An Australian influencer faced a backlash when she released a champagne flute ‘inspired’ by her mother. The controversy reflects a growing ecommerce trend.

  • Australian influencer Olivia White faced criticism from some for selling a product ‘inspired’ by her mother, but produced and designed overseas.
  • White told Business Insider she was clear about what value she brought to the product, which entailed sourcing, packaging and sending on distinctive looking champagne flutes.
  • This is an example of a vendor making themselves a middleman in a transaction, which is an increasingly common dynamic in ecommerce that sometimes draws the ire of customers and audiences.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Late last year, Olivia White shared a photograph of herself looking on as her mother poured champagne into a striking glass.

“Today I got to surprise my legend of a mama aka ‘Valerie’ with our feminine champagne flutes we created the identity for which was inspired by her,” the Australian lifestyle influencer wrote to her 150,000 followers.

Some members of White’s audience took issue with the seemingly innocuous post and the product.

The champagne flute, they noticed, was not a design of White’s: it was a product sourced from overseas that was being sold on by the influencer.

Across Facebook and Instagram, users shared screenshots of the distinctive design being sold for just a few dollars, compared to the $40 per glass charged by White.

The observation even made its way to the snarky author of the famous UK-based influencer blog GOMI, Alice Wright.

“This is all very charming and ‘savage’… until you realise the flute inspired by and named after her progenitors has long been available on sites like AliExpress… and on Wish… and over on Amazon UK,” she said in a blog post.

The comments on the post, as well as a number of others about the product, have been turned off by White.

White told Business Insider Australia that she was clear about her role in producing the product.

“I never said they were designed by me. Simply that the identity and message behind the glasses was inspired by them. Same with our other products which also have female names and messages behind them,” she said in an email.

Working with someone who sources products for sale, White said she imported the glass directly from China along with custom bags and packaging, packaged them herself, and sent them to customers.

Part of a growing influencer trend

White is far from the first influencer to have been criticised for repackaging products produced by other manufacturers.

Australian Instagram account Celeb Spellcheck drew attention to a similar situation with Australian fashion influencer Brooklyn Kelly’s clothing line On My Way.

The account recently posted side-by-side images of with identical products from ecommerce site AliExpress, even using some of the same images for the product listing. And many creators have been ‘called out’ for doing the same thing.

It is increasingly common practice for influencers — particularly those below the top tier, who tend to be solo or small operations — to source already designed or produced products, place their own branding on it, and send it to customers.

This middleman dynamic is the backbone of much of modern internet commerce. Businesses can make money by connecting consumers to other businesses.

An example of this is affiliate marketing, where publishers and content creators – including Business Insider Australia – direct their audience to ecommerce retailers like Amazon and take a small portion of any sale.

A more extreme version of this middleman dynamic is ‘dropshipping’ – when influencers or online businesses never physically stock the product, instead acting as a a go-between for customers and manufacturers.

Unlike traditional retail business model where a business buys stock, stores it and then sells it to customers, dropshipping businesses will market and handle orders, but then hand it over to manufacturers once the order is lodged.

It’s become extremely popular with online creators as barriers to entry have shrunk with the near zero cost of setting up an ecommerce website and the increased accessibility to manufacturers through the internet.

It’s possible for an individual to set up their own dropshipping business with almost no capital or experience.

Andy Mai is Sydney-based entrepreneur in his early twenties who has run dropshipping ecommerce businesses in the past and now teaches others to do the same.

He said that dropshipping and other middleman business models trat the products as interchangeable, substitutable commodities. Businesses then compete against one another using marketing and product selection as differentiating factors.

These businesses are particularly popular with influencers and content creators, he said, who are effectively marketing themselves.

“Why someone might buy something is because they’ve become attached to their influencer. Imagine watching the same person every day for six months, and hearing them ask ‘Can you buy something I’m selling?’ They want to help the creator,” Mai said to Business Insider.

Mai said that while middleman businesses may not produce products themselves, they still require a lot of skill.

“The value they they bring is that they find hot and interesting products […] and then market them. If there’s a product that’s already in the market, the only differentiator is going to be content,” he said.

“Audiences want to support their creator, they’re creating free content. So they buy their stuff.”

So while White may be selling a champagne flute that anyone with an internet browser can buy for significantly less, the Australian influencer is trying to create additional value through the the story that she weaves around the product.

Like many others, she’s monetising the relationship she’s created with the audience and the brand value that comes with the product.

When asked why some seem to react negatively to this type of business model — like the backlash against White or other influencers — Mai said it’s a common reaction.

“People don’t like it because you’re selling them a product that they could get for cheaper. They look at it on Ali Express and go ‘I could have got that’. That’s what makes them angry,” he said.