I’ve heard the term “dupe” and “counterfeit” thrown around a lot in the fashion world but never really put much thought into the difference between the two terms. Recently, there was a thread in one of the Facebook groups I follow about the difference between dupes and counterfeit designer items and I started to realized that not many people understand the difference. And that’s a BIG PROBLEM.
Dupe Vs. Counterfeit
A dupe is an item that has qualities or similarities to a designer item but doesn’t copy logos or trademarked features. A dupe should be easily distinguishable compared to the “real thing”. Dupes give off the same vibe as a designer item but it’s easy to tell that it’s not. Dupes are also sold at popular retail sites like H&M, Forever 21, Zara, etc., and generally, are not illegal.
A counterfeit or “fake” is an item that copies trademarked details and logos to pass itself off as the real thing. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell if it’s a fake. If it looks exactly like the designer version but it costs a fraction of the price – it’s probably a counterfeit. And counterfeits are ILLEGAL.
However, there is a fine line between counterfeit items and dupes. Designers usually can’t trademark bag designs. So as long as the dupe doesn’t contain the designer’s logo, it’s legal. For example, this is a dupe of the popular Cult Gaia bag. It looks exactly the same, but has the “Vintga” brand logo on the front instead of the Cult Gaia logo. This means, it’s easy to tell that it’s not a Cult Gaia bag and therefore, not illegal. Plus, Cult Gaia has been unsuccessful at trying to get the design trademarked so consumers are free to buy knockoffs.
The Problem with Counterfeit Designer Items
A lot of times people don’t think about buying a fake designer item. I mean, those designer brands overprice their items and don’t really need the money, right? Unfortunately, there are much larger consequences to buying fake items. Besides the fact that they are illegal, buying counterfeit items also contribute to unethical work conditions, sweat shops, child labor, and terrorism. The article I linked is really heartbreaking. It highlights a factory in Asia where children were assembling fake designer handbags on the floor because the owner had broken their legs so they couldn’t run away. It’s definitely NOT a victimless crime.
Sadly, there are A LOT of counterfeit designer items actively being promoted by bloggers. One of the biggest offenders I’ve seen is the infamous Gucci Marmont Belt. You can easily buy a “dupe” (as the bloggers call them) on Amazon*. Except these “dupes” are actually illegal counterfeits. You can tell because they use the trademarked Gucci logo. Surprisingly, for whatever reason, a lot of bloggers don’t know that these items are illegal.
*2020 UPDATE – Amazon has cracked down on illegal dupes so you can’t find the fake Gucci belts anymore!
Speaking of counterfeits, I was recently duped into buying a fake bag off a popular secondhand site!
Below is an example of a Gucci Belt Dupe. It doesn’t use the trademarked GG logo but instead uses interlocking circles to give the same effect as the Designer Gucci Belt.
I totally understand the pull to buy fake designer items. When you are on a budget, sometimes it’s impossible to afford the real thing. But the bottom line is it’s unethical and harmful to the industry. Amazon just launched a new program to give brands the power to remove illegal dupes themselves without having to wait for Amazon’s approval. That should help with removing some of the accessibility to the fakes. But the problem isn’t going to go away as long as people keep buying them.
There’s also a fine line between look-a-like dupes and counterfeits. It might not be illegal to produce knockoff bags as long as they don’t replicate trademarks, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right. For example, there’s a site called Jessica Buurman that’s very popular with bloggers. They sell high quality designer knockoffs (without the trademarked logos as they are careful to point out) but the designs look EXACTLY the same as the designer versions. Here’s my Celine bag but priced at $119 instead of $1000+. In my opinion, this is still a problem even though it is legal.
Our Duty As Influencers and Consumers
And a lot of people in the fashion community agree. A popular fashion blogger with over 200k followers on instagram recently got A LOT of backlash for releasing her handbag line that was a complete copy of Valentino Rockstud bags. She did not design or manufacture these handbags herself but instead bought them from a legal seller at a tradeshow. Even though these bags are “legal” it still caused a lot of outrage.
And as “Influencers” we should be doing a better job at encouraging originality and not just try to push products because they are popular or cheap. Especially those with a large following who really do have influence over a lot of impressionable women. I’m not trying to shame any bloggers, because I’m not perfect myself. Some can argue that purchasing from fast fashion sites is just as harmful and I’m definitely guilt of that. I’m also guilty of buying dupes from sites like Shein in the past. But I think now that we know better we should try to do better.
My suggestion is to really think about why you want the designer fake. Is it because you really like the design? If that’s the case then it should be worth it to try to save up for it. OR is it because you’ve seen every blogger wearing it and you feel like you need to get it to be a “cool”? Personally, I’ve realized that unless I can afford the real thing, I don’t want to pretend that I can. And there’s nothing wrong with not being able to afford designer items! (P.S. I got rid of that Chloe Drew dupe from Shein because it just didn’t feel right to me). Now, when I do see a designer style that I like I try to find pieces that are inspired by the original. For example, this Rouje belt is my take on the Gucci belt. And this Topshop beaded bag is my version of the Shrimps bag. Notice, these “dupes” aren’t copies of the original designer items – they just give off the same vibe. That’s what a true “dupe” is.
Steps you can take
- Educate yourself on the difference between dupes and counterfeits. I tried to give a summary here but it’s really kind of a big subject to tackle!
- Try to avoid buying from those knockoff sites. It may not be illegal as I mentioned but sites that produce a lot of cheap knockoffs are usually doing so at the expense of their workers.
- If you are a blogger, don’t encourage others to buy counterfeit dupes by linking them on LiketoKnow.it. I know it’s tempting to want to give followers affordable options but this only exasperates the problem.
I have to shoutout Morgan who brought this to my attention and shared those articles I linked above. She also posted an insta story highlight about the difference between dupes and counterfeits that you should check out as well!
What is your opinion on designer dupes?