There are different camps on this. There are some people that believe that duping products is just plain bad. Copying someone else’s idea is a terrible thing and should never be done in any way shape or form.
I take a different view point and it all comes down to what we think of as a dupe. I mean is a dupe the copying of something in its entirety or it copying an idea as well? We could say that if you wanted to make a micellar water, that is a dupe – it’s duping an idea. Cleansing Balms and powders are pretty new things – is making and selling one of those a dupe too?
When you are learning to formulate, it is a really good exercise to try and copy different products on the market. It is good for learning about a variety of ingredients, how they perform and interact. It is also good to estimate the levels of different ingredients in a formula and try them to see if you have been successful. When you have successfully copied a product it can be quite rewarding to know that you have made something that is on par with something an expert formulator has made.
I also liken it to learning to play an instrument. When you are at any stage of learning you do not compose the music, you play other peoples compositions, and then you play again and again and again until you are great at it. Only at a certain stage of your development do you start to compose something original. When I studied at graduate and post graduate level I soon realised that there is rarely a truly original idea. People building on the research and knowledge of others. That is not a bad thing – it is about understanding your subject before contributing to it. Of course that doesn’t mean you cant have a try at your making something original at any stage, just that practising a technique or a method is also a good exercise.
I have been approached to make products similar to ones already on the market. They come to me with a product wanting me to copy it. However, when I dig deeper they do not want straight out imitations. They might want a different colour, scent and different ‘star’ ingredients. Would you consider this a straight out dupe? Some would and others would not! People on the whole want some originality in products they bring to market and they also want their product to be unique and to stand out from the rest.
There are rarely times when someone would want an exact copy, but if they do, I would normally advise against it for a variety of reasons and NOT ethical ones at that. I ask them ‘is it really worth while doing this? Will it eventually bring home the bacon?’ If there is something great already on the market, will it be worthwhile having another identical product? And as the person formulating, it would be rather boring.
Sometimes is the case that I request a sample of a product that they like that is already on the market. There is good reason for this. Often how we perceive something feels and functions varies amongst different people. There is no use in saying that they want ‘thick’ viscosity in a conditioner. This is subjective and what I would consider highly viscous another person might consider slightly viscous. How they function might vary too. Having something tangible to compare keeps us all on the same page.
Then there are other issues, when I get this wonderful product that I need to emulate, what do I need to do? I have to think about cost, how readily the raw materials are in the clients region and whether they want me to recreate a natural product copying something made from synthetics or visa versa.
Bearing all this in mind I often substitute many of the functional ingredients and still have a product that feels and looks similar with the same functionality. This is still considered a dupe in my opinion. But with all different ingredients, is it really?
I will let you decide…..