Why I'm Not OK With Nail Color Dupes

Plagiarism is never cool, and nail polish is no exception.
Publish date:
November 20, 2013
chanel, nail polishes, dupes, industry

Now more than ever, there are some beautiful colors coming out in the world of color cosmetics. Nail polish is a particularly dynamic sector, with hundreds of new shades every year. Because color is the main variant between the different nail polishes on the market, it has turned into the perfect medium for the expression of color expertise in makeup.

But amongst all of those hundreds of new shades, not all that many of them are original colors that express a new idea. There just aren’t all that many people creating new ideas in nail color at the moment.

Only a few brands actually have a creative director or creative studio. The rest just choose new shades at the marketing level and sometimes just purchase shades from competitors to match in the lab.

When a unique shade is created, it influences the market in two ways. In the first instance, other brands will draw inspiration from some aspect of the color, such as the smokiness or spiciness, and create an interpretation that adds a new twist to an idea. This creates a dialogue that can grow into a trend and enriches the market as a whole.

In the second instance, a competitor will try to get in on the market of a successful shade by attempting to copy it. Because the development of new colors is one of the more expensive elements of a nail color, by copying the color in a lab, a brand can avoid the cost of the creative process and offer the shade at a lower price. But it could be as simple as wanting in on the market share of a particular shade.

Sometimes these copies are pretty close to the original shades. Mostly, however, they aren’t. They look like a flat facsimile of the original, with none of the nuance of undertone or texture.

For some brands, their customers aren’t necessarily aware of where the color originally came from and what it originally looked like, so the Xerox version is OK by them.

To protect themselves from competitors copying their shades, brands sign exclusivity contracts with their pigment suppliers. This means that their competitors cannot simply call the pigment supplier and ask for exactly the same thing. These contracts are pretty serious and suppliers can get in a lot of trouble for breaking them.

But for better or for worse, most of what we see on the market is copied, rather than influenced, and certainly not original.

The consumer has a few options. She can buy the original shade and directly support creativity in the cosmetics industry. She can by an interpretation of that original shade and participate in a new trend. Or she can buy the copy.

I choose the original or the interpretation. I understand how buying a copy helps a customer like me get a “look for less,” but I worry about how a purchase of a copied color benefits the copiers and not the creators.

Since we live in an era in which interesting nail polish shades are developed at many different price points, originality is not just the domain of the luxury brands. I know that I can find a beautiful shade even at a lower price without resorting to buying a dupe.

I love that we live in a world where we value people who are creative with color. I like that creative studios exist in the makeup world, and I support paying color geniuses to stay locked up in their studios under glass ceilings mixing colors and making art. It’s a question of valuing beauty, balance, nuance, and undertone. And it’s a question of ethics.

Much like the debate surrounding fast fashion, the duping of nail polish shades is bound to be controversial. What do you think about the ethics of color duping?