She began her personal style blog over a decade ago and, with the help of Instagram, managed to transform her love of fashion into a major successful, multi-faceted brand known as WeWoreWhat.
Who Is Danielle Bernstein?
What isn't Danielle Bernstein, might be the better question. The 31-year-old influencer wears every hat, from fashion designer to entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, and much more.
Known as one of the original influencers, Bernstein has built her WeWoreWhat empire from the ground up over the past decade and plans on just getting bigger. However, she's also burnt some bridges along the way after constantly being in the headlines for stealing fellow designers' designs. Let's take a closer look.
So where exactly does her relationship with fashion begin? The New York native attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study retail but, in 2010, transferred to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, where she would eventually begin her personal-style blog, WeWoreWhat.
Bernstein began a street style blog based on the "daily source of outfit inspiration" she had from her and her friends, but eventually, it turned into a "personal style blog," she told Gotham Magazine. But as soon as Instagram launched, she gained a massive new following, which evidently allowed her to "pioneer the influencer industry."
The Beginning of Swimwear
Just a few years after developing a major online following, Bernstein became known for her personal sense of style and glamorous NYC lifestyle. By 2016, she launched Second Skin Overalls, a direct-to-consumer overalls brand. And in 2017, she began collaborating with Onia.
Bernstein linked up with Onia to create an exclusive swimwear collection sold and Intermix, where it quickly became their best-selling piece that summer. Following the enormous success, Danielle worked with Onia to launch her own swimwear brand, which would later continue to be one of her top-selling products.
Becoming a Business
With the raging success of Danielle Bernstein's swim line, she landed a spot on Forbes 30 Under 30 list at only 24 years old. She was out there transforming her passion for fashion into a hugely profitable business. Bernstein told Gotham Magazine by charging for content, she was able to become a legitimate business.
"I was finally able to prove that by posting on Instagram, I could produce a certain amount of sales for people. Based on different calculations, I was able to put a price tag on that, which led to really making a real business out of it," she said. "Selling my own products came shortly after, which was putting the proof in the pudding."
Sharing Her Story
Not only is Bernstein a major influencer and fashion designer, but she's an author! In 2020, she released a book all about her personal life, her come-up story, and her life now as a businesswoman. This is Not a Fashion Story: Taking Chances, Breaking Rules, and Being a Boss in the Big City became a NYT best seller.
"I wanted to share everything, all the different sides of me, my flaws, and why I've succeeded. I'm hoping they take away something from my stories, whether it's career motivation or the red flags to look out for when dating. I want my audience to feel closer to me after reading this book," she told Harpers Bazaar after her book was released.
Launch of Shop WeWoreWhat
With the success of her overall line, swimwear collections, and other fashion endovenous, it only made sense to bunch all her brands together. So in 2020, Bernstein officially launched Shop WeWoreWhat, which now includes everything from swim to jewelry, active, formal wear, and more.
Audiences were enthralled by Danielle Bernstein herself, her brand, and of course, her designs. Everything she put out under her WeWoreWhat label was trendy, fashionable, photogenic, and affordable-people were obsessed. However, she was accused of copying designers' original looks time and time again, but it didn't seem to stop her.
Working with Macy's
In the spring of 2020, the young entrepreneur partnered up with Macy's to develop a namesake brand only available at the department store. The first collection was available for women in sizes 00 to 24, making this her first size-inclusive line. Plus, it was all under $100!
The collection was a major success, selling $1 million in the first two hours and $2 million after just 24 hours. A few months later, the Danielle Bernstein summer line launched, featuring vintage-inspired dresses and sets. However, there was one dress in particular that caught everyone's eye, and well, not in the best way…
The Scandalous Baby Doll Dress
Despite the major financial success of the Danielle Bernstein collection with Macy's, the iconic Instagram account Diet Prada called out the young influencer the day after her collection dropped, accusing her of copying a dress design from a Danish designer.
Diet Prada straight up accused Danielle of "swiping a little more than just 'inspiration' from Cecile Bahnsen's "puff-sleeved tiered babydoll dress." Bernstein didn't respond to the allegations, but the dress was marked as "currently unavailable" after the news of the copycat dress began to spread.
News of the copycat dress quickly reached the Danish designer, to which she had a few words to say about the whole situation. "You have to take it as a compliment and also a challenge to keep moving on and to be innovative," Bahnsen told Harper's Bazaar.
"It's always a shame when the high street copies a young brand because you don't even get to start before a bigger company takes what you do," she added. However, this wasn't the first, and it certainly wouldn't be the last time Bernstein was accused of copying a young artist's designs.
Lulu DK Collab
Two years prior, DB did a jewelry collab with Lulu DK sold in Nordstrom, where she received a whole lotta backlash for selling items that looked very similar to other brands. Diet Prada compared the pieces to jewels from Foundrae, Retrouvaí, Bondeye Jewelry, and Tiffany & Co, so the department store pulled the "pieces in question."
Beth Bugdaycay, the Foundrae founder, wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post, referring to the controversy, writing, "Tonight I feel crushed." Bernstein later uploaded an Instagram story explaining the line was inspired by her late grandfather and her own personal fine jewelry collection.
The Vintage Shorts Faux Pas
Bernstein got caught in yet another mess during the summer of 2020 when she shared an outfit highlighting a pair of "vintage gym shorts from the 90s." The influencer told her millions of followers that she planned on remaking them for her WeWoreWhat brand. However, Diet Prada pointed out the shorts were actually not vintage whatsoever.
Diet Prada pointed out that the shorts were designed by the Australian Etsy account Art Garmets. Grace Crosby, the shop owner, revealed Danielle bought the shorts a few months prior. Since then, Bernstein changed her Instagram caption, writing, "sincerely thought that they were vintage as the shop I got them from primarily sells vintage items."
The Chained Mask Debacle
Danielle assured her followers that she would not be making the shorts, but the copy controversies just continued. Right after the Etsy shorts disaster calmed down, Bernstein was caught in another tiff with a small Latina business owner, Karen Perez, who was making masks with chains for the pandemic.
So what exactly happened this time? Well, Diet Prada was the one to spot the similarities between DB's chained mask to the Second Winds. According to the account, Bernstein messaged Perez asking for samples of the mask, and then a few days later messaged her to tell her she's "also making masks with a detachable chain."
A Clear Copy
Bernstein assured Perez that her creation was "similar to the glasses chains" she already owns, and the "masks are a different shape," letting her know she wasn't copying her design. However, Instagram followers quickly pointed out how identical the two products really were, which led Perez to almost shut down her entire business.
Perez told Refinery29, "How many times do we see high-end designers get knocked off by fast fashion brands? I was just never aware that it would happen to me so quickly." Danielle spoke out, claiming the allegations were "false," but she deleted the chained face mask off Instagram and donated the products to healthcare workers.
Crossing the Line
These days, copying designs feels almost unavoidable with the rise of fast fashion. Brands are reinventing each other's designs all the time, but DB is caught in the middle time and time again. For her holiday collection, the WeWoreWhat creator was accused of stealing Grayscale's signature corset skirt with her collab with Macy's.
Grayscale designer Khala Whitney told Insider Bernstein had purchased one of her skirts in 2017 and uploaded multiple images of herself wearing it on her social media. Fans noticed the black patent leather skirt she released was very similar to Khala's. "She's got some explaining to do," Whitney said. "It crosses the line."
An Insider’s Point of View
Insider spoke with people who have previously worked with Bernstein on her clothing lines, who admitted some of her design tactics were to blatantly copy others. A former designer for Onia told Insider that Danielle had brought in a cotton top from Rumi Neely's brand Are You Am I, asking them to mirror the design as a swim top.
The founders of the small activewear brand Live The Process came out in 2020, saying they sent Bernstein a set of long-sleeved collared ribbed knit tops and matching shorts that Danielle later copied. The brand's co-founder, Jared Vere, told Insider that the influencer also copied the brand's minimalist photography aesthetic as well.
Copying Allegations Continue
We Are Kin founder Ngoni Chikwenengere got caught right in the middle of yet another Danielle Bernstein controversy! Chikwenengere revealed her friends warned her to "be careful" when giving the influencer something to wear, but she was hopeful she would "see some business off the back of it."
Ngoni said Bernstein had copied her Silk Strappy Maxi dress and produced it under the WeWoreWhat line, calling it "identical to her design." Chikwenengere shared screenshots of Danielle asking her for the dress months earlier, explaining that she is "the latest victim of @weworewhat and Danielle Bernstein's crusade against small designers."
Bernstein Speaks Out
She tends to keep things lowkey in times of controversy, with the occasional Instagram story here and there, but this time she was determined to clear her name. She responded to the Ngoni's accusations, saying she "absolutely did not" steal her designs and that "there will always be something" that people "can say looks similar."
"Why am I sharing this now? … Because I'm fed up with this false narrative being spread about me stealing designs when I have time after time proven each accusation false," she wrote. However, millions of Instagram followers, including Diet Prada and WeOverWhat, whose bio reads "Sick n tired of being punked by DB," believe otherwise…
The WeWoreWhat Community
So, we do have to wonder-where does DB get all her inspo from, if not from other brands. According to the designer herself, a lot of ideas are pulled from "vintage and editorial" as well as things she wishes she had in her closet. She told Gotham Magazine she also uses her followers as inspo, listening to what they are looking for and making it come to life.
"They tell me what they want, from shorts to a longer inseam or pants with a higher waist, and I incorporate that feedback into my designs," she said. "My followers will ask me for new pieces, and I want to make them products that they want to wear." The WeWoreWhat community is certainly a strong one!
The Tissue Paper Dilemma
Although DB is adamant that she has not copied fellow brands' designs, this time, things got way out of hand. In October 2020, Bernstein sued the Brooklyn-based lingerie brand, The Great Eros, after the brand claimed she had copied the design of its signature tissue paper pattern design.
The brand accused Danielle of using their signature pattern of female nudes for her WeWoreWhat x Onia line, while Bernstein claims Matisse's line drawings inspired the designs. The designer insisted "generally ubiquitous concepts, such as silhouettes of the human form," are not unique to any company or one person.
The Lawsuit Continues
In the lawsuit, Danielle says that she had never purchased anything from the brand or been gifted anything and that her design team was not familiar with The Great Eros. Bernstein, however, did speak out on the situation. "I want to clarify that I am ABSOLUTELY NOT seeking financial gain."
She continued, "What we are doing is simply asking the courts to confirm that we did not infringe on an alleged copyright," she wrote on her Instagram story. The Great Eros team filed its own lawsuit against Bernstein and the WeWoreWhat team, where they successfully received approval from the US Copyright Office for their design.
The Poshmark Feud
Another one of Bernsteins most high-profile controversies went down in early 2020, with a Poshmark seller who purchased unreleased samples from the WeWoreWhat x Onia swimwear collection and put them up for sale. Jade Myers received the items by mistake, but screenshots showed Bernstein pleading with Myers to take the items down.
Myers asked Bernstein to buy back the samples at the same price she posted for them on Poshmark, to which Bernstein said she would "pay for every single piece." However, DB later said she would pay for the pieces, not the resale price, and the feud blew up online. According to Myers, the two eventually came to an agreement.
More Jewelry, More Problems
Earlier this year, WeWoreWhat introduced its first jewelry line, and although it sold out immediately, there was more speculation around one piece in particular. Bernstein uploaded a photo of herself wearing a necklace with an equal-sided beaded cross, which fans immediately pointed out looked similar to the retailer, Coco Belle.
Coco Belle commented on the situation, saying, "Yes, looks like it. She asked me for a free one last year, and I declined because we are a small business and want to make sure everyone has a one-of-a-kind piece." The WeWoreWhat team denied all claims, stating that the inspo came from a piece she had purchased from an estate sale in 2021.
Creating Body Dysmorphia Issues
In addition to her many copycat allegations, Bernstein is constantly put in the hot seat for photoshopping her Instagram pics. Users constantly accuse her of heavily photoshopping er mosts, where a number of accounts, specifically the now deactivated account @WePhotoshoppedWhat2, pointed out her "photoshop fails."
Guest of a Guest interviewed the accounts creator, where they shared how Danielle's photoshopping caused "body dysmorphia and eating disorders" for some. The accounts admin shared she would "mostly like to bring to her attention the harmful effect she has on so many girls" and that she is "absolutely gorgeous in her natural body."
Regretting Using Photoshop
People sat down with Bernstein, asking her about all the photoshop allegations, to which she shared more about her personal insecurities. "I'm sorry that there was a time where I was not even remotely close to comfortable in my own skin and was sharing highly Photoshopped images of myself," she said.
"And I regret that I didn't share my imperfections earlier because, obviously, we all have them, and it also would have helped me to relate to my followers even more. I've learned to become a lot prouder of my imperfections and to be a lot more open with my followers," she explained, admitting to her photoshopping days.
Partying Through COVID
Besides being called out for photoshopping many times, Bernstein was harshly criticized for engaging in pre-vaccine risky behavior. Danielle posted content of herself attending large parties, socializing maskless during the pandemic, which led to immense backlash from her followers.
Danielle responded to the allegations that she had been with people she had been quarantining with, wearing masks with new people she met, and was aware of the COVID status of those around her, claiming she stayed "on the outskirts" of parties she was out of. By September, she had contracted the virus.
Then there was the whole Ukraine hiccup. At the start of the war in Ukraine, Bernstein posted a bikini pic promoting her latest swim launch, writing, "When I say you can do both, I truly mean it. You can post about fashion and post about world issues. You can raise awareness for your new collection while also raising money to give back."
However, people were quickly offended by her tone-deaf post, criticizing her that "raising awareness" about a bathing suit collection isn't appropriate. Bernstein changed the caption, explaining that her team sent "$250,000 worth of refugee relief to Ukraine." Well, let's just say people were less than impressed with that one.
Haters Are Gonna Hate
At the end of the day, Bernstein is loved by many and despised by many, and especially with the current cancel culture climate, the influencer has to be aware of all her actions online and off. When talking to People, she explained, she's "learned to ignore it[cancel culture]."
"I think there will always be haters. It comes with the territory. It was tough when it first started happening to me over the pandemic. But I have very much learned to keep looking forward and not focus on haters. They just can always seem so much louder, but there really are, at the end of the day, a lot more supporters," she added.
Putting Her Mental Health First
With all the hate, DB explained to People that she had to learn to prioritize her mental health, even though it "only became a focus in the past year." She explained, "I share so much of my life, and I've had to take a step back to protect my mental well-being."
So, she began to share her "own struggles over the past year with mental health with my followers so that they know they're not alone. I think it's important that I allow myself to be even more vulnerable with them and have that authentic communication." She also works with a life coach to "handle bullies and online social media criticism."
At the beginning of the pandemic, Bernstein started a charitable organization known as WeGaveWhat, which has grown exponentially over the past few years. They've donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to different organizations and shine light and provide support for small businesses they feel passionate about.
Besides helping many small business stays afloat during tough times, specifically the pandemic, Bernstein believes the work they've done also helped her "from an emotional standpoint over the pandemic." She added, "Helping others has selfishly helped me as well."
The Original Influencer
With 3.2 million Instagram followers and an unbelievably successful brand, it's hard to argue Danielle Bernstein isn't incredible at her craft. Despite denying claims that she's copied fellow fashion brands over the past few years, the influencer still has an incredibly high following and has no plans on stopping any time soon.
As far as where she sees herself in the next five or ten years? She told Gotham, "I'm really focused on growing my brands. Whether that means introducing new retail stores, or new categories, you name it; I'm excited to continue being my entrepreneurial self and creating new businesses." Let's see it, girl!