The Chinese ultra-fast fashion website Shein has been accused of copying designs by high street rival Zara after dozens of images were shared on social media showing virtually identical garments from the two outlets.

On the video platform TikTok, the hashtags #zaravsshein and #zaradupe – where users share the very similar items from Zara and Shein, often wearing them – have had 38.3 million and 39.8 million views respectively.

Shein has already faced legal action alleging copyright infringement, including from global companies such as Levi Strauss, the Dr Martens producer AirWair International and Ralph Lauren. The hashtag #sheinstolemydesign has had 6.4m views on TikTok.

On Instagram, some of the most striking examples have been gathered by @dupesnation. However, some fashion influencers appear to celebrate Shein’s ability to replicate Zara’s designs at a fraction of the cost. One post, captioned “Dupe AllyLikes”, shows a pastel pink and orange Zara shirt costing €29.95 alongside an apparently identical shirt from Shein for €4.49, complete with the product codes required to buy it.

The profile for the Instagram account @zaravssheinsays in Spanish: “Find Zara clothes at Shein twice as cheap!!!! Every day new garment!! References of all garments. Start saving!”

Shein has more than quadrupled its revenue since 2019, according to the Business of Fashion website, reaching $15.7 billion (€14.4 billion) in sales. It is now reportedly looking for $1bn in funding, and a $100bn valuation.

Alex Crumbie of the campaign group Ethical Consumer said imitation “seems to be the cornerstone of super-fast fashion”, adding: “These brands typically reproduce fashion seen elsewhere and turn it around in a week. Copying designs decreases the lead time.”

How they do it so quickly and cheaply is not known. “There is not a huge amount of information on Shein,” said Crumbie. “They will have supply chains all over the world where they can keep costs low, but where, we don’t know.”

If it is indeed plagiarism, could Shein get away with it? Quite possibly. “Let’s assume Shein did steal a Zara idea,” said Mike Flanagan, the chief executive of Clothesource consultancy. “By the time Zara spots it and sues, you’re looking at two years. But that design might have only sold five copies, and then disappeared within weeks. Proving something two years down the line is impossible.”

Zara’s owner Inditex declined to comment. A Shein spokesperson said: “Shein suppliers are required to comply with the company’s code of conduct and certify their products do not infringe on third-party IP.” – Guardian