Shein (pronounced she-in) is one of the world’s largest fast fashion retailers, and it uses its dominance of social media channels to keep its devoted group of Gen Z clients close.
The company has been linked to celebrities such as Hailey Beiber, Katy Perry, and Rita Ora, and is known for its ultra-cheap bike shorts, crop tops, and bikinis. However, charges of supply chain issues, environmental harm, and design plagiarism follow the firm even as it rewrites the rules on marketing in the social media age.
Shein has launched its own English-language reality program, following in the footsteps of other fast fashion firms. The second episode of Shein X 100K Challenges will premiere on Sunday, and will follow 30 designers as they compete to present their collection during Shein fashion week in Los Angeles and win a $100,000 cash reward.
However, Shein’s new program, as well as the company’s overall success, has prompted doubts about Gen Z customers’ values. Do micro-concerns like constantly changing outfits and maximizing camera effect override macro-concerns like respecting innovation, safeguarding employees, and ensuring sustainability?
For many, the reality TV competition’s premise – “be bold, be you” – contradicts everything the corporation has come to represent.
“How can you support this and claim to care about the environment or labor issues?” One Twitter user remarked to InStyle, “Shein is the worst of the worst disposable fashion brands.” “Shein is one of the most unethical fashion brands,” said another on Khloe Kardashian’s Instagram account, one of the show’s judges.
Shein’s transformation is incredible. According to CEO Molly Miao’s interview with Forbes, the site adds 700 to 1,000 new goods every day. According to Edited, 70% of its items have only been on the site for three months or less.
Shein failed to provide comprehensive disclosures regarding its supply chain, as required by UK legislation under the Modern Slavery Act of 2015, according to Reuters earlier this month.
Shein’s social responsibility page on its website said that the company “never, ever” participates in child or forced labor, yet it lacked the necessary openness.
News outlets were unable to independently verify factory working conditions or salaries, although the company’s website erroneously stated that its working conditions were approved by international labor standard groups until recently.
Last week, the fashion Instagram account Diet Prada highlighted designer Bailey Prado’s claims that Shein had plagiarized more than 45 of her designs.
Prado stated, “We need to ask why and how they are generating so many designs every day.”
“We are continuously upgrading our systems and procedures to ensure that situations like this don’t arise and that when they do, we are able to respond swiftly to correct the situation,” Shein stated in response to Prado’s accusation.
The site was created by entrepreneur Chris Xu, who apparently wasn’t interested in fashion and instead specialized in search engine optimization (SEO) marketing. It originally opened in 2008, offering wedding gowns and women’s clothes to western customers.
As early as 2011, the firm engaged with social media influencers and was an early adopter of Pinterest and Tik Tok. In 2015, it changed its name to Sheinside and coined the phrase “ultra rapid fashion.”
The firm was claimed to have surpassed H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 as the largest fast fashion store in the United States in June.
Lauren Bravo, author of How To Break Up With Fast Fashion, argues that what set them different from the Zaras and H&Ms of the globe was their absolute rock bottom costs. “Shein has gone even farther by offering clothing at such low prices that buyers are encouraged to view them as disposable.”
Its success defies widespread belief about the purchasing habits of Shein’s primary Gen Z customer base, namely that “generation Greta” emphasizes sustainability, authenticity, and transparency over low prices and quick fashion.
“It’s a mistake to believe that all members of Generation Z think the same way,” says Jodi Muter-Hamilton, creator of the sustainability and communications firm Other day.
“I believe there are many people who are profoundly concerned about sustainability but yet feeling compelled, if not obligated, to maintain renewing their outfits on a weekly basis,” Bravo adds. “I can see why young people succumb if buying ultra-cheap clothing is the only way they can afford to stay up.”
The firm has made it simple to give in. It’s simple to see why the expression “obsessed to Shein” appears frequently on Twitter after scrolling through their app. When I first log in, a T-shirt and some pants distract me, as does the visual search feature, which allows me to search for products similar to the one I’m wearing (a Breton T-shirt) after uploading a photo of it. Shein has created an app that mimics the experience of strolling through a physical store. There’s always the possibility of a dopamine shopping high.
According to Rogue Media, the hashtag #Sheinhaul has 2.5 billion views on TikTok. Many of the films have a same theme: a teenage girl drags a large cardboard box across the screen, which is stuffed with Shein products wrapped in clear plastic. Then, in the privacy of her bedroom, she poses with her new acquisitions for the camera. Many of the films emphasize how these shoppers were able to get so many goods at such a low price.
According to Bravo, “TikTok has turbocharged ‘hauls,’ to the point that seeing someone unload a package of 100 or more clothing is light entertainment.”
“This generation has never known a world without (fast fashion),” says Kayla Marci of Edited.
Plus size Shein hauls are a sub-genre of these TikTok videos. According to We Thrift, Shein is the UK’s most size-inclusive fast fashion shop, with 88,850 plus size selections. They come in sizes ranging from 6 to 26.
In a #plussizeshein video, one user, Morbid Muse, states, “I know there are problems with Shein and deliberately I try not to spend too much money on Shein any longer solely because of those difficulties, but when you’re large and broke there aren’t many places you can shop.”
It speaks to a bigger issue, according to Nick Drewe, an e-commerce specialist at WeThrift: “In the fashion business as a whole, there has to be more ethical options,” he argues.
“Shein is one of the only large retailers that orders 100 pieces or less for new products to help eliminate dead stock – which accounts for 10% of the carbon emissions across the entire supply chain for the apparel industry,” a spokesperson for the company said in response to claims that its fashion business is unethical and unsustainable. Shein is dedicated to preserving high labor standards across the supply chain and enhancing the lives of workers throughout the world by supporting national and international initiatives to abolish forced labor.”
Shein went on to say that the company is “completely dedicated to complying with the rules and regulations of the markets in which we operate, including legislation governing supply chain transparency… Shein is an equal opportunity employer who believes in ethical labor standards and fair trade. We have a firm and unambiguous policy against forced labor, and we take allegations like this very seriously.”