Gen Z’s Dupe Culture: A Clash of Clones and Consciousness
Since its inception, the hashtag #dupe has been viewed on TikTok 4.3 billion times and on Instagram 315K times. Short for duplicate, “dupe” refers to cheaper alternatives to luxury items, most often clothing and accessories. It’s safe to say the movement has been fully embraced, particularly by Gen Z’s dupe culture. However, the environmental and humanitarian issues dupes induce are being overlooked.
Take Pumiey, the brand dupe-ing Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS. The hashtag #pumieybodysuit has been viewed 16.3 million times on TikTok, with almost every video including the hashtag #skimsdupe. Brands like SKIMS, that profit over $2.2 billion as of last year, can take the financial and creative blows of having their designs copied and sold for a fraction of the price. Smaller businesses, however, cannot say the same.
Dupe culture promises consumers they get the styles they’re looking for, but often at the expense of the dupe’s original designers. Though no brand is immune to getting ‘duped’, smaller designers are infinitely more vulnerable. Companies like Shein and Fashion Nova are notorious for turning a profit by exploiting the designs of small brands with no credit. We’ve seen this happen to independent emerging designers countless times.
Gen Z, typically, are hyper aware of the dire environmental, economic and social conditions of today, and they aren’t afraid to shout about it on social media. They’re also savvy, which is why it makes sense that dupe culture is so popular with this crowd.
The problem is, the “savvy”, in this instance, can’t be separated from the global consciousness. We’ve created and continuously back heroes like Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Stella Keating, but choose to ignore the impact dupe culture has on our planet and its people. While some dupe-suppliers are worker-friendly and eco-conscious, dupes are largely fast fashion. It’s hard not to see the support of this consumer moment as hypocritical.
Take any recent viral dupe as an example of this hypocrisy. 2020 saw Tik Tok completely enthralled with Lirika Matoshi’s Strawberry Midi dress. With a price tag nearing $500, fast fashion producers like AliExpress capitalized on the trend and sold its copies until the fad eventually died down. The result? Thousands of cheaply made dresses thrown away, contributing to the 1.92 million tonnes of textile waste produced every year. And that’s just one seasonal trend.
Retailers like Anthropologie, whose dupe for the Bottega Veneta Jodie bag is hashtagged on TikTok under #bottegajodiedupe and viewed over 264K times, upholds a vendor code of conduct that makes it legal for 15-year-olds to be making their clothes. They were also named one of the top violators in wage theft in California’s garment factories and its supply chains operate uncertified from labour standards that protect workers and their wages.
Anthropologie is hardly the only company to enforce these conditions for their workers to produce cheap knock-offs. Fashion giant Zara has a lengthy history with associations to forced labour camps and factories in China and Brazil. And yet, as recently as 3 months ago the brand was celebrated by Gen Z’s dupe culture for its dupes of the Miu Miu ballet shoes.
It’s not just luxury fashion houses being duplicated. Online retailer Shein is infamous for exploiting the talent and hard work of independent, emerging designers. Small sustainable brands like Bailey Prado, Baiia, POPFLEX, Loud Bodies, and Sincerely Ria are just a few of Shein’s victims who’ve had their designs stolen in the name of dupe-ing. POPFLEX’s Pirouette Skort; Baiia’s Zanzibar Wrapsuit.
So, what’s the solution? For some brands, backing the unrivalled quality of your product seems to send a very clear message to potential dupers. Last month, Lululemon invited any Gen Z-ers who found dupes for its Align Pants that they thought were better than the original to an event called “Dupe Swap”. In exchange for the knockoffs, Lululemon offered consumers a pair of their originals. Chief Brand Officer Nikki Neuburger called the event a “fun way to step into a cultural conversation.”
As for the smaller brands who can’t afford to throw events like ‘Dupe Swap’, it’s the consumers who are the biggest tools. Gen Z’s environmental and humanitarian standards should carry over into the fashion world. A quick Google search will reveal everything there is to know about a brand’s ethical practices and whether or not purchasing their dupes, no matter how trendy and affordable they may be, is a good idea. Gen Z’s dupe culture is a fast growing phenomenon and it’s implications are something for all creatives to consider.
Want more on sustainable shopping? Check out our guide to Toronto’s best thrift stores.
Carolina Pucciarelli is a Glossi Mag contributor.
In her final year of journalism school at Toronto Metropolitan University, Carolina loves Octavia Butler novels, Guillermo del Toro movies and a good skincare regimen.