Dupes Vs. Counterfeits – Do You Know The Difference?

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.

Dupes versus Counterfeit bags

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. Dupe Versus 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
  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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? 

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  1. Okay wow, I really didn’t know all of this. I am guilty and need to do better. I will start saving for the real thing if I want it and start trying to spot counterfeits. It is hard to know what is a counterfeit and what isn’t though. Four example, the popular round straw bag (not Cult Gaia). I know there are nicer, more expensive ones, but I don’t think they are necessarily designer?? I was just looking into buying a $30 one on Amazon, but now I don’t know if I should or not…

    Amy Ann
    Straight A Style

    1. It’s such a tricky issue! I’m definitely guilty myself too! I think the biggest thing to think about is wether an item is blatantly stealing a designer logo to pass itself off as the “real” thing. You can’t trademark the design of a bag so buying dupes is legal! I think I know what bag you are talking about and in that case it’s a vintage design that’s been around for decades and a brand wouldn’t own that design. So I don’t think it would be a problem getting one off of Amazon! I try to buy from ethical fashion brands when I can but sometimes the budget doesn’t allow it! That’s when I turn to places like Amazon, Zara, Forever 21 etc… There’s definitely still a concern with fast fashion and ethical work conditions – but that’s a whole other issue in itself…lol. I definitely haven’t stopped shopping at those places but I’m trying to take baby steps towards more conscious shopping 🙂

  2. Such a nice article. A subject so many stay far and away to talk about. I refuse to buy counterfeit. Besides all the unethical and illegal part of it, I believe it is deceiving yourself to fit in a certain category. While I buy and wear dupe pieces. I don’t feel okay even thinking of deceiving myself and others in wearing counterfeit. Besides, There are so many other pieces that would give the chic and elegant look without wearing the fake Gucci bag or belt . That’s just my opinion. It is just wrong.


    1. Thanks so much! I totally agree with you! I was just surprised at how many people didn’t realize that items like the faux Gucci belt are actually counterfeits! Like you said, there’s so many other options and people don’t need to buy fake designer goods in order to be fashionable!

  3. I read an article about the Cult Gaia bags a while back, I thought it was so interesting they even had a case for copyright since they lifted the design off a vintage piece themselves! (and they probably paid about $10 for it, lol). I still stand by my decision to hunt down a vintage one on eBay 🙂

    Chic on the Cheap

    1. Yes! The Cult Gaia bag is an exact copy of the vintage style that’s been around forever! I think that’s why it’s so hard to figure out what dupes are OK and which ones cross the line into the counterfeit area. Vintage is always the way to go! I wish I was better at finding secondhand/vintage pieces!

  4. Okay…thank you SO much for this post! I agree 10000%! There is a big difference and that’s an issue. I don’t think hat people realize the extent of the conditions that these illegally produced counterfeits are produced in. That’s not something I want to support, personally. I have no problem with dupes though because I mean… everyone comes everyone in the fashion industry lol. Thank you for shedding light on this!


    1. Yes, I definitely didn’t realize how big of an issue this was until recently. I never really thought twice about the designer copies – like the gucci belt, for example. It’s so true that everyone copies everyone else in the fashion industry! I kind of believe there’s not really “original” ideas anymore. That’s why it’s so hard to draw the line sometimes! I do still enjoy finding designer “dupes” too, although I’m trying to be more mindful about where I purchase them! Thanks for the comment Lizzie!

  5. One thing I seriously don’t understand, and I hope I’m not offending anyone with this, is the constant need to have the latest designer item. I never had the financial security to buy a designer item but I’ve never bought a counterfeit either because I don’t have the need to show off as if I had the actual original item. I have nothing against dupes as a client because most of them time I’m unaware that it’s a dupe and I feel like that happens with most people because not everyone pays much attention to fashion but if I was a designer I probably wouldn’t be very happy if I knew a cheaper brand was using a similar design to mine. Overall, I’ve been trying to buy less from fast fashion so I think slowly people will be more aware of brands that aren’t the most ethical and hopefully things will change. Thank you for sharing, I think it’s important for people to know.

    Marta – http://www.aroundcolours.com

    1. I totally understand! I think Instagram/bloggers don’t help the situation because people constantly see others buying/wearing designer items and it gives people FOMO! And I agree with you that most people probably aren’t aware of what items are “dupes” of designer items. I admire you trying to buy less fast fashion! That’s something I’d like to try to do too! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  6. I inadvertently bought a bag that looks exactly like the Celine classic box bag except the dimensions are different from the original and are made to order from a leather bag shop in Canada. I was able to customize the leather type and choose a color, but didn’t realize until after placing the order that it looks like the Celine bag. I know that the main issue with counterfeit bags are the exploitation of workers in sweatshops, but the bag I bought is non-refundable and this article has made me feel like when I receive the bag, I shouldn’t even bother to use it. I don’t think I did anything wrong and it wasn’t my intention to make it look like I’m wearing a Celine bag—I honestly liked the design and the idea of a made to order customizable bag. The seller did not advertise it as a dupe or counterfit, but just a high quality, leather, handmade bag. It also won’t have any Celine branding or tags inside based on the seller photos. Should I be concerned?

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for your comment 🙂 I wouldn’t be concerned. Since the bag isn’t copying the Celine branding/logos then it’s not an illegal counterfeit. And since you know it’s from a reputable bag shop and you were able to customize it, then it’s not a copy of a Celine bag – even if it was inspired by it. A LOT of bags/clothes/accessories are inspired by designer fashions – pretty much anything you find at fast fashion retailers like H&M and Forever 21. I myself have some pieces that are inspired by designer pieces. You didn’t do anything wrong and I would definitely enjoy your new bag! I wrote this article just so people would be more away of the different terms and grey areas surrounding dupes and counterfeits.

      1. Well I’m glad I didn’t end up buying something deemed illegal😅 I still feel like people might think I’m carrying Celine until they see me open the bag 🤭