Is Dupe Culture over? Why 2023 may be seeing the return of the brand
What do the Dyson Airwrap, Skims bodysuit and Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter have in common? They’re all the subject of viral dupes. Dupes – short for duplicates – is the Gen Z term for more affordable versions of luxury or designer products. But this isn’t your backstreet fake Prada handbag: unlike counterfeit products, most […]
What do the Dyson Airwrap, Skims bodysuit and Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter have in common? They’re all the subject of viral dupes.
Dupes – short for duplicates – is the Gen Z term for more affordable versions of luxury or designer products. But this isn’t your backstreet fake Prada handbag: unlike counterfeit products, most dupes don’t make an effort to replicate logos or monograms in order to fool people into believing they’re the real thing. In fact, thanks to social media, dupes now carry a status of their own.
On TikTok, searches for the next big copycat item have soared. The hashtag #dupe has been viewed 4.6 billion times, while #tiktokmademebuyit has over 59 billion views. Meanwhile, over on Instagram, accounts like @dupethat have gained millions of followers by helping people to find dupes for anything from beauty products to Apple AirPods.
Why is Gen Z obsessed with dupes?
Designer knockoffs are nothing new: brands have always had to deal with copycats ripping off their most popular products or concepts (even Swingers has got an impersonator or two!). But under the influence of Gen Z, dupes have gone from a mildly embarrassing way to align yourself with a designer brand to a flex in and of themselves.
It’s not all about saving money – it can also be about earning it. Dupe videos have become increasingly profitable for content creators, garnering millions of views and allowing them to generate income via affiliate links.
There’s a moral slant to dupe culture, too. Gen Z famously live by their values and dupe culture goes hand-in-hand with the backlash against ‘gatekeeping’ (refusing to share where a particular item is from to stop it going mainstream). Content creators are using #hotgirlsdontgatekeep (and its spin-offs) to share tips on affordable fashion, beauty, tech, books and travel. Finding out about a dupe makes people feel they’re in on a secret and can make a guilt-free purchase while getting one up on ‘the man’ in the process.
But while dupe culture can be good for our wallets, can a brand ever really be replicated? Increasingly, it looks like the real thing will always win out.
Turning the tables on dupes
In a case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’, some brands are turning the tables on dupe culture by integrating it into their marketing. LuluLemon hosted a playful ‘dupe swap’ in LA, inviting fans to bring their dupes of the brand’s cult Align Pants (one of the most duped products on TikTok) and exchange them for the real thing. In a nod to the environmental concerns around dupes, LuluLemon then sent the fake products to a textile recycling company.
Designers like Mugler and Versace have tackled dupe culture by partnering with high street fashion brand H&M to release limited edition collections, allowing fans of the labels to access high-end style at an affordable price.
Brands are putting purpose over profit
While it might feel satisfying to find a near-identical version of an expensive product, dupe culture can encourage fast fashion and overconsumption by allowing people to buy more products, more frequently. Some TikTok creators have tried to combat consumerism with #de-influencing – sharing videos encouraging people to think twice before making a particular purchase. But while some influencers use the hashtag to puncture the hype around viral products, others add recommendations for low-cost alternatives, thereby still encouraging people to spend money on something they don’t necessarily need.
For brands, this has meant a values-led approach is one way to remain untouched by dupe culture. Patagonia, for example, attracts and retains Gen Z customers because of its ‘purpose over profit’ approach, which resonates with younger consumers’ climate anxiety and ethical concerns. Allbirds is another brand whose popularity stems from its sustainability. The company is transparent about its goal to cut its carbon footprint to zero by 2030 and regularly tracks and publishes its progress. When Amazon released a dupe of Allbirds’ cult Wool Runners shoe, Allbirds CEO Joey Swillinger invited the retail giant to rip off its sustainable practices, rather than simply making a cheaper version of its designs.
While there’s nothing wrong with hunting for a bargain – particularly when times are tough – Gen Z’s enthusiasm for authenticity and sustainability might eventually stop dupe culture in its tracks.
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