Whilst strolling the glamorous shopping streets of Shanghai, passing the enormous, over-sized versions of Louis Vuitton, Prada and Chanel amongst others, I was approached by a succession of eager Shanghainese, keen to take me down a back alley so that they could show me their perfect replicas.

I was warned about this before I set off, but was not quite prepared for the contrast between the back street slums, in which the industry of replica handbags thrived, and the colossal designer outlets in which the genuine articles were housed.

Although I had previously been of the mindset that buying replicas funded underground practices that were at best questionable, and should be avoided at all costs, it seemed vulgar to ignore the needs of those less fortunate, desperate to try and make small amounts of money in order for entire families to survive and to instead give my money to the uber-rich fashion houses. I was plagued by the thought that the thousands I could quite easily splurge in one of these fashion houses could mean the difference between living comfortably and living in poverty for many communities.

Although it is easy to have this instinctive reaction, the  problem of course is not knowing where the money goes. Are the proceeds going towards feeding families, or are they funding criminal activity? Although you may feel like you are doing some good for impoverished communities, in fact you may be funding their suppression and enslavement to this underground industry. Going through the proper channels to buy your handbag, can ensure that you are funding legitimate industries, in which working conditions have to be of a certain standard and the money is going back to communities in a more respectable way.

That said, it is no secret that many fashion houses make use of cheap labour, and with their ridiculously high prices, they can afford to ensure that they are giving back to communities. So how do you ensure you shop responsibly for your handbags?

Perhaps it is actually the industry of stupidly priced designer bags that is responsible for creating the underground industry of cheap replicas, and in fact, what we should be concentrating on is paying for quality of the merchandise, rather than the label. This way there would be no use for an illegal industry and communities would be able to sell their their goods legally and openly.

There would still be no guarantee as to how the profits are being spent, however, and the  best way to shop is to do your research. If you don’t have the time, stores like Fashion Conscience do all the hard work for you, so you can purchase designer wares from fashion houses that are socially responsible and give back to the communities they take from. This means you can have your designer look, but it can be guilt free.

You can also find a handy list of ethical fashion brands at EcoFashionWorld.com.