Cheap im­i­ta­tions of ex­pen­sive de­signer out­fits worn on red car­pets or cat­walks by ac­tresses, mod­els and other stars now find their way on­line within days of mak­ing pub­lic de­buts.

How­ever they are not made in swel­ter­ing sweat­shops in Asia but the back streets of Leices­ter.

Fans are des­per­ate to look like celebs such as Kim Kar­dashian, Michelle Kee­gan and Paris Hil­ton but can­not af­ford the same price tag.

Speed is es­sen­tial as some pop-up in­ter­net shops won’t wait a month for stock to come from the Far East.

So there is a roar­ing trade in churn­ing out in­stant copies which sell for as lit­tle as €4 – while many work­ers do not get paid any­thing like the Uk’s €8.96 min­i­mum wage.

The Sun­day Mir­ror in­ves­ti­gated as MPS were told wage abuses were an open se­cret in Leices­ter’s gar­ment in­dus­try, a huge part of which was “a coun­try within a coun­try” flout­ing labour law.

One il­le­gal worker called Sunny told us he had worked un­der the noses of au­di­tors sup­posed to en­force “eth­i­cal” work­ing con­di­tions and even fled out of back doors to dodge im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials,


Sunny, 30, orig­i­nally from Gud­jerat, In­dia, ar­rived in Leices­ter in 2009.

He said: “I was trained as a ma­chin­ist for £2.50 an hour. I still work for £3 some­times. I have worked in 10 to 15 dif­fer­ent fac­to­ries. I work 50 hours, six days a week, some­times Sun­days too.

“The most I have earned is £9.50 but it is nor­mally £3.50 to £4.50.

“There are lots of peo­ple like me. I’d say that in ev­ery fac­tory of 50 peo­ple you would have three or four il­le­gals.”

Leices­ter has 700 tex­tile fac­to­ries which can make a mil­lion clothes a week for boom­ing on­line re­tail­ers. Most do com­ply with the law – but a num­ber of small places ig­nore the rules.

Bosses blame re­tail­ers who de­mand rapid de­liv­er­ies, im­pose huge fines for be­ing late and hag­gle over mere pen­nies. They also say re­tail­ers do not pay them for up to 90 days and charge for send­ing back un­sold stock.

Fac­tory owner Saeed Khilji, chair­man of the Tex­tile Man­u­fac­turer As­so­ci­a­tion of Le­ices­ter­shire, em­ploys work­ers legally but says de­mand for celeb out­fits of­ten drives pro­duc­tion.

He said: “If an out­fit goes vi­ral, re­tail­ers race to get their copy on­line.

“Ten years ago man­u­fac­tur­ers could make £2 profit from a dress but these days they would be lucky to make 25p.

“None of the re­tail­ers are giv­ing us an eth­i­cal price. An ex­tra £2 or £2.50 on a gar­ment would sort every­thing out. In­stead they squeeze us for pen­nies.”

He added: “If they don’t sell every­thing, they send it back and charge us for the car­riage. If we are an hour or 30 min­utes late with de­liv­ery they fine us £500. I

Star Kar­dashian’s posh out­fit and a copy cost­ing around €11

have been told of one re­tailer who is mak­ing £2mil­lion a year from fines.” Firms have com­plained that the new “Fast For­ward” fac­tory in­spec­tions, to which a num­ber of ma­jor la­bels are signed up, is oner­ous.

One said: “They want us to give con­tracts to our work­ers but they won’t give us con­tracts. When they are not busy, the fac­to­ries can’t sur­vive.”

Alkesh Ka­pa­dia, of Bar­code Fash­ion, em­ploys 160 work­ers in two fac­to­ries


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