Shein, the infamous fast-fashion giant, has been under fire yet again after a new investigation uncovered the numbing truth about the company's human rights and environmental record. The UK's Channel 4 documentary, 'Untold: Inside the Shein Machine', exposed the reality of Shein's factories, where workers are paid as little as 4 cents per garment while working 18-hour shifts. Despite these revelations, Shein continues to dominate the fast-fashion market, with the brand representing almost a third of the market in the US alone.
It is the most-mentioned brand on TikTok, far surpassing Netflix which came in second. Shein has been tagged more than three times as often as McDonald’s or Starbucks - it has tapped into the Gen-Z market better than any other brand. As the brand gains more and more popularity on social media with influencers flaunting their '#sheinhaul' videos, activists and experts are sounding the alarm. Fast fashion brands like Shein contribute to making the fashion industry the second-largest polluter globally, and it's time to take action.
Decoding Shein’s popularity
Shein's marketing game is strong with their #sheinhaul videos, where social media influencers flaunt their massive hauls from the brand. Plus, they're inclusive too - offering sizes up to 5XL, which is a rare find in the fashion world. This has made them popular among plus-size shoppers who are usually stuck with the "fat tax" on clothes.
But hold up! Gen-Z, the eco-conscious and politically active lot, seem to be loving Shein, which is strange considering their love for sustainable choices. Gen-Z, which is ostensibly more social-injustices aware and environmentally friendly than previous generations, yet they're Shein's target audience.
“The worry with what Shein is doing — especially with their target audience of Gen-Zers — is that it is making them think that it’s OK to pay next to nothing for an item of clothing, when the only way to have reached that price would mean exploiting people along the supply chain, from the makers to the designers,” Rebecca Morter, founder of the sustainable e-commerce site Lone Design Club, told Glossy.
As Shein secures celebrity deals and gears up for a reality TV show, it appears their ascension to the fashion throne is unstoppable. But, as always, the power lies in the hands of the consumers.
What’s wrong with SheIn?
Shein's business model is built on releasing between 700 and 1,000 new items a day(!), with each product produced in small numbers. While this may on paper minimize the amount of raw materials wasted, it still contributes to carbon emissions and waste. Shein's approach to sales(constantly new products, constantly new needs) is also part of the fast-fashion industry's pattern, where the average consumer throws away 60% of new clothes in the same year they were bought. To put things in perspective, when experts examined the company’s website, they found that 70% of its products in stock are less than three months old. At other fast fashion retailers, like Zara and H&M, this number is between 40-53%.
The fashion industry is responsible for more than 10% of carbon emissions and consumes approximately 100 million tons of oil every year, making it the second biggest polluter in the world.
Fast fashion brands like Shein also rely on exploiting people within the supply chain. In order to mass-produce clothes and sell them at heavily discounted rates, costs have to be cut, resulting in poverty wages and sweatshop conditions. Despite having a corporate social responsibility page that claims fair labor practices and a strict no child or forced labor policy, Shein has been accused of lacking transparency in its supply chain, as reported by Reuters last year.
Independent designers have also accused Shein of stealing their work. In August last year Bailey Prado, a crochet designer based in Los Angeles and London, accused Shein of stealing 45 of her designs.
“I convinced myself it wasn’t a big deal,” said Prado on Instagram, “but now my designs, what has been my whole life for the last 3 years, is now sold to millions of Shein consumers that will never know about me.”
“It seems like fast fashion companies have no consequences.”
Fast fashion haul or shop small? It's our choice: a livable planet where workers are paid fairly, or cheaper clothes created with stolen designs?