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How to Tell Indie Lingerie Designers from Aliexpress Lingerie Dropshippers

Sheer pink lingerie set, $10.98 via Aliexpress

It’s not easy to start your own lingerie line. But in 2021, it’s easy to pretend you’ve started your own lingerie line.

I’ve seen an influx of “new lingerie designers” who are very obviously not designing the items they’re selling. In fact, they’re not even purchasing them like a traditional boutique. They’re just dropshipping them.

How are Dropshippers Different Than Traditional Boutiques?

What’s the difference between boutiques and dropshippers? A traditional retail boutique buys in bulk at a cheaper price, then sells individual items to you at a markup. A “dropshipper” waits until you place an order, buys one item on your behalf, and has it shipped to your house.

Dropshippers hold no stock, do no fulfillment, and almost never have a say in how the item is made. They simply market it and take their share of the profit when an item is sold.

Why Should You Care?

This “zero risk” business model is hugely popular for e-commerce right now. Ethics aside, there’s nothing wrong with it. After all, paying a higher price than the product’s cost is normal. That's how businesses make money and, well, stay in business.

So why might you want to tell the difference between dropshippers and indie lingerie designers or traditional boutiques? You can often buy the exact same drop shipped item yourself from the factory on Aliexpress or Amazon, without a business or wholesale license, at a much lower price.

Use reverse image search to help you find dropshippers, such as this bra being sold for one-third the price on Amazon

When I did a reverse image search for the $45 bra on the left, I found it for $15 on Amazon.

Regardless of your thoughts on dropshippers, it’s important to make an informed purchase. No one should be misled into making a purchase based on false marketing.

When you’re not sure if you’re shopping with indie designers or a dropshippers, here are some things to examine before you click that checkout button.

No Original Photos

Feeling like something’s “off” with this new lingerie site you’re checking out? The very first thing you can do is reverse image search the item you’re looking at.

In Chrome, you can right click and hit ‘search Google for image.' If right click is disabled, open the image in a new tab by using an app like Imageye. If the seller hasn’t taken their own photos, you can probably find it easily on Aliexpress - and many other websites.

Of course, this can go the opposite direction, too. I’ve seen my own Catherine D’lish photos on Aliexpress. In this case, use your best judgement to tell who is stealing from who.

In the case of my photo, it’s usually used in conjunction with a bunch of other random photoshoot photos, stolen from all over the internet. You can occasionally keep reverse-searching images and find the original designer that the Aliexpress factory is knocking off!

An easy tell for dropshippers is multiple items photographed in completely different ways

These four product photos are incredibly professional, but are all photographed in different locations with different models and makeup. And every other photo on this particular website is unique in the same ways.

An Absent or Generic 'About' Page

With all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into launching an indie lingerie line, it’s no surprise that indie designers are excited to share their story with you. If a website does not have an “about” page at all, you can be pretty sure they aren’t an actual indie line.

On the other hand, if the site does have an about page, but it’s generic, vague, or impersonal, they might not be an actual indie designer.

A very generic "about us" page, for a website that sells three different dropshipped bras.

Huge Discounts Everywhere

Making lingerie is expensive! That’s why indie designers often sell items at a luxury price point. And since lingerie has such a low markup, many indie designers don’t run sales at all.

So when you open up a website and everything is marked down to something-99 with discount spinner wheel popups and timed sale banners? Let that be a red flag you may not be shopping with an actual indie designer.

Additionally, it’s helpful to get familiar with lingerie pricing by looking through the TLA archives. Once you get a feel for common cost-to-quality ratios, you can tell when the pricing is off. For instance, $29.95 for a “real corset,” or $99.99 for a flimsy-looking pushup bra and panty set made in 3 sizes.

An example of the popular "discount spinner wheels" that are everywhere right now. These are used by everyone, not just dropshippers. But look out for them used in combination with other big discounts.

No Consistency or Specialization

There are a few areas to examine when it comes to consistency.

In fabrics: Indie designers often use the same materials for many different styles because it’s cheaper. Small businesses can’t afford to have elastics, lace, and fabric all dyed to match for just one item. So if an indie designer is using one type of embroidery for one (very affordable) bra and panty set, and you don’t see it anywhere else in other colors, it’s unlikely they’re doing the designing themselves.

In style: Similarly, most designers still work by developing a concept and designing around that aesthetic or concept. If there is no coherent style or mood between any of the pieces, it’s another sign they may be drop shipped.

In items: Most indie designers can’t make everything. If you see someone claiming to hand make underwire bras, loungewear, stockings, crinolines, bralettes, and corsets, in a variety of styles and aesthetics, at a relatively affordable price point...? Well, they probably aren’t.

In sizing: If there is no overall size chart, or the size chart listed on their main page is generic and unrelated to the sizing listed on each product page, you can assume that the items are not being designed and manufactured by one person.

In photography: Photoshoots are expensive, and an indie designer likely doesn’t have the money (or time) to develop a new photoshoot concept and have a different shoot for every single style. So when a brand has different backgrounds, models, lighting, and makeup for each photo on their website, it’s a sign they might not be the designer.

This Etsy store sells too many products, a sure sign they're dropshippers

This Etsy store sells lingerie… and pretty much everything else.

Those Annoying Stock Clip Video Ads

This is one of those trends that might dissipate in the next year or so, but for now, it’s a sure sign of dropshippers. You know those video ads, filled with stock imagery and fast-moving text, proclaiming benefits that aren’t really shown in the actual video? That’s a pretty sure sign the company is a dropshipper.

My most recent favorite is this one, which claims a "granny" invented this bra “just for older women,” because of some industry conspiracy against older people. (According to this video, she is a "granny turned model."

However according to the website, she is an "ex model" who worked in the fashion industry her whole life.) Of course, it’s just a dropshipped front closure bra, from the same website where I screencapped that generic "about us" page. The designer doesn't exist.

Educated Shopping is Smart Shopping

None of this is foolproof, and often requires a gut check. If the site you’re looking at falls into only one or two of these categories, it doesn't necessarily mean they are dropshippers.

I also want to reiterate that there’s nothing wrong with buying from a dropshipper. Sometimes it’s easier than sleuthing the internet, trying to find the right factory to order from. Paying for convenience is definitely a thing!

But it never feels good to make a purchase under false circumstances. Plus, if you don’t mind doing a little research, you may be able to find the exact item at a much lower price, from the factory behind the scenes.

Quinne Myers

Quinne Myers is a lingerie expert living in Brooklyn, NY, where she creates quippy written content, crafts dreamy illustrations, and runs the ethically-made loungewear line, she and reverie.