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025 - THE TRUTH ABOUT DUPES
How to win in a world of dupes and counterfeits
It’s an exciting day for us here, because our brand spanking new trend report - Fake vs Fake - is being teased to the world! Check out our IG and stay tuned for the full download. For this week’s Burn After Reading, we have a piping hot take brought to you by the Anonymous Misfit who’s breaking down most barefaced fakes of them all: dupes. We can’t seem to move for the things. So how do we live with them? Are they ever ok? How can we preserve our creativity? And how can we be responsible as brands and consumers in a world of dupes?
The moment is, or as we’re told, all about the dupe. Dupes of Chanel bags. Dupes of Olaplex shampoo. Dupes of the squiggly mirror that was everywhere in 2018, but if that’s still your speed, Wayfair, Etsy and Aliexpress have got you covered.
Thanks to e-commerce (which, whether they admit it or not, connects manufacturers in China to thirsty consumers in the West, heavily influenced by aspirational lifestyles and *aesthetics* on social media) anyone these days can buy the same stuff as the 1 percent — or at least mimic their taste.
Nope, it’s not sustainable. But it’s also not our fault. On Instagram, we’re inundated with images of luxury products, both familiar and obscure. Even when it is at first obscure, the viral magic of the internet can turn the silliest or most useless item into an ubiquitous staple.
Fashion is just the tip of the iceberg. Can’t afford the trip to Positano? Go for the extremely proximate version of the Ducaroy Togo chair, whose origin you may not know, but the likeness of which you have seen in photos of every influencer’s living room.
The overexposure of certain products and brands — even what we used to consider high-brow shit — has made them covetable to everyone, regardless of means or socioeconomic stature. Perhaps it’s still gauche to buy the knockoff of something without knowing the origin or creative history of it. But then again, knowledge is the least gatekept thing on the internet. These days, no one needs an Ivy League degree in design to have a cursory grasp on the Memphis Group or the canon of Alexander McQueen. No one needs to have spent a semester manning their campus radio station to cultivate a taste for prog rock or shoegaze indie. All it takes is a single TikTok.
The proliferation of luxury and highfalutin signifiers eventually renders the origin irrelevant. The more something is shared, online and then IRL and then back online again (to reference our old friend Baudrillard: the signified and the signifier, together as one unit, one reality) — the farther it gets from its original intent.
Thanks to the world wide web and the globalised supply chain, everything can be replicated into infinite iterations. And it’s not just with goods. Viral jokes are taken from Tumblr, appropriated for Twitter, and then copied by Fuckjerry on Instagram — no credit needed. This process of memefication, in fact, becomes a spectacle of its own right: not an image anymore, but the relationship we all have to it and what that relationship signifies, à la Debord. It’s undeniably fun to see the same reaction gif over and over again. We are all historians of flash moments in internet culture, and that same sensibility has bled into how we interact with the material world.
These days, when I’m walking down Canal Street, it’s kind of fun to be accosted by the sea of knockoff Gucci fanny bags and plastic Rolex watches. There is something irreverent, impish and ultimately tempting about buying something fake, conspicuously so or not. And part of this delight comes from the fact that the real thing, or at least the image of the real thing, is everywhere anyways. Culture as a whole is moving away from the virtue signalling of the post-Trump years and toward a collective, knowing smirk regarding our nightmarish reality.
It’s not that creative intellectual property doesn’t matter either. No one can say that ripping off an independent artist is cool (and fashion giants like Shein have gotten a lot of flack for this). It’s not that most consumers don’t care. It’s that we’ve been conditioned to not notice. Before Spotify, kids were downloading thousands of albums off of Pirate Bay, Limewire, and before those, Napster. This freedom of exchanging music and film and ideas, in fact, fuelled an entire philosophical movement that claims art ought to be free
Even if legally, it isn’t, art in today’s world of mass production and hyperspeed dissemination, ends up kind of being free. Good ideas are validated by both direct patronage and unsanctioned imitation.
There will always be people who care about the original. There will always be people who care about quality (though quality can be replicated too). The biggest, most heralded luxury brands will be immune to the cultural tide of counterfeits for years to come. And even people who buy the fake stuff like to buy the real stuff.
Dupes, counterfeits, knockoffs and fakes are a natural extension of capitalism given the past 40 years of manufacturing innovation and geopolitical stability. Corporations create images and stories to sell products to make profit. Those images of products are deliberately circulated in magazines and via influencers in order to drum desire for said products. Because of the exponential nature of the internet, these corporations inevitably lose control over the circulation of these images, therefore losing ownership of them in the eyes of consumers — an outcome of intractable circumstance, a levity of our times.
So, where does that leave the humble brands? The indie creators? The salt of the earth artists who are responsible for stoking both materialistic desire and divine inspiration?
Fighting Shein is a losing battle, at least in the court of IP and in the hearts of helpless young consumers. They’ve already spoken with their wallets. A survey by MØRNING for our trend report found that 70 percent of Gen-Z respondents said buying counterfeit is “okay,” while the rest said it is “not okay.”
Perhaps the solution is to embrace the spirit of mischief that fuels our collective desire to subvert luxury. There are brands already exemplifying this kind of Marxian cheekiness. Telfar comes to mind, with its specific flavour of downtown cool that has never been diluted by mass marketing or wholesale. Then there’s Heaven, the playful Gen Z sub-brand under Marc Jacobs, helmed by former Helmut Lang digital editor Ava Nirui who caught the attention of her now-boss with her homemade counterfeit merch, juxtaposing misspelt luxury logos on low-brow junk: a Dior chain on an inhaler, and Marc Jacobs spelled as ‘Mark Jacobes’ on a sweatshirt. Ultimately, opulence is a fleeting feeling. Frada is forever.
The only caveat? Know the creative mischief. In other words, how can a creative enterprise be the most good it can be, while simultaneously nodding to the ever naughty consumer?
In MØRNING’s opinion, it boils down to a couple of considerations:
THERE IS A VERY CONCRETE LINE BETWEEN INTELLECTUAL AND OPERATIONAL MISCHIEF: Maintain transparency in the supply chain, don’t treat entry-level employees or factory workers poorly, and put your money where your mouth is. Be cute, not evil.
KEEP THE CREATIVE CYCLE IN PERPETUAL MOTION. A cease-and-desist letter will not stop Shein.
COLLABORATE: Find an unlikely source of inspiration? Collaborate with them. You can only win by reaching a new set of eyes.
INVEST IN QUALITY: Consumers are smart, not nihilistic. Not all of them at least.
BE DEMOCRATIC IN YOUR DISTRIBUTION. Everyone chases luxury, clout and coolness — even the most unlikely of demographics.
That’s all for now! Keep an eye out for MØRNING’s upcoming trend report - Fake vs Fake.