As a TikTok standout for her styling and designing, Tamara Strzelecki is accustomed to putting herself out there. But she was stopped cold earlier this month when one of her followers shared an image of a Shein dress imprinted with what she feels resembles her profile.
Strzelecki, who is known on TikTok simply as “Tami,” first was clued in about the Shein dress on Jan. 11. “Shocked” by the seemingly strong resemblance to herself and her likeness, she said she must have looked at it 10 times before laughing nervously. “Then it started creeping me out a bit. I like to talk about my life in general with my TikTok so I went to TikTok and made the video about feeling shook after seeing this dress that looks just like me,” Strzelecki said.
Executives at Shein did not respond to requests for comment Thursday or Friday.
While her online business Sugs’ Shoppe has been running for 15 years, it became successful last year after one of her getting-ready videos — for a visit to her therapist — went viral, she said. More than 1 million viewed it, liked her style, realized she sold online and started supporting Sugs’ Shoppe. Strzelecki previously worked in hospice care, but a bout with long COVID-19 in 2020 sidelined her for an extended period of time. That prompted her to join TikTok and figure out how to earn more money.
She said she raised her concerns about the similarities and requested more information about the dress design in two emails to Shein, but received no response. The stylist bought the $20 dress to see for herself, despite having never purchased anything from the fast fashion, ”which is not really my thing.” After posting another video of herself wearing the Shein dress, an attorney follower offered legal assistance and suggested sending a cease-and-desist letter. Two subsequent cease-and-desist e-mails have not been responded to yet, Strzelecki said. With a small business to run, she said she only has so much time to press this legally.
The way she sees it, the issue is her logo is based off of her likeness, her style is hers alone, too, and something that she takes a lot of pride in. “Seeing somebody else capitalizing on my likeness just made me really uncomfortable. It didn’t feel fair,” said Strzelecki, adding that there are copyrights to protect one’s likeness in her home state. “A huge influx” of people were “quite rude,” posting claims that she didn’t look anything like the dress, she said. That made her consider the possibility of a doppelganger, but her 2022 viral experience on TikTok makes her think that the design was more intentional.
The dress has subsequently sold out on the Shein site. Having felt “really creeped out in the beginning” by the design, she said is trying not to stress out too much now. Acknowledging that it would be nice to hear back from Shein, Strzelecki said she will probably play off the dress more “especially if I haven’t heard from them.”
Some followers have speculated that an image was used by Shein via AI and Strzelecki noted how Shein has faced copyright infringement allegations from designers in the past. The 38-year-old said her husband found the dress to be funny, and her 7-year-old and 9-year-old children deemed the similarity “so cool.” She said, “I am just trying to not be completely overwhelmed by the whole thing. But it’s crazy.”
Having polished up some new handbag designs recently, the designer will also soon introduce some Michigan-made rompers that she has been working on. The Shein controversy has made a “bunch of people” suggest to Strzelecki that she design shirts or dresses with her likeness to sell herself online. “I have been talking to a friend about getting some designs together. I figure, if Shein is going to make money off of my face, I might as well try to do the same.”