On the red carpet at American proms this year, the famous question “who are you wearing?” might just be answered: Alibaba.
The first American prom (short for promenade) on record is said to have taken place at Smith College in the 1890s. (The all-female student body invited men from nearby Amherst.) The collegiate tradition of hosting a formal party for seniors was quickly adapted by high schoolers willing to dress up like flappers and do the Charleston all night long. Since then, prom has become a lucrative industry for many Main Street businesses—dress shops, florists, renters of tuxedos and limousines – and now Chinese technology companies. American prom dress designers and retailers claim they’ve lost more than $100 million in sales just last year due to “rogue China-based websites” that are selling knockoffs of their dresses. Alibaba.com, the web giant based in Hong Kong, allows customers to browse prom dresses by region of supplier. Alibaba lists 170,000 prom dress suppliers from mainland China, and 532 from the US.
American prom dress retailer DaphneDresses.com argues China-supplied knockoff dresses “do not fit properly and are poorly made, look nothing like the real designer dress, and can take months to ship. Even worse, consumers risk having their credit card information stolen.” Security breaches aren’t the exclusive domain of the Far East, of course–it can happen even when shopping at an American store. But Daphne Dresses warns customers that if they see their $918 Tony Bowls Evenings Feather Strapless Mermaid Dress on another site at any kind of discounted price, it is a counterfeit. (“American Prom Dress Retailers” are not permitted to discount designer dresses.) One way to avoid being duped is to avoid paying $918 for a dress that a teenager will wear…once. Whatever you decide, don’t worry: both American and Chinese companies will continue to prosper during prom season. (China won’t be sending the limousines any time soon.) Alibaba just announced its plan for an IPO in the US this summer; its second largest shareholder, Yahoo Inc. (with 24 percent), is hoping to feel like the queen of the prom. Other American concerns with a hand in the Chinese tech giant’s IPO include Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. None will be wearing knock-off suits.
$918 Tony Bowls Evenings Feather Strapless Mermaid Dress, DaphneDresses.com