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Are YouTube and Tik Tok DIY tutorials normalising dupes to the detriment of emerging brands?

Despite the positive aspects to the growing DIY scene, are the lines between imitation and inspiration too blurred?

Since the first lockdown, knitting, quilting, clay, resin, and crochet creations have become an increasingly popular pastime particularly amongst Gen Z. The undeniable positives to this trend, which often promotes creativity, community, inclusivity, and sustainability, can not be ignored. Duplicating can be a great way to learn a new skill that can eventually be applied to original designs. But when it is done so in the form of a public tutorial, can this be harmful to the original designers, who are predominantly small businesses? And if this is the case, is it ethical to post a tutorial at all?

Youtube comments under DIY tutorials

We observed numerous examples through which a designer gains mass exposure, often through celebrities wearing their brand. The audience the brand ends up reaching (a younger demographic of under 25s) cannot obtain the originals, due to the higher price points of small brands. This is where DIY videos begin to gain virality, encouraging their viewers to believe they should make it on their own. Individuals, who after watching the tutorials have realised they can produce a dupe themselves, are then reselling them via Depop and similar platforms. And this is where the issue is born: The uninformed Depop consumer may think that they are supporting an ethical independent creator when in reality the design has been copied.

In most tutorials the original price point of the design is emphasised. “Knitting the $270 sweater for $12” the titles write, but the labour is never accounted for, as the objective is to impress with the cheapest price. It may not be the creator’s intentions, but this clickbait can lead to the belief that the original designs are overpriced. Those who go on to resell their dupes via Depop are usually not financially dependent on the profits, so the time taken to create the piece is not accounted for as part of the retail price. The materials for the sweater might have cost $12, but the creator’s labour is not paid by the consumer.

Once the designs have entered the mainstream, trend-cycle duplicates begin to appear in high street stores. As long as consumers indicate they do not value original designs and that the low price is their priority, these stores will not hesitate to steal from small creators.

What can we learn from the cases where this has happened? Have any designers expressed their frustration? Is there any way to determine if the benefits outweigh the negatives?

The top Depop results under "Harry Styles cardigan"

Case study 1: The JW Anderson ‘Harry Styles’ Cardigan
The root of this current phenomenon can be linked to the patchwork crochet ‘Harry Styles Cardigan’ viral DIY videos that led to JW Anderson creating their own tutorial. In this case, the brand encourages the dupes, using them as a marketing strategy. The original cardigan is priced at £1250, hence its target market is limited and the cardigan style is not a signature design. Grazia magazine reported on the situation saying, “A lesser designer might be irritated by seeing the copycat DIY versions sweeping social media” and Anderson told Vogue Business “I think that’s important for fashion today; to be about inclusion, not exclusion”. Does this framing of JW Anderson as ‘in the right’ for encouraging dupes potentially dissuade other brands from speaking against them? Whilst fans had permission in this situation, that has not always been the case.

Youtube tutorial of the Saks Potts shimmer sets
Top Depop results under "Saks Potts"

Case study 2: Saks Potts 

Saks Potts is a Copenhagen-based womenswear brand known for its fun outerwear and shimmer Lissi pants and tops. Kendall Jenner, Elsa Hosk and Kylie Jenner have all worn the shimmer sets, making them a wardrobe must have for young women and trend followers. Multiple DIY tutorials of the pieces can be found on YouTube and Tik Tok, with tens of thousands of views and an account  blatantly named ‘Saucepots’ has amassed over 24k followers. There seems to be a misconception that if a brand is worn by celebrities it is “big” and “established” and hence dupes can’t damage them as businesses. The reality is far from that, with these businesses being at the very start of their journeys and dependent on customers to survive and grow.

Tik Tok results under "La manso DIY"
Youtube tutorial of La Manso rings dupes
Fast fashion reproductions of La Manso rings
La Manso dupes sold on Depop

Case study 3: La Manso

Adriana Manso is a Spanish designer who has become known for her unique sculptural rings within the last year, counting Bella Hadid, Iris Law, and Dua Lipa as its fans. The brand repurposes vintage plastic which she has been collecting for the past four years. In the last couple of months, countless tutorials to create DIY resin La Manso dupes have appeared, and searching ‘La Manso’ on Depop brings 8000+ results, though you have to scroll far to find an authentic one. Urban Outfitter has released an overt rip-off, not changing the style or colour of the design. Fast fashion stores have been notorious for this behaviour, but does this normalization of dupes risk condoning it?

 

Case studies can highlight how quickly a DIY trend can turn into copycat businesses, however, it is hard to understand if this adversely influences the original designers’ sales. One could argue this is a natural and unfortunate element of the trends cycle and that fast fashion brands would steal regardless. “This is not their customer base, so no harm is done,” seems to be a recurring comment on Tik Tok, along with the questionable justification, “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism”. But, this seems like a risk that could be easily avoided. Content creators could reach out to original designers for permission or look for inspiration that is not directly connected to small businesses, and consumers should take the responsibility to think twice about the buying behaviours and the impact they have on the creators they look up to.

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