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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