The Marketplace Boom   //   May 10, 2024

After a Taylor Swift viral lift, Popflex faces off against AI-enabled counterfeits on Amazon & TikTok

Cassey Ho, founder of the Blogilates fitness brand and Popflex activewear line, knows that going viral can lead to counterfeit listings. She had a feeling an uptick in copycat products would occur when Taylor Swift, a beloved inspiration for Ho, wore Popflex’s popular pirouette skort in a short-form video promoting her new song “Fortnight.”

On, the skort sold out in under 15 minutes. Then hundreds of listings began popping up on marketplaces. But what Ho — who has 17 million followers across social platforms including TikTok, Instagram and X — didn’t expect was a new level of artificial intelligence manipulation. Some Amazon listings took her product photos and tweaked them ever-so-slightly to evade counterfeit detectors. One seller on Amazon took a reel of Ho modeling the skirt and reproduced it with an AI-generated face covering up Ho’s visage. Another showed Ho’s model wearing the skort but with a morphed, twisted hand.

It was eerie. It was also, in Ho’s eyes, theft. And, it was indicative of a bigger problem — that AI could be used to further rip off creators. She posted a video across her social platforms about it, racking up millions of views and putting a spotlight on her concerns about dupe culture.

“In the end, it just doesn’t feel right to have your stuff stolen right in front of you,” Ho told Modern Retail.

Many shoppers think of so-called dupes as popular, affordable alternatives to something they want but cannot — or will not — pay full price for. But that demand cuts a clear path to counterfeits. Michigan State University’s Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection found in a 2023 global customer survey that nearly seven in 10 customers have been deceived into buying counterfeits at least once in the past year — while about half have bought them knowingly.

Some brands, like Adidas and PopSockets, have filed lawsuits against sellers, accusing them of making and selling counterfeit products. Amazon and Epson just this week filed a suit alleging that as many as 24 sellers were selling counterfeit printer ink under its name. There’s also the “grey market” to contend with, where companies like Hoka and Carhartt see products pop up on marketplaces without their knowledge or consent.

While it’s fairly common for counterfeit listings to include the original photos from a brand, this could potentially lead to them getting caught. The creator could report the listing for copyright infringement and have it taken down. Now, malicious actors can use AI to manipulate those images in the hope that it won’t look like an exact replica of the stolen content.

Some are even using AI tools to make counterfeit products. One author, Jane Friedman, came across AI-produced books being sold under her name. Brian Cairl, senior managing director and director of investigations at risk consulting firm K2-Integrity, told Modern Retail in an interview earlier this year that counterfeits are increasingly using AI tools to come up with ways to reach customers and parade their listings as the real thing. “It’s an ever-changing environment,” he said.

This isn’t Ho’s first time calling out copycats or counterfeiters. In January 2023, she raised issues about the fast-fashion platform Shein mimicking the pirouette skort, which resulted in her meeting with the company.

Ho said she’s continuing to speak out about it after this latest round of copycats is to get companies like Amazon and TikTok to create more robust policies that don’t put the burden on creators. “I want to be in touch with them so that we can work together because I am not big enough to whack a mole hundreds of these listings a day,” She said. “You kill one and another one pops up. It’s not manageable, I don’t have a huge team, I don’t have a counterfeit department.”

For her part, Ho and Popflex have taken multiple steps and invested thousands of dollars to protect her intellectual property. She individually reports as many listings as she can, and invites her loyal following of more than 17 million across Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Threads and Twitter, to help do the same.

On the legal side, Ho has a registered patent for a pure white pirouette skort issued in January 2024 that has helped speed up the process of getting counterfeit listings removed. She also has patents pending for other designs, including the pirouette dress, that she’s already seen dupe influencers modeling fakes of. She hopes to be proactive about protecting designs from the moment they are created, relying on intuition of what might be the next viral hit.

“I feel like I need to protect my work because I am very emotionally attached to my work,” Ho said. “I am a part of every single design that you see out there. I’m literally sketching them, I’m a part of every fitting and so for those like, two plus years of development, I’ve been with her the whole time.”

Amazon told Modern Retail that it would be reaching out to Ho to discuss the issues she has raised. It also reiterated that it strictly prohibits counterfeit and IP-infringing on its store. The company has taken steps to get more proactive with the problem. Amazon said earlier this year blocked about 700,000 counterfeit accounts from being created.

“We have proactive measures in place to prevent counterfeit or infringing products from being listed, and from the moment a seller lists a product for sale, our advanced technology continually scans for potential counterfeit, fraud, and abuse — including future changes submitted for the product,” a spokesperson said.

TikTok, for its part, says in its community guidelines that it does not allow content that violate someone’s intellectual property rights. It asks people to file a copyright or a trademarked report if they suspect someone has reproduced their content that does not have “any new and creative changes.”

On the product listing side, TikTok claims to have its own suite of AI-powered detection tools and says it will take down any counterfeit items being sold via TikTok Shop. It also asks brands to upload any of their intellectual property documentation to help speed the process of flagging out infringing content and products. In the last six months of 2023, TikTok says it handled more than 68,000 IP takedown notices from brands — an average of about 373 cases a day.

“We have clear policies against both counterfeit products and unoriginal content, and we will remove violations from our platform, a spokesperson told Modern Retail.

Meanwhile, Ho has her own responses to manage. With 17 million followers, Ho’s fans tend to fall between one of two poles. Some of her biggest supporters help report counterfeit listings and tipp her off to new ones. Others don’t understand what the big deal is. Some have pointed out that Ho is not the first designer to create a workout skort. Others said they prefer to buy a dupe listing because it’s cheaper and they can’t afford her $60 item.

But Ho says many may not understand — or not care — about what was done to make it so cheap. Many dupes are sold for $13, less than she pays to get one made for Popflex that sold for $60. “A lot of people have been taken advantage of and being hurt in that process to take off all that money,” she said. “I lose followers when I talk about these things because people don’t want to know that they’re doing something bad. They don’t want to know that they’ve been called out.”

Moving forward, Ho said she hopes to work with the platforms and other creators to improve the policies that marketplaces have to protect against stolen IP and counterfeit items. In the past week, many friends and followers have told Ho that imitation is flattery and that many larger brands let the counterfeits go.

She posted this week on Instagram that she is working on how to find peace and mental clarity around people ripping off her work. But she told Modern Retail she wants to continue to work with platforms and designers to make change happen in “the lawless world of fashion,” where it seems few — if any — people who are policing the marketplaces are willing to hear her out and help make new tools for creators to better protect themselves.

“They’re always telling me, you need to change your own mindset,” she said. “I get that, but I also feel like I can try to fight this as well for a lot of independent artists and designers.”