In an economy of dupes, fakes, and counterfeits, how do brands protect the integrity of their property and brand?


Dupes and their impact on brands were recently highlighted when the Influencer Matilda Djerf issued copyright infringement warnings against small online content creators promoting similar clothing items to Djerf products.

Djerf, a Swedish influencer on TikTok and Instagram with over 4 million followers, launched a clothing label, Derjf Avenue, in 2019. The label made AUD 54.6 million last financial year.  Dupes of her label were being made and promoted online. Djerf decided to take action; however, their action had an unintended consequence for their brand.

Issuing infringement notices resulted in such a backlash that Djerf Avenue deactivated their TikTok account and, while not apologising for their action, issued a statement explaining that there has been a recent surge in "websites selling products with our design and owned prints/artworks". 

"In light of this, and to safeguard our prints and the individual print designers — we have an external intellectual property firm monitoring copyright infringements."

While damaging for Djerf Avenue, it does raise the question – in an economy of dupes, fakes, and counterfeits, how do brands protect the integrity of their property and brand? It also raises the question: were the small online creators guilty of copyright infringement? As will be discussed below, dupes are not usually infringing copyright. This is where understanding terminology and how it changes becomes so important.

The importance of language

With fakes, counterfeits and now dupes, it is essential to get our terminology correct and understand the different meanings each has.

1. Counterfeits

Counterfeits are copies of the real thing, made with the intent to deceive. Clothing and fashion accessories are labelled with designer labels to imitate the real item. Copyright laws were developed to protect brands against the damage counterfeits cause.

Despite brands having legal protection against counterfeits, it is an area that is difficult to regulate and monitor. A recent example of the problem with counterfeits was another ABC article on the rise of the super fake handbag.

Counterfeits were usually less expensive than the real thing and generally of inferior quality. However, with the rise of ‘super fakes, the difference between a high-quality counterfeit and the real item is often impossible to determine. 

2. Fakes

Counterfeit and fakes are terms that are used interchangeably. However, while all counterfeits are fakes, not all fakes are counterfeit. A fake is something that is not the real thing. Customers need to exercise care when buying fakes because there is generally no product control in making the item. This is potentially dangerous with cosmetics, where products may be added that cause allergic reactions in some people.

3. Dupes

It is in this emerging area of dupes that language becomes essential. The word “dupe” has traditionally meant to deceive, delude or trick someone, which is a meaning, vry similar to that of counterfeit. However, the meaning has been inverted online.


Just as “sick” has come to mean “cool” and “awesome”, so “dupe” has also changed its meaning courtesy of the internet.  The term peaked after a TikTok video of two friends pointing at Target items and exclaiming “doop” went viral. Though the content was humorous, it demonstrated much about the internet’s eagerness to slap the “dupe” label on nearly any product. Target itself even commented on this video, “LOL, our legal team won’t let us say dupe, so thanks for spreading awareness on our behalf. [1]”

As a result, primarily of TikTok, “dupe” has come to mean an item that resembles the real thing without copying any of the logos or trademarks. As such, it is easily distinguishable from the real thing. 

A recent study by Morning Consult found that roughly one-third of all US adults had intentionally purchased a dupe of a premium product, with Gen Z being the highest (49%) and millennials (44%). The same study found that nearly half of Gen Z (465) and millennials (50%) said that a product going viral is essential to them when considering whether to purchase it. 

Another interesting finding from a study of U.S. consumers found that two-thirds associate positive words like “fashionable” (70%), trendy (68%) and elite (63%) with brands that are “duped”. This means that being associated with a “dupe” has a positive vibe that brands and companies can lean into [2].

As mentioned above, in contrast to counterfeits, dupes are legal, which may be part of the reason for the backlash against Djerf Avenue. They were threatening legal action against other content creators for something that has not been considered illegal.


Navigating the Ecosystem of dupes


- the increasing trend of people buying dupes.

- the most significant market is in the Gen Z and Millennials age range.

- buying dupes is primarily seen in a positive light;

How do companies and brands use dupes positively, creatively, and profitably?

Staying up to date with the internet-driven changes

The rise of the dupe trend demonstrates how quickly trends start and language changes. It took a TikTok video of two friends in Target, and suddenly, in the past year, Google searches for the term have doubled in popularity.

Tonic Digital has consistently emphasised the need for companies and businesses to have systems and ort that enable them to capture and be aware of emerging trends on the internet. This is becoming imperative, given the speed at which new trends often emerge.

The ongoing business of learning about your customers

Learning about and staying current with issues impacting customers and their characteristics is essential. For example, Gen Z is fond of dupes because they tend to be a brand-disloyal group. Given this characteristic and the psychological attraction of buying a dupe, particularly when it goes viral, dupe culture will likely become a permanent part of Gen Z’s shopping habits.

This creates an opportunity for brands and companies to actively engage with and create memorable moments for Gen Z’s around dupes.

The fallout for Djerk Avenue and the need to shut down their TikTok account raises the question, did they miscalculate the characteristics of their audience, or was it driven by a more reflexive reaction to protect their label?


Companies and brands have the right to protect their labels from counterfeits and fakes that harm the brand or business's reputation. At the same time, companies need to find ways to engage with customers around dupes to attract customers rather than alienate them.

One company that has done this well is the athletic apparel brand Lululemon.  Teen Vogue posted an article in January headlined, “11 Best Lululemon Dupes on Amazon.” The hashtag #dupe has more than 3.5 billion views on TikTok, and according to Lululemon itself, the #lululemondupes hashtag has more than 150 million views. Lululemon used this information and hosted a “Dupe Swap” at its store in Los Angeles’s Century City Mall, encouraging customers to bring in their knockoffs of its incredibly popular Align pants to trade in for the original Lululemon. This was a creative way to build on the dupe trend and consolidate the brand among its customer base.

While not all brands or companies may be able to go to the same lengths as Lululemon, it does demonstrate the importance of brands and companies thinking about creative ways to use trends to consolidate and capitalise the reputation of the brand in the minds of customers.

The risks of being duped

The rise of dupe culture has and will continue to raise concerns for businesses about the reputational risks of becoming known as a dupe or the company being duped. Care must be taken not to be seen as promoting knockoffs or infringing on the intellectual property rights of other brands.

However, it does seem that if companies and brands do not at least think through their response to dupe culture and how to manage the dupe ecosystem ethically, they risk losing the opportunity to engage with Gen Z and millennials and build a connection with the customers of the future.