Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

A few months ago, I spotted a fashion brand on Instagram that could be a Los Angeles-based, women-owned boutique. The tagline on its Instagram bio, “Change is innovation,” suggests that the brand has championed the change of clothing and sold clothes that are upcycled or made from old and discarded clothes.

The only red flag was the price of its clothes, which ranged from 60 to $ 150. These weren’t the prices of fast fashion, but they seemed suspiciously low for handicraft clothing. A quick contrast image search of the brand’s products confirmed my suspicions. Google results have taken me to another one Instagram boutique As well as AliExpress, A Chinese marketplace site where the right pieces (including the same promotional image) were sold for less than half the price.

I was shocked. The bizarre style and marketing led me to think that the brand has created and designed its own clothing instead of sourcing pre-made styles from foreign manufacturers. Instead, like many floating around the abyss of Instagram, many more “ghost shops” thought it was more of a cog – albeit a barely identifiable one – quickly on the fashion machine. (Brand did not respond to a request for comment.)

Instagram has spent years tweeting its interface, forcing users to shop in the app. Of Transform into a shopping destination Quick, abrupt, and rarely surprising. This has paved the way for the development of a certain type of online business or “Insta Boutique” These stores don’t always sell products exclusively on Instagram; They rely on apps to attract customers to their website through effective marketing or targeted advertising. And while more and more people are turning to social media to find new products and brands, shoppers are also becoming wary.

People are realizing that certain brands are not exactly what they market themselves: independent, ethically-minded stores run by small business owners and designers. In some cases, buyers may find that they have paid at least twice the price of clothing found on marketplace sites such as YesStyle, Amazon and AliExpress, or Chinese fast fashion retailer Shin. For example, a business insider reporter Bought It’s about $ 34 each from Juliet for two outfits, an Instagram boutique that claims to sell “morally made” outfits, only to discover the exact same style on AliExpress for $ 10 each.

An inverse search of an product in an Instagram boutique took me to an AliExpress store and supplier, where the right part was sold for less than half the stated price.
A screenshot from AliExpress

The source of concern for consumers is the source of the product in question. While some brands are apparently collecting items from places like Amazon or Shein and reselling them for profit, others seem to be involved in a practice where they do not have the goods in their hands, which is called “drop shipping”. (Of course, not all Instagram stores fall into this category. There are lots of reputable, small artisans and business owners) Making a living through the app.)

I refer to these virtual storefronts as “ghost shops”: faceless, seamless ventures with some original products. These traders rarely express the subtleties of their business model. Even those who vaguely provide some information to buyers Not immune from consumer blowback Either because the entrepreneurs behind these brands are smart at creating a digital front. They have learned to gain the trust of customers through relentless social media marketing or creating believably vague “brand stories” that reveal minimal information about founders and employees.

The draw of this “ghost shop” is predicted on somewhat ineffective reasons. We shop from the brands we make because we connect with certain elements of the business, be it unique clothing designs or more identity-driven and ethical, above certain things like durability. When we learn that a company is nothing more than the story it is telling – that it exists for purely profitable reasons – it can feel confusing. Of course, it is in the best interest of each brand to turn a narrative that attracts customers. One could argue that the whole retail industry is built on some level of fraud.

Customers also traditionally don’t worry about where or how their staff is made. After all, many reputable retailers have a history of sourcing from the same factory and suppliers, while this fact disguises the white labeling or rebranding of their items. Yet, the illusion of difference and monopoly is comforting. It cementes the feeling of loyalty between the customer and the brand. When we did most of our shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, the idea seemed plausible. Now, a simple Google search is required to detach the front.

To be clear, resale and drop shipping are not illegal or inherently bad practices, although issues such as product quality and authentication come into question. Drop shipping is actually a decade-old model used primarily by furniture and equipment vendors. Merchants list products for sale without leaving a list. Merchants have contracts with manufacturers to purchase products at lower wholesale prices, which allows them to identify costs for profit. When an item is sold, Drop Shipper coordinates with the supplier to send the products directly to the customer. This is often a process over which the merchant has no control and items can take weeks or months to arrive.

Other ghost shops carry limited goods on hand and store them in a studio or warehouse. These virtual brands are not exactly drop shippers, as they have inventory access. Still, they tend to buy wholesale from suppliers like Shin or AliExpress, who work with drop shippers. The Instagram clothing store I encountered, for example, displays photos and videos from its Los Angeles studio and showroom, and occasionally features clothing handling and shipping staff. With it its clothes are basically indistinguishable from it Her, An AliExpress store and supplier, and other Instagram boutiques.

Reproducibility is a telltale sign that these brands originate from the same suppliers, even if they reveal authenticity and originality. The turbulent match between the various online stores, made possible by the rise of affordable social media and mass production of products, reveals the reality of these initiatives. This is what author Jenny O’Dell did Described As “clear deception in all branding and retail centers.” Consumers start noticing and asking questions, for example, why they are watching Same pair of pants Everywhere, just pressed with a different brand label. The purchase is starting to feel like a scam, even if it isn’t quite.

A shin blazer is resold at a dropshipping site and marked $ 28.
Screenshot of Shin

Lisa Favrell, a Canadian artist who created video articles on fashion and culture, has become suspicious of small Instagram boutiques selling a certain genre, trendy clothing styles, and promoting aggressively targeted ads. In a recent video, Favrell referred to them as “Doppelganger Brands.” They have names like Cider, Koli, Omiti, Emmiol and Jusiki and according to him have been seen selling clothes from the same Chinese suppliers. (A representative of Cedar first contacted Favral to promote the brand, but said he turned down the offer.) Favral’s concern is the attempt to greenwash their brands in order to deceive trusted customers.

“These organizations are clearly targeting young women, but it seems they are trying to adjust their language to make their language look more sustainable or ethical and not change too much about their practice,” Favral told me. “There’s no way any company can keep up with the TikTok style and trend unless they make a lot of cheap clothing.”

Cider, which has fashion business Described as “next shin” Venture Capital invested $ 22 million to expand its operations in June. On Cider’s “About Us” page, it claims to be a “global-minded, social-first” brand that works under a pre-order model to reduce waste and “only [produces] The specific style that we know people want in a controlled amount. “Its CEO told Business of Fashion that Cider orders for smaller styles. Still, customers have Claimed To find Copy of its clothing on AliExpress For a slightly lower price, which suggests that Cedar – or its suppliers – may produce and sell additional clothing elsewhere. (Cider did not respond to a request for comment via email or Instagram.)

“It’s very easy for a brand to add another section to its about page so you feel better about supporting them,” Favrell said. “Even after I made the video, the cider reached me [about its greenwashing practices]. These brands don’t care. “

Whether sites like Cedar are merchants with access to drop shippers or wholesale merchandise doesn’t really matter. They are not breaking any law. Indeed, the clarity of the entire enterprise – how to get accurate replicas of certain products on other retail sites for a comparative price – is a defining quality of capitalism. What happens if a brand loses its reputation? Its architects can simply rename it, start over and continue the source from the same place. A desperate buyer, who bought a plaid jacket from one to another Apparently real German labels, This is the comment “Scams are getting so sophisticated” People should be wary of buying things from digital brands that they have never heard of.

This is because there is basically no friction in building a virtual storefront, even if it is basically a digital facade. An aspiring retailer needs only a few things: a website, an attractive domain name, an active social media presence, and a product provider. (Shin Hall is a prime example of this type of direct-to-consumer retailer, and has become a drop shipping provider in itself.)

Several lesser-known brands with obscure roots have emerged in Shin’s shadow, offering relatively affordable prices and replicable clothing styles. Like Shin and other ultra-fast fashion retailers, these brands release new styles every week. Fashion “micro trend” Inspired by trendy internet aesthetics, e.g. Dark academy, cottagecore, Or Coconut girl. Since the internet has an infamous short attention span, these trend-oriented outfits don’t last. The fast fashion business model relies on additional costs.

In the mission of making and selling clothes as much as possible, these “ghost shops” are creating a fashion monoculture – in which consumers are basically buying and wearing the same clothes, only being sold to them from different boutiques. So, is it possible to call these brands without more reputable retailers? Advice from some buyers Reverse image search product And a passion before buying clothes, while others sleuth in fashion forums like Reddit for customer reviews. This requires consumers to be diligent and careful, to do their homework when confronted with new brands, especially if they tell dubious original stories or vague “about us” pages. The gist of the story? Brands, especially when they work online, don’t always feel like they are.

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