How do beauty brands get away with dupes? We asked them.

We are living in a dupe era

The word 'knock-off' has been deleted from our vocabularies, and coveting a clever copycat is not shameful in the slightest. In fact, it's the opposite – finding samey beauty products that cost a fraction of The Real Thing has become an art form, and whichever companies can craft the best dupe at the lowest spend for customers is the undisputed winner of the game.

I love a dupe, personally. If I can make my money go further (and look great while I'm doing it), all the better, right? And I know approximately nobody who doesn't feel the same. Some of my favourite products fall under the dupe umbrella and it's consumers' ever-growing appetite for great quality skincare and makeup at an affordable price point that is driving the dupe trend.

From Kmart's astonishingly similar take on Sol de Janeiro's Brazilian Bum Bum Cream, to e.l.f's Halo Glow Liquid Filter (a dead ringer for the bevoled Charlotte Tilbury Flawless Filter), you can barely turn a corner without seeing a new budget-friendly version of a cult product pop up.

Australian beauty brand MCoBeauty, in particular, has become popular for its highly coveted products that mimic higher-end beauty buys. Amidst their 300+ products (and counting), only a handful seemingly emulate other brands’ cult offerings – yet it's for these the brand has become famous.

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The MCoBeauty Miracle Anti-Aging Repair Serum is a fab sub-in for the Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair, and for $80 less. You'll save yourself almost half the cost of the Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops if you pick up the MCoBeauty Super Glow Bronzing Drops instead – and according to fans of the affordable and effective products, you'll get just-as-stellar results from the cheaper options as the originals that inspired them.

Of course, every time a brand like MCoBeauty launches a new product that seems a little too similar to another cult buy to ignore, you'll see finger-pointing online with claims of unoriginality at best and copyright infringement at worst. But at the end of the day, the one thing every fan (and detractor) wants to know is this: 

How do they get away with it? 

I went to MCoBeauty's CEO Shelley Sullivan to find out exactly that.

'I'm not here to mislead the customer.'

Image: Canva, Kmart, Mco Beauty, Mecca 


"MCoBeauty was basically the brainchild from the success of ModelCo, which was my very first brand," Sullivan tells Mamamia.

"It was positioned premium, and globally, we ended up in the premium outlets and Sephora, and we did collaborations with [people like] Hailey Bieber [and] Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

"What I discovered through that journey was that there was a huge gap in the mass market for a cool, innovative brand that could compete with the giants of the industry: the L'Oréals, the Maybellines, the Covergirls, the Rimmels." 

Women wanted the products that were in shops like Sephora and Mecca of the world, says Shelley, but that they could buy in mass market, at a fraction of the price.


"That was my internal brief. So I went about creating a range of products that were the same in quality as the luxury brands, but a fraction of the price."

And MCoBeauty was born – not to 'dupe' anyone, but simply to offer luxe beauty products for less. While the company has garnered something of a reputation among consumers as a 'dupe brand', it does have plenty of its own products – the majority, in fact.

"We obviously have a range of products; I'd say about 60 per cent of our products are what we call our own products. These are the must-have products – what women want before they know they want it," Shelley explains.

"And then a portion of our products are inspired by our customers... from people, women and men alike, telling us what they wish they had. We have a really high customer base, and our customers are very in touch with us via social media, so we constantly have a stream of requests from people around the globe saying, 'We can't afford Chanel, we can't afford Dior, we can’t afford Charlotte Tilbury – could you create something like that?' So that's what really started us on what we call 'quality products, at a luxe-for-less price'."

Imitation vs. inspiration.

But these products look so similar, too, there's no mistaking where a lot of them found their inspiration. My MCoBeauty Flawless Glow Luminous Skin Filter is a dead ringer for a certain beloved foundation by a certain other brand (cough Charlotte Tilbury cough). So… how?


The key thing to note here is inspiration vs. not imitation. And this is one critical part of creating dupes that won't attract negative legal attention, explains Rebecca Wood, Practice Group Leader at LegalVision.

"There are certainly a lot of dupes out there," she says, not only in the beauty world, but in fashion, and even food marketing. "So there's always a lot of questions about: how can they do that? Isn't that infringement on intellectual property?"

The first thing to understand is, what are the sources of intellectual property? 

"It's [about] making sure that when [companies] are marketing products that they're, firstly, not infringing on trademarks... making sure that they understand the IP rights of these other companies that they're trying to copy, and really making sure that they're distancing themselves in terms of their own marketing."

Problems can arise, Rebecca explains, when companies try to "mislead consumers into thinking that if they buy this particular product, they're actually buying the product of the other manufacturer".

"Companies can't create marketplace confusion or engage in any conduct that would be considered misleading and deceptive," she says. "So again, when it comes down to branding and marketing their products, the dupe companies need to make sure that they're really doing something different, so they're not creating any confusion in the marketplace."

Shelley is well versed in not crossing that line, explaining that MCoBeauty has a very thorough process that they conduct when it comes to taking a product package or formula to market that may be similar to another brand that's already out there.


"When we get inspired to create a product, be it any other product that looks like a competitor, we put everything through quite a rigorous trademark and IP protection process," she says. "We consult trademark and intellectual property attorneys... Whatever I take to market is kosher. We do all the complete checks."

And she's not trying to confuse consumers in any way.

"I'm not here to mislead the customer. Everything we have is clearly identified MCoBeauty. We've done all of our intellectual property and trademark checks, and we made sure we're not infringing on anyone else's trademarks – and that's a big thing for us," Shelley says.

"We didn't create the word 'dupe'. Customers did," she continues.

"Influencers go, 'Oh my god, that's a dupe.' But if you look through our website, we don't say we're duping. That's really up to the customer to make that decision. Sure, there are some product hints, that something might be like another product you've got out there. But I think dupe has become a bit of a buzzword."

And while these formulas might behave just as beautifully as their boujie counterparts, they aren’t the same, Shelley explains.

"Our formulas actually aren't the same; the formulas are what we call 'very similar'. So when you look at [our] lip gloss versus a fancy lip gloss, they are never ever, like for like. We uniquely formulate products that give a similar or same effect. We can benchmark a formula that's very similar, but we don't go and take another brand's formula.


"We're not out there to take anyone's intellectual property; we're here to give our customers choice. If they want to trade up and buy Charlotte Tilbury, or any other brands, they can. If they want to buy a more affordable version, that's up to them."

At the end of the day, consumers love MCoBeauty products because the quality truly is there – along with a price tag many of us are happy to get behind.

"We will continue to provide an extremely high-quality product at an affordable price, and that's across the brand, Shelley says – 'dupe' or otherwise. The fact that we have lookalike products or products that deliver the same quality? It’s what we do."

And damn, they do it well.

Alix Nicholson is Mamamia's Weekend Editor. Want more from her? Follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: Getty.

This article was originally published in December 2023 and has since been updated.

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