I’d like to take a moment to address a growing problem in the hobby: counterfeit dolls. They are widely known as recasts, but that word doesn’t quite have the right emphasis to it. You can also call them bootlegs, fakes, knock-offs or copies. But no matter what you call them doesn’t change the fact that they are illegal copies made by a third party and sold for their profit.
What makes them such a big problem is that they are cheap and readily available from ebay, aliexpress, taobao and independent sites that will pop-up on google when you search for general BJD shops. They are an easy purchase to make if you are not aware of what they are, or if you are purposedly buying them. There are many reasons for buying bootlegged dolls, but it doesn’t change the fact that by purchasing them, you are supporting unethical and illegal business practises, instead of the artists that make these dolls and deserve our love and respect.
Even the biggest BJD companies are not big by any stretch of imagination (max.10-20 people) and you cannot compare them to companies like Mattel, that push out thousands of dolls a day. These dolls are hand-crafted and casted in small workshops (some just in a workroom at home), and every purchased counterfeit doll is a hit to the original creator.
An important point to remember here is that whatever your reasons are for buying a bootleg, the money goes to the recaster who is profiting from you with illegal methods. You are helping the recaster to continue to be in business, get more dolls to copy and sell, and even sabotage the original creators. As seen recently, the recaster Luo Ligui has been buying trademarks for dozens of original companies in order to ban them from business in certain areas (mostly China, which comprises about 30% of the BJD market) and to have complete monopoly with his counterfeit dolls. Trademarks are not cheap and most companies/artists don’t have them for their businesses because they can not afford them. And yet this counterfeiter has bought dozens of them for China and is trying for several in the US and EU. This is not just thievery anymore, it is sabotage! They are even upping their game by 3D scanning original dolls into different sizes and modifying the bodies: which means that they’d be perfectly capable of making their own original dolls to sell, but they won’t because taking the design and a name of a popular legit company makes them heaps of more money.
What will happen when the bootleggers control the market completely? Nobody else can sell their dolls, so all that is left are copies of the same dolls that are in circulation already. There won’t be new dolls as nobody will be making them anymore.
So, what are “recasts” exactly?
Recast is a doll (or doll part) that has already been casted once and then used to make a new mold to cast more copies of it. This can be done for personal use (which is not illegal) or for business (which is). A recaster typically buys a doll they want for their selection, makes molds of it and then uses the molds to cast as many copies as they can until the mold wears out, and then they will rinse and repeat. The original doll suffers from this method as well and the finer details get lost in the recasts. The recast versions also get smaller and thinner the more they are re-casted resulting in quality issues.
Another type of a recast is one where the original mold has been taken as a base and then modified and casted again. They are harder to identify as these types of thieves will try to pass them as their own products. But these are a topic of their own.
Okay, why are they bad?
For a multitude of reasons. The two biggest ones are 1) It’s a loss for the original artist/company: every doll purchased elsewhere hurts them. They don’t profit from dolls as much as you’d think. 2) The counterfeiter makes money off of the originals and uses it to not only pay themselves but also to buy more dolls to copy, and to sabotage the original companies’ sales.
You should also note that importing counterfeit goods is illegal in most countries. It varies by country but for example in Finland importing and selling bootlegs is illegal and if customs catches you in the act you will be fined and the package will be destroyed. In some countries it’s also illegal to own and buy them.
Why are original dolls so expensive then? If recasters can sell them for so cheap, why can’t the original artists?
True, most dolls are very expensive. But original artists are businesses too and running a business is not just about gaining back the materials from a product. Sculpting a doll from head to toe can take from a few weeks to years or more, depending on how much they fine-tune the product. After the doll is finally complete, the artist/company will have to style the doll and market it in order for the customers to find it. When you buy an original doll, you also pay the artist for their time and experience, as well as expenses needed to run the business. Taxation is very harsh for artist businesses in many countries and despite the high price, there’s not much money that is left over and goes into the original pocket.
A counterfeiter uses all of this to their advantage: the doll already has a name, people know how to find it and it’s also already finished. The recaster didn’t have to sculpt the doll with no pay (without guarrantee that it will even sell), they just bought the final product and copied it. They can also produce these dolls at a much faster rate because they don’t have the same kind of quality control or safety protocols. Resin is a very toxic material before it’s cured, and a shady sweatshop is not the right kind of place to make these dolls: the workers have to be underpaid and not properly educated to be able to sell the dolls for such low prices.
Just as a point to note: the origin of the artist makes a huge difference in the price. I’m located in Finland and if I were a small business owner selling BJDs, I’d likely have to price a 45cm doll at 700-800 Euros to make any sort of profit. Our taxes are high, our cost of living is high, businesses get all sorts of extra bills for insurance and pension, dolls are very labor intensive etc. After all the money that goes elsewhere, that price might cover the hourly wage that it takes to cast and pack the doll up, but not the doll making itself and there would be barely any profit left for the business itself. (I’d actually love to look into it more and and get actual price quotes, but I don’t have the time.)
How do I know if a site is selling counterfeits?
Price is usually a good indicator. Also, if the site is selling dolls from multiple companies, it’s a good idea to google the company name and the doll to find the original company and compare the price: if they differ by a lot, the site you were on sells fakes. Official dealers may have deals or taxes already incorporated into the prices (in Europe), so the price may vary, but they are never over 50% cheaper than the original dolls. You can also always ask the company if a certain seller is an official dealer.
Where can I find more info on the counterfeits?
Searching the #recast tags on any social media will bring up a lot of info and opinions on them. Also something to read is this announcement on DoA and the related discussion thread. These can be read without a DoA account.
Reasons for buying fake dolls I’ve heard most often:
Common stance in the hobby
Fake dolls are generally not accepted into the community. This hobby is based on the artists; the creators. They are what keeps this hobby going, and without them, there would be no new dolls. So, we in the community, show our appreciation to them by buying their products. Most of us do not consider counterfeits as a part of the hobby at all. They are not company X dolls, they are copies of company X dolls, and thus not accepted. Fakes are not welcome on most forums or even physical meet ups. I know there are people that can be very harsh about it, but it’s just the reality that bootlegs are not wanted in the community due to the way they hurt the artists and everyone else.
I don’t want to be mean about it to spite anyone, but to raise awareness of the fact that you are condoning thievery, shady ethics and illegal activity by supporting recasters. Sometimes being blunt is the only way to wake people up: it’s not bullying, it’s stating facts. Everyone has a choice to make: either support the artists or don’t. Nobody is forcing anyone to buy legit/bootleg, but if you choose bootlegs, you will be alienated from the majority of the community. So, if you want to be accepted into the community, save up and buy a legit doll. Most people own several recasts anyway and with that money they could’ve already bought a more expensive legit or a couple of cheaper ones.
Please be respectful of other people, educate new hobbyists on the negatives of bootlegs and keep supporting the artists. It’s the only way for this hobby to keep going.