Danielle Bernstein of the popular fashion blog and brand WeWoreWhat has been accused of copying the face mask design of Latina designer Karen Perez’s accessories brand Second Wind. The accusations, from fashion watchdog Diet Prada, come less than a month after Bernstein became a member of the American Influencer Council, a platform to promote professional ethics amongst influencers and “support the art of co-branded content.” Bernstein has since denied the allegations.
According to Diet Prada's post, which includes an exchange between Perez and Bernstein, Bernstein reached out to Perez via Instagram on June 29, a month after the brand first launched, asking for a sample of the mask from the brand. In response, Perez requested her color preference and exact facial measurements to ensure that the mask would fit properly.
Called the Tina, Second Wind’s mask is made of linen and comes in four colors. With each style comes a gold chain, which shoppers can swap out for other accessories like lucite and tortoiseshell chains. Perez also released two other masks: the Janie and the Marina. All three styles are currently sold-out.
Perez was “extremely excited” that someone as influential among shoppers as Bernstein was interested in wearing her designs. “From what I’d heard about Bernstein and what she’s expressed on social media, she is a big advocate of small businesses,” she says. “I put a rush on her masks when I was already swamped with so many orders. I’m a one-woman show.” She even planned to hand-deliver the masks to Bernstein’s house in the Hamptons. Then she received another DM from Bernstein.
Three days after she first reached out to Second Wind, Bernstein took to her DMs again, to inform Perez that she, too, would be releasing a linen face mask with a detachable gold chain. “Babe I thought I should let you know I’m also making masks with a detachable chain - similar to the sunglass chains I own - didn’t want you to think I’m copying you!” Bernstein wrote in a DM posted by Diet Prada. “Still so excited for yours! Masks are a different shape too.”
“My heart dropped,” Perez says of her immediate response to reading the DMs. “My first thought was, ‘Wow, why didn’t she just say something when she reached out to me. She could’ve told me that she was making something similar, but still just really loved my design,’” Perez says. “I get it, she collaborates with Macy’s and other big brands. I am no one to her.”
Perez says that, as a stylist with 15 years of experience in fashion, she knows how this business works. “I’ve been in the design and manufacturing world as well, and have worked with big brands," she says. "I understand this process, I don’t expect her to collaborate with me.” But as someone who has put hard work and her savings into the mask, Perez says she felt defeated. “I just thought, ‘This is it,” she says. “I almost nearly quit.”
Instead, she did the opposite. “I said to myself, ‘You know what? I’m going to pick myself up, and I’m going to keep going,’” Perez says. She says that she’s aware that she didn’t invent the idea of designing stylish masks — amidst the pandemic, most brands have pivoted to designing the item — or even of attaching a chain to them. “But what I did is that I created a very specific design for a mask shape and a loop that is proprietary to my mask.” On top of using a chain, linen material, and similar color palette, according to Perez, Bernstein also used the same loop and mask shape.
“When I saw that she posted about the masks being released using the same wording that I used on my website when talking about the specific types of chains being lightweight as well as the fabric, I was shocked,” Perez says. “But again, as a small, minority-owned business, what could I possibly say?”
It wasn’t until Perez was reached out to by the account Influencers Truth (which has since gone private), that she decided to open up about the situation. “I honestly didn’t think it would go anywhere.” And yet, her story has gone viral. In the days since Diet Prada and Influencers Truth shared side-by-side images of the masks and exchange between Perez and Berstein, E! News, Jezebel, and Fashionista have all covered the news.
Since then, Bernstein posted a message on her Instagram stories. In her post she wrote this: "I made these masks to provide something that my customers were requesting, to encourage safety during a global pandemic, and to create a sustainable solution to fabric not going to waste. While the accusation that I stole or solicited the designs are false and I have shared receipts of emails proving that these claims are not true, I am deciding to donate all of the masks and will donate an additional 5,000 surgical masks to frontline healthcare workers. I want to take all of the negativity surrounding these masks and do something positive with it. I will continue to show my support for small businesses and give back to great organizations."
“I’ve said my truth, and I know what’s real,” Perez says, adding that this situation could have been avoided if Bernstein informed her during their first conversation that she was also making masks. Since then, Perez has received an influx of messages from people who say they’ve gone through the exact same thing.
“I don’t have capital or influence, so I really just thought that I’d be pushed aside, just as the other people who’ve messaged me have been pushed aside,” she says. “I realized, though, that I need to use my voice and speak up because this has been done to so many and enough is enough. It’s not okay, and you have to give credit where credit is due.”
Refinery29 reached out to Danielle Bernstein’s team for comment on this matter, but have yet to hear back.