How Cider became TikTok’s go to brand, despite ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘stolen’ designs

The inside story of the newest ultra fast fashion company

In October 2020 Christa Allen reprised her role as the young Jenny Rink from 13 Going on 30 in an iconic TikTok. In the video she wore a version of the famous Versace striped dress from the movie. The internet collectively lost its mind and soon copycat versions were everywhere. Shop Cider was one of the few brands who created their own version of the dress and it quickly sold like hot cakes. For a brand that had only launched a few months prior it ended up in with the brand’s co-founder Fenco Lin explaining the creation of the design.

Browsing Cider is like being slapped in the face by a Y2K girl. It’s as if Maddy from Euphoria and Olivia Rodrigo have joined forces to create the ultimate wardrobe. There’s corset tops, flared trousers, cut out crop tops and those iconic heart print jumpers. Shopping at Cider you feel like you can actually become Matilda Djerf and Olivia Neill at a fraction of the price. It almost feels too good to be true – so is it?

Well it turns out, possibly. Since it first launched in October 2020 Cider has been hit with accusations of copying independent designers, cultural appropriation, limited sizing, using the drop shipping method to source products and hundreds of customers have reported late deliveries, ill fitting garments and bad quality products. This is the inside story of Cider – the brand everyone has seen on TikTok and yet knows nothing about.

A snapshot of Cider’s Instagram

Cider joined the game pretty late. It was founded in 2020 by former Bloomingdales buyer Fenco Lin and former UberEats global program manager Yu Wu. The brand has raised millions in investment rounds including £133million from Andreessen Horowitz, a private American venture capital firm which has previously invested in Twitter, Airbnb and Buzzfeed. Cider has teams working across the world, but its factories are based in China where the brand says they work to “produce inventory in smaller batches, cut down on waste, and control our margins so that we can keep our prices affordable.” This is their USP in a fast fashion world where care for the environment seems at the back of many brands’ minds and at the forefront of their customers’.

When it came to creating the iconic 13 Going On 30 dress Cider, along with other e-commerce brands such as Amazon, created their design based on the work of small designer Wanda Cobar on Etsy. Cobar created the Versace inspired one-off design for Allen. Cobar charges £368 for the made to order design. Cider charges £14. You don’t have to be a genius to know which one cash strapped Gen-Z shoppers are going to buy.

And this is the trick to Cider’s success. Low prices for trend-led pieces instantly. They credit their success to their “pre-order” business model allowing them to create garments in smaller batches thereby reducing waste.

Cider is one of the cool new kids of ultra-fast fashion. It’s in the same lane as Shein, Zaful and Fashion Nova, who make the obvious contenders Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing look slow. They are incredibly tapped into what their target audience wants. When their customers needed a “13 Going On 30” dress just days after Christa Allen wore it, Cider was able to provide.

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A post shared by Cider (@shopcider)

Where it took Shein 14 years to reach 22.8 million followers on Instagram, it took Cider just 15 months to get 2.4 million thanks to their Pinteresque aesthetic on both their Instagram and TikTok. Their TikTok has a very specific vibe – green plants, Matisse prints positioned in room corners and minimal makeup. This is the usual look for their roster of creators who are rotated daily each giving new looks and styling tips for the Gen-Z audience. However despite nearly 700,000 followers and hundreds of views per video, each TikTok rarely gets over a 100 likes and very few have more than a dozen comments. Of the limited comments, there is never anything that could be classed as negative.

And over on Instagram, where Cider boasts 2 million followers, you’ll find comments under posts like “so cute and pretty” and “omg this top 😍”. But suspiciously no negative comments at all. A quick scroll through H&M’s Instagram sees people criticising the company’s alleged practises or the odd spam message is posted with people asking for a “like for like” and yet Cider’s social media accounts are spotless, flawless in fact.

The only post which could be considered a point of controversy is Cider’s own statement on cultural appropriation at the brand. Posted at the beginning of this year, a pink floral Instagram tile contained what appears to be a message from someone concerned about the brand selling a version of the traditional Chinese garment – a Qipao.

It reads: “Hi to the Cider Team… Multiple pieces of clothing that you guys sell is cultural appropriation within the Chinese community. The Qipao is very wrong considering it’s literally a traditional Chinese outfit, otherwise known as a Cheongsam. To sell them as articles of clothing is highly insensitive considering the cultural background behind the pieces”.

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A post shared by Cider (@shopcider)

The following slides are aesthetically decorated and claim the items are created by one of their in-house Chinese designers Joey, who created the Qipao inspired items based on her love for the movie “In The Mood For Love”. They claim the designs are a homage and go on to say at Cider they want to “celebrate togetherness” and are a “culturally diverse team”. They end the post by saying “Let’s all embrace cultural appreciation, not appropriation.”

Whilst the initial comments on the post celebrate the brand’s message, scrolling down further many users suggest the brand is still not getting the point.

One commenter said: “All this may be true, but the issue still lies in the fact that people who are not Chinese wear this in a sexualised, costumey, and fetishising way which IS cultural appropriation AND STILL AN ISSUE.”

Another said: “This still doesn’t negate the fact that the majority of your clientele will buy these traditional clothes because they ‘look cute’ not because they give af about the cultural significance, that’s where it’s a problem.”

Go on Twitter and the feeling towards Cider is less love hearts and more angry complaints. Many users are tweeting their frustration with the brand – they say they’re experiencing a slow shipping time, the wrong order, trouble returning items or receiving bad quality clothes.

20-year-old UK student Helena ordered from Cider after seeing the brand on TikTok. Whilst she had no problem with the shipping she told The Tab she had problems with the garments after one wear, “the clothes were pretty bad quality – I remember threads coming out of the jumper after one wear,” she said.

Durability isn’t the only reported problem with deliveries. Jae, who is based in Maryland, told The Tab she bought a sweater which had “a horrible burnt smell to it that I still can’t get out after multiple washes. It looks like it’ll fall apart after a few wears, honestly.”

Jae and 21-year-old Niezum from New York, both told The Tab they waited a number of weeks for their orders to arrive. Niezum explained her annoyance with the brand after waiting 20 days for her order to arrive, “I was frustrated with how long it took because despite ordering in the midst of COVID, I had faster shipping with other stores compared to this one.”

Usually when not satisfied with an online order most brands offer free return shipping. However when shopping on Cider all non-US based customers must pay for the shipping costs to return their items. Given the cost of shipping, (prices start at £6.85 to send an item back to China), is often more than the garment itself, many customers hold onto the garments and leave them in their wardrobes, unworn.

Some customers feel unable to buy from Cider due to the limited sizing. Many comments underneath their Instagram posts ask for more sizing. When the brand first launched many of their products were only available in one size – a decision many customers commented about on early Instagram posts. Currently the store stocks the majority of its items in five sizes – XS, S, M, L and XL. There is now also a curve and plus section available.

@lydia__bolton Hey @Cider Live Shopping Official you copied my fruity jacket! 💔 #smalldesigner #copycat #smallfashionbrand ♬ my own summer by deftones

This isn’t the only critique lauded at Cider. When searching for the brand on TikTok, alongside their own styling videos, there are often TikToks of small independent designers who claim Cider is stealing their designs.

“Someone sent me a message at the start of January saying, ‘I saw this ad for an apple pumpkin jacket that looks almost the same as yours.’ I went on Cider’s website and it was exactly the same,” said London based designer Lydia Bolton when she spoke to The Tab after her TikTok went viral in which she accused Cider of copying her design.

Lydia’s brand began in 2019 and evolved through her love of fashion and caring for the environment. She creates one off or limited edition pieces using second hand materials such as old tablecloths. The jacket in question was a fruit print tie style jacket which Lydia created using a tablecloth in May last year.

Fast forward to January this year and a jacket in a very similar style to Lydia’s is being mass-produced by Cider. Lydia said an image of the jacket ended up on trend forecasting website WGSN after the initial sale and this is where she believes Cider saw her design.

She has since contacted Cider about the jacket and was told they take allegations of plagiarism very seriously, however they can only do so with trademarked pieces. As a small designer who created a limited edition piece, Lydia had no such trademark and has therefore been unable to take it any further.

Lydia describes the irony of the situation; she was considering printing the fabric herself as it had been one her most requested pieces and she could easily have made herself a bigger profit.

“The funny thing is I thought to myself ‘maybe I could do a similar print and step aside from my normal ways of practice and print some on organic cotton’ but then I thought actually ‘I’m only going to do that to make money. I’m not doing that for like the core brand value, which is sustainability and reducing waste’.”

Though Fenco Lin mentioned the brand’s design process during her interview with many social media users argue the brand does not create their own designs, in fact they think all their stock comes from drop shipping.

The dress on Cider and the dress on AliExpress

Drop shipping is when a retailer doesn’t keep the goods in stock their customers order. This is often thought to be the method used by retailer AliExpress, who some social media users suggest is where Cider actually sources their stock from. The iconic 13 Going On 30 dress is available on both Cider and AliExpress. It’s not clear which company created the dress first, but it is notably cheaper on AliExpress. Drop shipping is completely legal, however when you’re telling your customers you design the products in limited batches but they allegedly come from a different site entirely, it’s hardly the most ethical of business strategies.

So what is the future of Cider? Bad quality products may stop some customers from shopping with them, Niezum told The Tab: “I don’t think I’ll order from them again.” However on average Cider gains 8,000 new Instagram followers and 300 TikTok followers every single day. Their new Valentine’s Day collection was recently modelled by South Korean influencer Ponysmakeup who promoted the clothes to her near 8 million Instagram followers. And TikTokers and influencers such TaeYeon, Avani and Carly Incontro have all worn pieces from Cider.

With endless new Euphoria inspired products dropping daily, a string of hot new Y2K girls modelling their cut out tops, Cider is very much here to stay.

The Tab contacted Cider for comment on numerous allegations. Cider did not respond. 

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