For the many brave men and women in the military and law enforcement, the price you pay for reliable tactical gear is nothing compared to the price you pay with your life in the line of service.

Companies spend a great deal of R&D to deliver on quality, innovation and guarantee of function and design during very demanding conditions. And just like everything else in life, what the pro’s use the rest wants as well.

Recap

The open market has changed a lot over the last decade. With better import routes, trade possibilities and the internet having an online store for just about everything, buying stuff is a lot easier. This is also true with tactical gear. These days you see people out on the range with more gear than those in service. Tactical nylon, spacecraft alloys and high-tech polymer – all wrapped around one dynamic armchair commando home defending operator. Business is open as they say.

Not every gun enthusiast is fully kitted out like he just stepped off a Michael Bay movie set, but there more than a handful of them. Especially when you look at how mainstream the ‘tactical bearded operator’ look as become ever since the Dynamic DVD’s. Having a lot of shit apparently equals justification and qualification… just saying.

whole new window into the world of personal gear was born.

This relentless need to buy and obtain the latest and greatest isn’t new at all – its how most humans function on an everyday basis – or at least the male portion of our species. So with airsoft, which for the most part mimics real world military and law enforcement, it would only make sense that the same trend translates to the Airsoft market.

Now real world gear will cost you; the labor cost, material cost, R&D cost, manufacturing cost etc. bumps up the price. Which is understandable since quality comes with a price tag and again – you can not put a price on your own life and safety. But Airsofters will never face the same demanding conditions as those in service. So when other companies start offering replicas of the real stuff at a much lower price – it’s a no brainer… Or is it?

Things aren’t as simple as either you buy real or fake.

If you forget for a moment that there is a price and quality difference and purely look at the availability, you’ll find more than one company that makes that specific knock-off you’re looking for. Be it a Plate carrier, headset, red dot, pants, helmets… there’s just so much more on the market when it comes to replicas. And with ITAR, local regulations and laws, it’s hard to get some of the real stuff. Also consider that the real world companies are living of huge military contracts, the civilian market sometimes suffers from lack of availability. But let’s set aside the need for weapon accessories and let’s focus on personal gear only.

If you look way back at the gear scene, back when BLACKHAWK! Was one of those brands that people only knew as being the real deal. Sure you had other options both real and fake, but that was old designs like you remember them from Commando or a shitty interpretation of what a tactical vest should look like. And you of course wanted that new look of a modern soldier commando warrior something something – so BLACKHAWK! It was.

What made BLACKHAWK! A household name back then, was having a huge product range and offering all of it to the public. This made their brand very known on a then niche market. If I’m not mistaken they used to get their stuff made in Vietnam, probably still is. Being manufactured in Asia also kept prices somewhat down. Although more pricey than the cheap SWAT Delta commando vest rip-off at your local surplus store, they were still within a decent price range. I still have my old Float Vest hanging in my gear locker at home.

But then the world changed.

9/11 sparked a new terrifying era for the world. We were reminded that evil resides in all corners of the world and wants to do us harm. It also sparked a mass interest in the armed forces. Mainstream media portrayed our armed forces entering Iraq and Afghanistan, with TV specials on Discovery we saw everything from training to actually gunfights in the alleys of Baghdad – and a whole new window into the world of personal gear was born.

With the conflicts that spawned after 9/11, many new companies began to surfaces and so did the more unknown brands that were already providing gear to the armed forces.

Tactical gear went from a niche to trend in a very short period of time. In just a few years people started to know and want brands like Eagle Industries (especially with the black buckles), LBT, TYR Tactical, Crye Precision, Emdom ect.

And guess what… the replicas came along for the ride.

So here comes the tricky part.

Airsoft isn’t as demanding as real world situations – sure, you roll around in the dirt with your newly washed Kryptek pants, dismount off vehicles in the rain while turning on your GoPro on your helmet and the Contour on your rifle, run up hill with your Iphone in your pocket and Mountain Dew in your grenade pouch, but you usually do it once a week. Whereas real world service men and women put their gear to the test every damn day.

The face for war is ever changing, so personal gear has to be kept up to date for new demanding situations, better materials and more innovating solutions – these things costs.

Replica gear will hold up for a long time because it isn’t put to the same test as the real world stuff. So for why pay more for the real deal, when the fake stuff is just as good.

The quick and easy answer is: Finance!

Let’s part with the Airsofters side first. Airsoft is a very expensive hobby for most players. They want that Operator Marine Seal Delta uber commando look. We’re talking about the decked out rifle with Magpul furniture, upgraded internals, red dots, sidearm,  Multicam uniforms, OPS-CORE helmet, Mechanix gloves, 1-point sling, Oakley M-frame 3, Plate carrier, Hydro bag, Peltors, lights, lasers… I mean everything! And even if it all was replicas, it’s still going to cost you a bunch!

So if they’re going to be able to afford it all, because they are very determined on having that specific look, they’re going to look for cheaper alternatives. Some players do want it all to be as authentic as possible, so they do buy the real stuff. However because of very high prices and sometimes trade restrictions, it’s simply not possible to get it, at least not right away. So they might settle for knock-off alternatives, at least to start with.

Now parting with the real world manufactures with the same perspective: Finance!

For the most part real world manufactures don’t really bother too much about replicas making it onto the civilian market – at least not with personal gear. They have huge military contracts, that the civilian market simply can not match… but civilian sales are still profit and it helps with the brand awareness and company value. So having knock-offs in circulation might not hurt profit margins  it could potentially damage the brand value if the knock-offs looks exactly the same, called the same but isn’t the same quality… or even worse doesn’t offer the same protection.

A prime example of this is helmet manufacture TEAM WENDY. One of TEAM WENDY’s core values is giving the buyer the best protection a helmet can offer. This value comes from the founder’s tragic loss of his daughter due to a snow-skiing accident, in which she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Core values and personal history is what drives a lot of companies that make gear – so when replica models start to make it onto the market, think of how this affects their vision and goals.

Although the presence of replicas on the market won’t make sales numbers red instead of black, the other aspect of financial hurt is the amount of resources spent on making the product. The face for war is ever changing, so personal gear has to be kept up to date for new demanding situations, better materials and more innovating solutions – these things costs. To help protect their investments, companies usually obtain an IP(intellectual property) on their product. Think of it as a copy right – you wouldn’t want your competitors making the same stuff you are and taking away your sales right? So they do hit hard on companies making knock-offs – although it’s more to protect their own investment than trying to protect sales.

Quality over Quantity

This is almost a no brainer. Quality cost money – buy once cry once.

As I wrote earlier, Airsofters aren’t met with the same challenging situations as real world service men and women. So why would you bother paying extra for something you’ll never need. If your needs equals the same as the replicas can provide – then why pay more?

Well to be honest it’s more of a moral dilemma and of course a financial one. I personally rather pay little extra for the real stuff and support the company that spent a great deal of resources in making the product. However it’s not always possible getting the real stuff all the way to Denmark or any other country outside the USA – and  with shipment cost and additional custom fees, the price becomes ridicules… granted that’s not the manufactures fault.

Airsofters are however conscious about quality in end – as there are different levels of replica qualities. So ironically Airsofters are choosy when it comes to knock-off versions, you wouldn’t want to pay for some shitty fake stuff… only the good kind.

Real shooters are also looking at the knock-offs since some of us work for an average wage, maybe even lower. Some are average hard working civilians that just want the same innovating gear as the next guy but can’t afford to pay full price and real firearms do cost a pretty penny, especially with ammo prices these days. The recreational shooter / home defender aren’t all gear whores and might just be looking for some tacticool stuff that might make them a better shooter. They are also price conscious about it  but still brand unaware. They just see it on others, get the name and search online until they find something that looks similar at a more affordable price – which then happens to be the fake shit out of Asia (no offense Asia).

So again the hurt of brand value comes into play with customers with no knowledge of Gucci gear brands buys the replica instead, thinking it actually is real and then breaks. Negative association comes into play and you might have lost a potential customer because he bought the fake shit that broke… it’s not fair but it happens.

Finishing up for now…

Now I wrote earlier that civilian sale when hold up against military contracts aren’t even close to comparison. However when looking solely at Airsoft manufacturers and suppliers gross revenue, we’re talking big numbers. These numbers have been increasing for more than 10 years and are a clear indication that the Airsoft business shouldn’t be ignored.

Having worked in the airsoft business for 3 years now and been playing for about 10 years, I have definitely seen how Airsoft has evolved from being backyard games into big playing fields and huge Milsims with thousand of players. But I have also worked in a PX-SHOP helping men and women in service, picking the right gear for their needs and never have I recommend an Airsoft version over the real stuff. Because when your life is at stake while serving your country, there really isn’t a substitute in gear and quality.

Paying less for knock-off products is a moral decision – because you’re not supporting the company that took time, effort and invested money in making the kit. But the demand for airsoft gear is overwhelming, most people outside Airsoft rather point fingers and put down the sport and hobby without having a clear understanding how big Airsoft really is. Now this negative misconception might discourage real world manufactures to make a jump into the airsoft business with alternative gear solutions out of fear of diminishing their brand value. Granted some have made the jump and I’m sure is taking in all the benefits of being one of the few that have.

With the world’s economy looking like it does right now, the demand for affordable gear is higher than ever, even with real shooters. Although I keep saying there’s a trend within the market, it’s still a niche market.

I know it’s ironic that I work in the Airsoft industry yet try to advocate the purchase and use of real world gear. My advice to Airsofters, respect the companies that invest a great deal of money and research developing new products for men and women in service and try to show that support by buying the real stuff. Don’t just hit the Like button on Facebook and instead try to save up for the real stuff. I’m no saint, I’m not going to lie about my gear. Predominantly my gear is real world – and one of my goals is to replace what’s left of the fake stuff with the real stuff.

Train, practice and represent the sport as a whole. But most of all, have  fun doing so… you can’t put a price on that.

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