Wednesday 22 September 2021

Fashion Deep Dive: Shein

Welcome to the first instalment of my new blog series Fashion Deep Dive, where I delve into the details of mainstream fashion brands looking at their histories, their human rights violations and any other cobwebs they might have hidden away in their cupboards. 


First on my hit-list is Shein, the Chinese brand that has risen rapidly in prominence in recent years and is now practically infamous – for all the reasons I will be discussing.  

The brand was founded 2008 in Nanjing, China by Chris Xu (who is thought to be a billionaire and doesn’t give interviews), and was originally called SheInside. Not quite as snappy as Shein I think you’ll agree. However, the original name nevertheless shows the brand’s aims and core ideal customer base: to make young women believe they are in a trendy exclusive club by buying more and more of their clothes. The app’s 7 million users per month and 160% surge in sales in January and June 2021 certainly show that that marketing is working. The brand officially became Shein in 2015 and now includes the brand Romwe as a subsidiary company. 


Shein have a history of opaque business practices, from the elusiveness of its CEO to the details of its supply chain. There is very little information about the people who make Shein’s clothes, which usually is a sign they are treated very poorly.The brand received 0 points in Remake’s Sustainability Assessment, which looks in-depth at a range of factors including worker welfare, sustainability of garments, transparency, and diversity of higher level staff. It’s pretty impressive to score absolutely nothing, and Shein trump even Boohoo who received 5 points. 


Shein is perhaps the prime example of ultra-fast fashion. On their website, they list 500 – 2,000 items listed every day and the time between the ‘design’ (read: theft) and  shipping to be as little as 3 days. That is ridiculously damaging on so many levels. The sheer amount of new clothing listed on their website every day is frankly nauseating. Think of the number of sizes for one item and the number of each they will have. That’s most likely tens of thousands of garments in total – mostly made out of polyester (aka plastic aka fossil fuels). With such a quick turnaround and at such cheap prices, you can almost guarantee that the (majority women) workers who made these clothes are not paid a living wage and are probably treated quite badly in order to get the clothes out in time (you can find out more about some of the things that occur in fast fashion factories in this blog post). Shein were one of the brands highlighted by Reuters in August 2021 for not making the relevant suppl chain disclosures in relation to the Modern Slavery Act.


Shein have made a series of very bad product design decisions. I genuinely don’t understand how these got the okay to be manufactured. For instance, in summer 2020 they tried pass off an Islamic prayer mat as a ‘decorative Greek rug’, completely disregarding the religious significance an connotations of these designs. At around the same time (the same week if I remember correctly), they also listed a swastika necklace. They later took it down and claimed that they used the original Buddhist symbol. In either case it’s not particularly great – trivialising and commercialising a religious symbol or a deeply fascist, anti-semitic, homophobic, racist etc. one. Neither is good, Shein. 


In May 2021, they released a phone case with the image of a handcuffed Black man outlined in white chalk on the back. Shein are using products using insensitive images, symbols, and cultural/religious items, created on the back of exploitation of mostly black and brown women purely to increase their own profit. 


Shein is perhaps most well-known for its regular theft of designs from small independent businesses and designers – ones that are much more ethical and sustainable than Shein themselves. The issue of design theft has been a huge issue with Shein for several years now, kicking off with a lawsuit filed against them by Levi Strauss & Co for using a trademarked jean stitching in 2018. It now seems like every week a new brand is stolen from and they are frequently owned by Black women. Brands they have stolen from include:



It feels needless to say that stealing from other brands at any time is obviously bad - however, it becomes even more so when these designs by small ethical and sustainable businesses often owned by marginalised people are stolen so openly by a brand that has never shown any evidence that it cares about its workers and mass produces these carefully crafted ideas with the sole aim of creating profit for its billionaire CEO. These tactics push small ethical and sustainable brands out of businesses, leaving the international fast fashion conglomerates with a monopoly on the fashion market – something that is good for neither their workers or the environment. 


Shein have hit the headlines in recent weeks for their new series airing this year where designers compete to win $100,000. A slight kick in the teeth considering Shein have been stealing from independent designers for years. Judges include Khloe Kardashian and designers such as Christian Siriano and Jenna Lyons. Big names adding further legitimacy to system of fashion reliant on exploitation and destruction of marginalised people and planet. It’s not something I’m particularly keen to watch.


More recently have stepped into the greenwashing arena with their new eco-line Shein Cares. The word ‘cares’ seems to be the it thing for brands who are super unethical trying to trick the public into thinking they give a damn about the environment (workers are normally left out of these campaigns altogether). Through their Wild Heart Collection, Shein raises money for animal conservation charities such as IFAW and various wildlife reserves in Singapore, but completely fails to recognise the role their overproduction has in damaging the animals they are supposedly aiming to protect. Shein’s campaign has been featured by various well known (and mostly rich, white, thin and straight) influencers who have highlighted what massive tree-huggers Shein apparently are with absolutely zero mention of their workers and supply chain. On their website they state that they will be donating $300,000 to animal welfare organisations as part of this campaign – a drop in the ocean of their estimated $10 billion annual revenue. Given everything we do and don’t know about Shein, these claims are undoubtedly lies made up for marketing purposes. These eco-lines never have good intentions and usually make up a small percentage of brands’ total production.  


Similarly, Shein claim to use factories that are ISO certified but ISO don’t actually certified brands. The ISO develop international standards but don’t certify brands themselves. This is deliberately misleading their customers. For more information on Shein’s vagueness about their supply chain vs the actual facts, make sure to read Remake’s article on them from earlier this year. 


Shein are the prime example of everything we need to move away from in order to make the fashion industry better everyone. They may claim to care but they do not give a single sh*t about their workers, the environment, designers, or even the animals they are seemingly so desperate to protect. They are a company built on lies, theft, and exploitation.

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If you liked this post you might like: What To Do With Your Old Clothes

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