Shein – Fast fashion at its worst 

“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.” – Lucy Siegle 

It’s a widespread fact that fast fashion is problematic. Poor quality of the clothes, severe work conditions in the producing countries and the promotion of excessive consumption through unbelievable low prices. But what if the fastest growing fashion brand in the Western World is bringing these unethical conditions to a new level?

Burgess Milner | Unsplash


There is no other brand like Shein. The giant Chinese brand that was founded only in 2008 in Nanjing produces clothes faster than any other company. In one single day around 7000 to 8000 products go online at Shein. Every single day. To put it into comparison: Zara “only” releases 200 new pieces a week. And the clothes are cheap – like really cheap! They have dresses starting at 4 Euro. Shein upholds the philosophy that “everyone can enjoy the beauty of fashion.” They even topped Zara and H&M with the most visited fashion website in the world. They are estimated to have made a win of 8.6 billion US dollars in 2020. So how is it possible to release that many clothes on a constant level? Does Shein have the biggest and most gifted team of designers? Not exactly. 


Shein has a history of copying designers’ work. They are known to have stolen multiple designs from smaller and unknown start-ups. The American fashion designer Mariama Diallo is one of them that found her design on the giant’s website. “I’m SO over these major brands stealing from black designers. @SHEIN_official STOLE my designs. They couldn’t even change ONE thing and it’s now one of their highest selling items. I work hard to design and make everything in LA just for them to mass produce in China.”, she tweeted in June 2021. But as a single person without big financial resources, it’s difficult to sue a Chinese mega-company. 


They have also come under fire for selling Muslim prayer mats as home decor and a swastika necklace – the necklace covers the symbol that was used by Nazis during the Second World War.


But now let’s switch to another urgent question. How is it possible that a dress costs 4 Euro? The NGO “Clean Clothes Campaign” had a breakthrough when they managed to identify some of the sewing places in Guangzhou and talk to the workers. The people they talked to usually work from 11 to 12 hours a day. Seven days a week with one free day in a month. The workers come from poorer areas of China and they purposely sign up for the amount of work to have savings for their families. The workers don’t have a formal contract. 


Also, it’s not a secret that fast fashion is unsustainable. But did you know that around 8.1% of the fashion industry is responsible for global emissions? It is cheaper to produce clothes out of plastic than through traditional cotton – therefore most clothes from Shein consist of plastic. 60% of the worldwide produced clothes end up in an incineration plant or a dumpster within one year. Yet Shein aims to promote itself as a sustainable brand that cares about the planet. This practice is also called “Greenwashing”. Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound.


Another way that Shein stands out is its effective marketing. Shein gained its visibility and market dominance through a powerful group with a huge influence. The name already suggests: The so-called “Influencers” have a tremendous reach, especially among Gen Z aka people born after the turn of the century. They are paid to upload “clothing hauls” and to share pictures with the brand’s clothes. But not only do influencers dominate the market; also their own app. In the Shein App, there are endless coupons, price-off codes and plenty of “Dark Patterns”. Those are purposely implemented tricks that websites and apps use to manipulate their users. The Shein App revolves completely around the collection of points. Through constant check-ins, challenges, live streams and gambling-related games users can gain points. With those points, they can go shopping for cheaper as well. One of the most manipulative games in that app is “Gift Box Rush”. In the minigame, you can click on falling gift boxes and open as many as possible. Some of the boxes contain gift-like coupons. Besides these mini-games, there is plenty of giveaways, hidden advertisements and even a wheel of fortune. Those mechanics can become especially dangerous for children and teenagers. In the Play Store, the app is legal from the age of 12 years old on. 


Now all of this might be concerning but still not the biggest surprise. Of course, fast fashion comes with its cost. One might argue that the disproportionate amount of criticism is against people from lower-income classes. After all, Shein offers affordable clothes. However, who is buying the most amount of clothes there? Most probably, the fast fashion industry is not being sustained by people from low-income classes who cannot afford to shop anywhere else, it is being sustained by people who overconsume because they simply can. Why else would there be Shein YouTube Hauls for 900 Euro? And just like that, clothes become disposable and overconsumption becomes a real threat.  

Clarissa Leute

Lavocedinewyork: How fast fashion became a phenomenon and why it’s bad for you and the planet
YouTube: Shein Exposed: The worst fashion concern in the world
YouTube: Exposed: How Influencers sell themselves to SHEIN
The Guardian: How Shein beat Amazon at its own game and reinvented fast fashion

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