Forget counterfeits. fashion designers now face a new threat: deepfakes

Innovation

The CEO of small fashion label Popflex is used to scammers creating knockoffs of her designs. But then one used AI to swap her face for someone else’s in a counterfeit marketing video.
A woman at left showing off a skort.

In a TikTok published earlier this month, Cassey Ho said Begoing swapped her face in a video where she is seen modeling her own clothes.

Cassey Ho

As the owner of the activewear fashion label Popflex, Cassey Ho has dealt with counterfeit ripoffs of her designs in the past, a common scourge of the fashion industry. But earlier this month, Ho encountered something she’d never seen before: a no-name brand on Amazon that was not only selling a knockoff version of her skort, but using her own video modeling the item — with her face swapped out for someone else’s.

“It feels incredibly violating,” she told Forbes. “I’m going through this listing and that’s my body, but that’s not my face. You feel like you’ve been robbed and taken advantage of.”

Counterfeiting is nearly as old a problem as fashion itself, but some argue that new advances in AI are making the problem worse than ever. Everything from high-end labels to celebrity sports jerseys have been consistently copied for decades, only recently to be accelerated in the age of mainstream e-commerce and AI.

Some allege that Chinese fashion firms are predicated entirely on IP theft; one lawsuit against fast fashion powerhouse Shein argued that it has become “the world’s top clothier through the deft use of artificial intelligence and an algorithm,” resulting in the release of thousands of new products per day. (Shein previously told Forbes that it “takes all claims of infringement seriously.”)

This is Popflex's pirouette skort, in lilac.

This is Popflex’s pirouette skort, in lilac.

Popflex

And now, as Ho learned firsthand, knockoffs are being sold by deepfaked versions of their designers.

“Counterfeits have been a hellish game of whack-a-mole for years,” Mike Ryan, an analyst with Smarter Ecommerce, texted Forbes.

But, he added: “There’s a huge difference between copying a thing’s likeness and copying a person’s likeness. It’s not just brand safety but personal safety. [Platforms like Amazon] have to take this way more seriously.”

After Forbes flagged the counterfeits to Amazon, the company took down listings for the Amazon store that had used Ho’s likeness to sell its knockoff of the Popflex skort, as well as two others selling similar dupes.

Amazon spokesperson Tim Gillman said in an emailed statement that the company “strictly prohibits counterfeit and IP infringing products in our store,” adding that it takes “proactive measures” to identify problematic listings.

However the label that made the counterfeit skort, Begoing, still has other listings on both Amazon and Walmart’s sites. Begoing did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment sent via its email form. The deepfake was first reported by Fox Business.

Fighting counterfeits has taken up more and more of Ho’s time. In 2023, she accused Shein of copying her “pirouette skort” in two different instances. This particular clothing item went viral last month after Taylor Swift wore it while playing pickleball, and appeared to reference it in one of her songs. Popflex’s skort is currently sold out.

Recently, though, the fight has expanded to dealing with not only theft of her designs, but her own marketing. In a TikTok video posted earlier this month, Ho also said that some of Popflex’s models and photos of its customers were stolen and posted to Amazon listings to hawk other “dupes.”

“None of us gave consent, none of us are getting paid,” she said.

Credit - Cassey Ho 3

Cassey Ho is the CEO and Lead Designer of Popflex.

Cassey Ho

Popflex’s outside legal counsel, Cece Xie, told Forbes that the playbook for dealing with IP issues is fairly standard in the world of fashion law – monitoring potentially infringing items, and sending out cease-and-desist letters. But it’s laborious and costly.

Still, remixing a video of a person potentially gets into different legal territory, she said, and involves “right of publicity” claims – the idea that a person has control over their own likeness.

Juozas Kaziukėnas, the CEO of an e-commerce analysis firm called Marketplace Pulse, told Forbes in a text message that Ho’s experience could be a harbinger of an AI-fueled near future.

“Using top videos on TikTok as the jumping off point, spammers will modify them or create new ones in hopes to replicate at least some of their popularity,” he wrote. “We are all about to have our friends see ‘ourselves’ promoting goods we had no part in.”

For her part, Ho, 37, is actively working on patenting her designs as a way to make it harder for imitators. She’s even explored working with companies like Outtake AI and IPShark that purport to automate detection of questionable items, but so far their high cost has been prohibitive.

“It’s hard to put all your money into fighting when you could be innovating,” she told Forbes.

More from Forbes Australia