‘If you look at the high street … they all sell identical clothing’ (Picture: House of CB/Amazon)
Imagine eyeing up a dress for £150 that’ll really stretch your budget, then also imagine your delight when you find an item that looks exactly the same on Amazon for £22.
High street copies of high-end designs are nothing new, but savvy shoppers are discovering that replicas indistinguishable to the naked eye are becoming easier to find.
On social media, influencers and fashion-lovers have been sharing the ‘dupes’ they’ve nabbed, after conducting reverse image searches on expensive products and finding a far cheaper alternative elsewhere.
Lifestyle creator Michelle Hobgood claimed she found a jacket on Amazon costing $39 (£32.11) that’s an absolute spit for the Zara version she was eyeing up for $89 (£73.27). Her post explaining the technique has been liked more than 9,500 times at the time of writing.
But while buying the latest look this way may seem like a bargain, some industry insiders are warning there could be a hidden cost behind this trend.
‘At no point is anyone saying this was made ethically, that the workers were paid fairly, or that the fabric was ethically sourced — we’re talking knock-down prices per unit,’ explains fashion stylist and consultant Joanne Watkinson.
‘When I look at the amount of dupes out there, it feels like open season.’
Metro.co.uk’s own Alice Murphy was ‘stunned’ when she first saw how much cheaper an Amazon version of a $60 [£49.33] dress she wanted was.
At £10, it was a literal fraction of the cost of the Faye Blue Floral Mini Dress from Colorful Natalie, and there was nothing in any of the photos from Amazon to suggest even a single stitch of difference.
It had the same print, same ribbon detailing, same silhouette.
Out of curiosity, Alice bought the cheaper dress and was surprised at how satisfied she was with the quality of the garment when it arrived.
‘There’s boning down the front that gives it a proper corseted finish,’ she explains, ‘and silver clasps that actually stay shut, unlike similar designs I’ve paid a lot more for.
‘Not bad for a piece of clothing that costs less than a cocktail.’
The similarities are striking (Pictures: Amazon/Colorful Natalie)
Alice wearing the Amazon version (Picture: Alice Murphy)
However, when asked whether she’ll make a similar Amazon purchase in the future, Alice admits: ‘This is a hard one because while I was happy with the dress, I bought it out of curiosity.
‘I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that anything sold at such a low price point must be made unethically.
‘I feel like somewhere along the way, someone has to pay for it to be so cheap, in one way or another.’
But while we’ve all grown familiar with dupe culture – items that are similar to more expensive products sold elsewhere – being able to get a seemingly identical dress, and not even a designer imitation at that, for so much less is becoming more common.
Both sites contain what appears to be the same image of the same model wearing a red dress – but how could lookalikes this convincing be available?
Anna Bryher, policy lead at Labour Behind the Label, an organisation that seeks to improve conditions and advocate for workers in the global garment industry, says her ‘best guess’ is that factory workers may be acting as sellers in their own right.
For instance, if a product was first supplied to a brand retailing at Selfridges, a supplier might be keen to shift leftover stock at any price they can get.
She explains: ‘It is difficult to give a definitive answer as to what is happening with these specific [products], as Amazon has no supply chain transparency requirement on suppliers to be able check (a factor that could massively improve the possibility of scrutinising supply chains and upholding human rights in fashion). However, I will say generally a few things.
‘Increasingly in fast fashion, supplier factories are becoming sellers, particularly in China. The rise of Temu, Shein, Alibaba etc. have helped supplier factories develop “drop-shipping capacity”. This means they hold orders for these companies, and when sales come in, they ship individual orders to a company hub, who ship them on to the consumer.’
This helps the business cut their spending on things like warehouses and logistics.
This House of CB dress is available on the Selfridges website for £149 at the time of writing (Pictures: Amazon/Selfridges)
‘For supplier factories, this means two things: 1. They keep the ends of orders that have not sold in their factories so [they] have to deal with this waste. 2. They have systems established for processing and shipping consumer orders, so it is just one more step to become a direct seller.
‘There are apps like Crosslist, which allow suppliers to list items on multiple platforms at once – eBay, Amazon, Depop, Alibaba and more. So you can often see the exact same picture of an item uploaded on different sites, with different price points (as guided by the algorithm to maximise sales), but fulfilled by the same factory directly.’
Anna Woods, founder of Positive Retail, also hazards a guess that these uncanny dupes could be down to excess stock being sold elsewhere, or factories themselves could be taking the initiative and stocking up on dupes of their own accord. This would, however, be a risky move because they could always end up stuck with piles of unwanted items.
‘I just wonder whether the factories and their speed are just advancing,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Perhaps it’s almost not a huge risk for them to copy [a design] because they know they’ll have buyers. They could just relabel it.’
Fashion stylist Joanne adds that another way very cheap dupes can come about is by big-name businesses using their buying powers as leverage when negotiating prices for their orders.
‘Because of the spending powers that they have, the factories will be forced to accept their terms,’ explains Joanne, who has her own slow fashion brand called By Elleven.
‘If they want their business, they could end up being squeezed on price per unit.’
Anna Woods agrees that this is another possibility, saying factories are ending up in bidding wars ‘in a race to the bottom’ because of all the competition they face for business.
‘Factories might be so desperate for the work, that they’ll lower the margins,’ she says.
Joanne believes that a lot of these big businesses can also afford to take a few losses in the name of playing the long game with customer loyalty over time.
‘Get them to spend £25 now, then over their lifetime they could get someone to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds,’ she explains. ‘And I don’t imagine these [garments] will be loss-leaders.’
This is all part of what she describes as ‘dupe culture’.
‘It’s fast fashion. If you look at the high street, there’s a huge wholesale market. They all sell identical clothing,’ she says.
According to Joanne, dupe culture started with things like designer imitations for high street shoppers, who’d be unlikely to spend hundreds or thousands of pounds on one item of clothing or the new it-pair of shoes.
This type of lookalike wouldn’t really impact sales for the big-name designers. After all, she says, they still had the prestige and exclusivity of the brand on their side, and their target markets were unlikely to overlap.
But now, you’ve even got dupes for high street items doing numbers on social media. And the wider impact of this come at a human cost.
‘The implications are underpaid garment workers,’ says Anna Wood. ‘And even more of a throwaway culture, so nobody is making conscious choices.
‘There’s still a long way to go with the general public to wake up to the depths of it. People don’t really know who’s made what, and in what conditions, the effect on the environment, or where it will end up.’
Meanwhile, Anna warns that dupe culture is becoming increasingly cut-throat.
She says it has resulted in people and their companies being scared to slow down and get left behind.
So the business model has become, as Anna puts it, ‘new new new…’ Something, she adds, is ‘brutal’.
Despite their concerns, our experts are clear that none of their words are said to shame fast fashion shoppers – Joanne stresses it’s about measuring ‘choice purchases versus needs’.
‘If you need a coat to keep you warm during winter and don’t have much money to spare to get one, then you’ll have to shop wherever you can afford it,’ she adds.
For her, the distinction comes from the people who do have expendable income to enjoy – and where they choose to spend it.
Metro.co.uk have reached out to Amazon, Zara, Selfridges, House of CB, and Colorful Natalie for comment.
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Dupes are becoming indistinguishable to the real thing