she described as "aggressive", James warned that if I published anything untrue there would be "repercussions".

The threat was repeated in an e-mail from an attorney representing the company, who described certain words used by me and Laurie as defamatory.

Ralph Lauren, which is rumoured to be interested in opening stores in this country, declined to comment.

Polo South Africa sells its products through at least six stand-alone stores as well as in selected Stuttafords, Edgars and John Craig branches countrywide. On the Edgars website, the local Polo logo is listed under "international" brands, alongside the likes of Levi's, Billabong and Jeep.

Stuttafords, which sells Polo Ralph Lauren perfume and Polo South Africa garments, lists Polo Ralph Lauren's logo alongside top names such as Prada, Gucci and Guess in its "brands" listing.

Then there is the Branded website. The independent retailer of premier brands in Gauteng dedicates a page to the Polo South Africa brand with a link that takes users to Ralph Lauren's website.

When I called two Branded stores asking whether the Polo products it sold were the US Ralph Lauren products, one admitted it was a local brand. The other said it was Polo Ralph Lauren. Ditto for three John Craig stores phoned: one said the product was local, another suggested it came from Poland and another said it was Polo Ralph Lauren. And Polo South Africa thinks there is no confusion.

Update: The headline on this story was changed to reflect Polo South Africa is not fake but there is no link to the multi-billion-dollar Polo Ralph Lauren brand in the US.

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There was a dispute between the 2 companies. Polo operates exclusively in SA while RL operates outside of SA. Not surprising therefore that some items are made in China. Pringle of Scotland for example is owned by a Chinese business man and the majority of its expensive items are made in Asia. There is nothing Scottish about it. Kurt Geiger which prides itself on its Italian shoes make a lot of its shoes in India. However on these articles you will either never see made in China/India or if you do you will find it in small print in hard to find places. Yet we consumers are expected to pay high prices for these goods. Swatch watches and Rotary watches are made in China not Switzerland. Hugo Boss makes a lot of its clothes not in Germany but in Turkey. Profit and greed seems to be the motive. Low labour costs and high prices. Instead of paying Chinese prices for Chinese produced goods we are expected to pay European and American prices. The whole exclusive brand name is a big con to extort money out of gullible consumers. You think you are getting Italian but you end up getting Chinese. That's very deceitful.

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Fashion Police

I don't understand how people would confuse Polo by Ralph Lauren and Polo SA as the same brand. These are two completely different brands, and it's quite obvious - starting with the cost; there's a huge cost difference.

What's worse is that even some retailers didn't know this and confused Polo SA with Ralph Lauren - it shows me they're not passionate about their business as they're clearly not familiar with the products they're trading with.


I think it's best to know what we're talking about or research facts before making accusations.

Polo SA is a licensed and legal product, and never misrepresented their product as "Ralph Lauren". The Ralph Lauren Logo can't be seen on any of their garments, neither in advertising.

Ralph Lauren clothing is not available in SA, and if they're found here they're either grey imports or fakes.

Ignorant retailers who advertised Polo as Ralph Lauren are in the wrong though, and have been misleading customers with false advertising.


Polo SA's response :


Firstly, our brand is not fake. POLO has been trading in South Africa and Sub Saharan African since 1976, with a confirmed and contracted international license agreement with Ralph Lauren, which clearly outlines the details of the trading terms. During this time POLO South Africa has consistently produced a world class range of clothing apparel.


The license agreement caters for the production and trade of the brand into agreed territories with the exception of the fragrances, with the understanding that they would be differentiated by POLO South Africa presenting the Pony facing to the right, whereas the Ralph Lauren Pony faces to the left. This was implemented so as to accommodate the production and sale of the garments into specific territories. We source our products internationally and take inspiration from global fashion trends, as in the case of all leading international brands.


POLO South Africa is extremely proud of the heritage that has been created with the passion and dedication of over 300 employees and the progress that has been made in the SA market over the last 3 decades.


Kind Regards,


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The sad part is that Polo SA has a stranglehold over all "Polo" marked clothing. So we can't even get the real thing if we wanted!


Just because it is legal does not make it right. Polo South Africa hijacked the Ralph Lauren Brand in South Africa, and Polo South Africa is a company based on parasitic opportunism. And they have taken the unilateral decision to decide for all of us that we don’t want or deserve Ralph Lauren in South Africa, and they have also decided for all of us that we actually prefer their fake, inferior and poor quality rip-offs.

They have perpetuated themselves for a long time through the apparatus of a

rather nuanced from of brand parasitism, and at some point it is all going to

have to stop. There are consumers that actually want to have access to the

genuine article and this is unfairly blocked by the fact that nobody is

prepared to put an end to this vulgar and embarrassing state of affairs. This

company, Polo South Africa, would not exist were it not for their blatant

deception. If they cannot create a business using their own original thought

and intellect to be successful, should it be at the expense of the consumer? It

is indeed all a very well-orchestrated copying mechanism designed to replicate

itself on demand to deceive consumers on a grand scale and it is so widespread and

prevalent nobody would even suspect it.

The fact is that Polo South Africa never worked to build the Ralph Lauren Polo brand or developed any aspect of the identity it emboldens. They perpetuate a lie to be

in business. They ride on the identity of Ralph Lauren International, and they

know for an absolute fact that their business is based on one massive and

blatant lie and they are terrified that we will all start talking about it. That’s

why they their lawyers threaten all the journalists that have ever even

bothered to report on this story. What Polo South

Africa is doing is willfully deceptive, misleading and amounts to riding on the

international acclaim and prestige of a very well-known brand by copying and

reverse engineering their products and then pandering them off as the same

article. Just because they have won the legal right to the trademark and

identity, does not make it ethically or morally right. You buy a brand because

you care about what you look like and what it represents, and because you put

an effort in to ascribe to a certain ideal, and their impersonation undermines


But it is out there and in the public mind, and educated brand conscious consumers will shun this fake Polo South Africa crap, like they have for decades.

That this company called Polo South Africa is allowed to exist is honestly shocking, and the fact that they are allowed to ply their trade next to the likes of Mont

Blanc and Louis Vitton in Sandton City is just completely disingenuous and

calls into question the authenticity of all luxury brands in South Africa.

It is highly disrespectful and frankly insulting to think that consumers will put up with

this. There are a lot of people making noise about this, and it is not going to

go away. There is nothing proudly South African about this either. What has

this company ever made or produced that is actually original aside from reverse

engineering the authentic Ralph Lauren products as they release them every

season? They try allude to being Proudly South African and invoke wistful

emotional resonance by saying that their founder had a vision to make the best

shirts in Africa. But I call bullsh*t on that one, all he did was pull a clever

con to deny a brand or its own right to its hard won original intellectual

property. And then instead of holding the brand hostage and making a quick buck,

he decided to be more audacious, and give himself the gift that keeps on

giving, so he built an entire company based on the identity of another, which

to me is the worst kind of thing any business can do. He stood on the shoulders

of Ralph Lauren, who was building an ethical and original concept and exploited

it by stealing it here in South Africa and through clever legal complexities

and wrangling denied all of us the authenticity the brand inspires.

Polo South Africa would not be in business if they could not ride on the success of the

international brand that is Polo by Ralph Lauren. And they will argue they are

not fake and have all the right in the world to keep doing what they are dong,

but I have some questions they will find very difficult to answer: Why does all

the in-store branding in Stuttafords and Edgars and Men’s Clothing Stores place

their fake products in the displays with all the international brands? Why when

it is referenced in Men's Health and Fashion magazines does Polo South Africa’s

marketing department deliberately turn a blind eye when the magazines publish

it referring to Ralph Lauren and make no effort to correct it and make that

important distinction? Why do they put allow authentic Ralph Lauren Fragrances

to be displayed alongside fake Polo South Africa merchandise and even wore take

credit for these products in advertorials by simply not correcting the editorials?

The fact is Polo South Africa lies to the South African consumer by omission, and it is

time for that to end. The general perception of the public is that Polo South

Africa is that it is the local business unit of Ralph Lauren International. And

it is time for this fake brand to be forced to make that distinction.

The Consumer Protection Act can force them to do this. If it was such a proudly South

African company with such a rich history, why then does it impersonate and

replicate virtually every aspect of the Polo by Ralph Lauren brand and their

buying experience? From the distinctive gold and navy price tags on the

clothes, to an almost identical logo and name, identical design styles, and shockingly,

similar collections of clothing as and when they are produced by Ralph Lauren

overseas. Even the advertising and models they use are strategically and stylistically

selected to impersonate the design style of Ralph Lauren down to the font used

to run their tag lines. No, there is nothing to be proud of there. Simply put,

Polo South Africa depends on the South Africa consumer remaining uninformed and

ignorant in order to be in business, and I for one find their business model

blatantly parasitic and distasteful because it is deceptive and misleading.

Mark my words the revolution will not come loudly, it will be a war of attrition, and consumers will fight and speak with their wallets, and in time to come their fake stores

will close their doors for the last time, and the brand they spent 40 years

impersonating will be worthless. I like millions of South Africans look forward

to the day we can have the real Ralph Lauren products and stores here and not this rip-off fake sh*t they spin us. Down with Folo South Africa.

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Fashion Police

Consumers can import Ralph Lauren to SA, if they're willing to pay approximately R3000 for a Golf Shirt, plus shipping, plus 45% import duty, plus 14% Vat. In SA it's costly to import clothing (especially these major brands), as local SA business and designing is highly encouraged.

I know of a few international brands that pulled out of SA distribution, as the SA consumer is not willing to pay the price for the product. Chances are that the same would've happened to Polo by Ralph Lauren, as it's very costly but will require large distribution.


it's standard for many brands and businesses (internationally) to use inspiration from other brands and trends. The consumer doesn't really notice until it's made public. A few years ago there was dispute between Gucci and Guess concerning the "G" logo on handbags. Woolworths SA have many unhappy local designers & entrepreneurs for "stealing" their designs and ideas, & sourcing or having the products manufactured cheaply labeling it as their own - at a stage they had a sneaker very similar to Soviet with a similar logo. It's all done within legal boundaries.


I'd agree with you if Polo SA used the exact same logo, and/or cost the same as Polo Ralph Lauren, or advertised it as Ralph Lauren. I personally haven't found Polo SA's products to be of inferior quality, and think the price justifies the quality. In fact, I've seen some local designer brands found in boutiques that are way more expensive, and the cost just does not justify the quality of the garment.


Also remember, Polo by Ralph Lauren is just a range of their many designs. Where in SA, Polo a brand on it's own.

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Hi All,


Here is a link to a blog that was written about this to show the difference: Ralph Lauren Polo vs. South African Polo | Alison Loves is a bidorbuy blog about fashion and beauty


Also interesting to note is that the Polo brand in South Africa was registered in 1976 and they have the sole distribution rights for Polo products in Southern Africa. Ralph Lauren has a range called Polo and are not allowed to sell their Polo range in Southern Africa. Most of the in's and out's are covered in the previous posts as to all the differences ect.


What I find very interesting when doing some reading online is that: they are both legitimate brands and businesses and they have both been around for a very long time, yet the public considers one a fake and a scam and the other perfectly fine.


I guess that one should not underestimate the value of marketing and brand equity.



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