While it used to be a best-kept-secret to find a cheap dupe of something high-brow, somewhere along the way, it’s become a humblebrag. When it comes to clothes, skincare, makeup and more, being savvy is the most fashionable feature.
Evading the clutches of designer consumerism for a fast-fashion alternative is now something to be proud of. So, where has this shift in attitude come from?
What is a Dupe?
First of all, what does ‘dupe’ mean? You may have heard the term ‘dupe’, short for ‘duplicate’, thrown around in the beauty and fashion industries as of late. Generally speaking, they’re products that are reminiscent of another (usually higher-quality) product, from a higher price bracket.
Dupes are not always designed as dupes for other specific products. Sometimes someone will spot a similarity between a designer product and a similar piece at a much cheaper price, and it’ll get coined as a dupe. Sometimes, however, the similarity is intentional – these are the products that would previously be recognised as knockoffs.
Why Have Dupes Become So Popular?
Dupes have become more popular than ever among Gen Z and millennial consumers, a large factor of which is down to the ever-increasing heights of inflation and economic instability. While society still demands that people dress on-trend, the average shopper now finds it too difficult to find enough cash for their favourite celebrity’s latest product endorsement.
The Speed of Consumerism
While direct dupes are not a new concept, what is new is the amount of demand for them and the speed at which they’re produced. In 2021, Vox reported that fast fashion brand Shein can duplicate and develop a new design in under a week. The speed of dupe consumerism is, for many people, a huge benefit. With trends merging and morphing as frequently as they do, it’s not often justifiable to fork out several hundred pounds on a product that just might not be ‘it’ in a few months, or even weeks’ time.
In that same vein, dupes allow consumers to find out whether a product is right for them, without the commitment of a massive price tag. Maybe the latest trend is a bold colour that you’re not totally convinced by, or a new ingredient you’re not sure how your skin will react to. Dupes make it easy to give something a go without risking your bank account.
There are several high-end brands, particularly when it comes to makeup products, that have come under scrutiny for having a limited range of skin shades available. Dupe brands tend to want not only to jump on the bandwagon of a popular product, but make it in some way more accessible to draw in their own audience.
Nine times out of ten this has to do with the price point, but some dupe brands will explicitly stock more shades or recreate something as vegan or cruelty-free to assign itself to an even wider demographic.
The Downside of Dupes
The nature of a dupe is that it’s pretending to be something it’s not, and the legal water around copyright and counterfeiting in this situation is, unfortunately, rather murky. Where do you draw the line between inspiration and plagiarism?
Some fast fashion brands, like Shein, have faced backlash from designers claiming that their designs have been explicitly stolen, including a viral example from crochet brand Elexiay.
Small designers are having their hard work stolen, with significantly cheaper, often poorer quality versions being made. What’s more, it’s a loose definition in the legal system for what gets seen as design theft, and what’s merely ‘inspired by’ something else.
While it may feel like a drop in the ocean to buy a cheaper alternative to some major fashion label’s product, it becomes a different story when small businesses are involved. Often, small businesses that focus on the quality of their products will sell them at a price point that reflects this. So, when a fast fashion brand comes in and makes a dupe of their product, a vital sale is taken away from the small business that owns the original design.
There is an argument, however, that sometimes a dupe going viral draws previously unattained attention to the original product, exposing it to a new audience. Say there’s a cleanser priced at £100, and someone discovers a dupe for £10. It’s possible that in sharing the knowledge of the dupe, some customers who wouldn’t have otherwise heard of the higher quality £100 original (and can afford it) are being exposed to the product in the process.
There’s also the question of sustainability, that such a fast churning out of new, easier-to-make, easier-to-buy products can’t be doing wonders for fair working standards or global emissions.
Brands like Zara, H&M, Asos and more contribute to approximately 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide that the fast fashion industry annually pumps into the atmosphere. Many of these same companies have been questioned on how fairly they treat their workers, raising a huge moral dilemma for shoppers of fast fashion brands.
Are Dupes Here to Stay?
As the popularity of dupes continues to rise, the definition of ‘dupe’ becomes exceedingly broad. With more and more influencers jumping on the bandwagon of comparing similar products, suddenly any leggings can be dupes for Lululemon, and any flowery fragrance is a dupe for Chanel.
It’s a difficult balance for many of weighing up the price against the morality of the company they’re buying from. For many of those many, the current cost-of-living crisis forces their hand. However, while dupes may be a trend that’s on the rise, so is environmental consciousness. Between the two, deciding whether a dupe is worth it can feel like an impossible task.