Apr 25, 2008

Pirated razor blades

Above: authentic Gillette blades from a reputable grocery store, with a little circular hologram on the packaging

When shopping in China, I'm usually pretty aware if I'm buying something that's pirated or genuine. However, I had a bit of a surprise recently when I bought some Gillette blades for my double-edge safety razor. I wasn't purposely trying to be cheap and buy pirated stuff. In fact, by chance I had happened to see them being sold at a market I frequently go to, and I figured I'd save myself a trip to the drug store.

A pack of five Gillette blades is around 5.80 yuan in the store. That's about 17 cents US per blade. You'd think it's sufficiently cheap that there'd be no incentive to pirate it. Think again. Apparently in China the margins in pirated safety razor blades are high enough that someone has gone through the trouble of manufacturing very accurate-looking imitations.

Back to my story, I unknowingly had the pirated blades in my medicine cabinet along with some other, authentic blades. One day after I had replaced the blade in my safety razor, I couldn't figure out why my shaving experience was so horrible. My normally pleasant wet shave experience had become painful, like scraping your face with a steak knife. I was getting razor burn like crazy and it was impossible to get a clean shave. It turns out there was a huge difference from the previous blade, because I had unknowingly put in one of the pirated blades.

In isolation, the pirated blades look identical to the real thing. You need to look at a real and a fake together to see the difference. I noticed that the fake blades easily crack along the horizontal axis after installation in the safety razor, and sometimes the corner of a fake bladeswill break off during a shave. Also, despite the fact that the shape of the fake is the same as the real ones, the blade tends to rotate slightly off-center once inside the razor handle, making for an unpleasant shave. I suspect that that metal is more pliable than it should be.

The moral is, there's nothing in China that's too cheap to be pirated. If it's manufactured, someone is probably creating high-quality copies. I scanned the fake and real blades together, here's a look:

Below: On the top, an authentic Gillette blade, on the bottom, a pirated one. The metal appears to be coarser and of lower quality in the imitation. The manufacturing looks sloppy and rough in comparison.

Below: On the top, authentic packaging for one razor blade, on the bottom, pirated packaging. The printing is almost identical. I don't think I would be able to pick out the fake without opening it up and inspecting the razor blade itself.


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