Shein – one of the world’s top fast fashion websites, popular for its cheap and trendy clothing, has enjoyed explosive growth over the past years. Courtesy of thousands of sponsored fashion hauls and cheap laborers, the company is more popular than ever.
But there’s a dark side Shein doesn’t want you to know – the real cost of fast fashion. In this article, we will unveil the reality of how Shien is providing ultra-cheap fashion, the toll it has on the environment, and how it’s shaping today’s mindless consumerism.
Shein – More than a Fast Fashion Brand
Over the years, She-in has gone from being a low-cost Chinese apparel merchant to a global online fashion giant. Its sales skyrocketed from $10 billion in 2020 to over $100 billion in 2022. The biggest Unique Selling Point (USP) of the brand is low-price trendy clothing, majorly catering to Gen Z women.
The company mass produces thousands of products daily in its 6,000 clothing factories across China. According to Rest of World, the brand includes 2,000 to 10,000 new styles each day, a majority of which are copied from other popular brands or small-scale designers.
But behind the glamourous shield of Shein lies the dirty reality about how the company is able to produce so much at low prices. Blue color laborers forced to work 75-hour shifts with very little time off, and mostly under unfit conditions, are at the heart of the company.
Atrocious Working Conditions
Multiple reports and investigations have exposed how the company consistently violates Chinese labor laws. Journalists have uncovered concrete evidence that Shien’s $7 crop tops were made by workers in unsafe workshops working on minimum wage (often without contracts.)
“Inside The Shein Machine,” a Channel 4 documentary, revealed the harsh reality of factory workers through undercover footage. These workers were made to work 17-hour shifts to produce hundreds of garments daily. In one factory, they were paid a base salary of $20 per day, which would be deducted by $14 for every garment with mistakes.
The cheap, readily available fabric of choice from Shein is virgin polyester, a material that is not only highly polluting but also incredibly persistent. Its production process releases three times more carbon than cotton, and unlike biodegradable cotton, polyester never breaks down. This is a devastating reality, and it’s Time for a change.
According to Time, the company releases over 6.3 million tons of CO2 per year. However, Shein is not alone climate culprit here. Across the board, the fashion industry accounts for about 10% of carbon emissions.
Landfills are overwhelmed with a staggering 93 million tons of textile waste annually, much of which is burned and releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
The Impact of “Fashion Haul” Influencing
Social media is filled with influencers packing huge boxes of fashion-forward, cheap polyester clothing. For those unfamiliar, fashion hauls are young social media creators showing off their latest fashion purchase, rating the product, and recommending the right one to their millions of followers. Titled “Summer fashion haul” and “Bought all this under $50 only”, these videos are mostly targeted to GenZ with the aim to spark a desire to buy the displayed look.
Evoking FOMO in the viewers, these hauls play a crucial part in glorifying fast fashion and normalizing shopping in large quantities. A majority of which is disposed of after a few times.
Promoting driven-to-shop psychology, these fashion hauls have become immensely popular with the hashtag #hauls over 13 billion views and #clothinghaul about 1 billion on TikTok. A majority of these hauls are powered by Shien, with the hashtag #sheinhauls 3.8 million views on the platform.
The fashion hauls are Shein’s critical marketing strategy. Their affiliate collaboration with influencers who gets a 10%-20% commission on each purchase is one of the key reasons why the fast fashion website became the giant it is today.
Shein is on a Decline
Shein, the fast-fashion brand known for its cheap and trendy clothing, has seen a meteoric rise in recent years. However, its sales took a sharp turn in 2022 for the first time since the pandemic, with a few reasons behind the drop.
The slowing post-pandemic economy has left shoppers with less disposable income to spend, and persistent accusations of poor clothing quality, worker mistreatment, and unethical business practices may have finally caught up to the brand.
According to Brandwatch, 70% of online conversations about Shein were negative between 2020 and 2023. However, despite these challenges, Shein remains optimistic and reportedly seeks $3 billion to fuel its expansion in 2023.
The Problem is Bigger than Just Shein
Reports of Shein abusing its workers, producing harmful clothing, and worsening the planet have been circling for years. Still, the brand is thriving with more customers than ever.
This sparks the question – Is Shein really the problem?
And we know the answer. Shein, or any fast fashion brand, has transformed the fashion industry because of multifaceted factors, including affordability, convince, emotional connection, and above all, social pressure.
We are contributing to the exploitation of minimum-wage laborers
We see it, we are engaging with it every day on social media, and we are ridden with negative emotions like addiction and guilt. According to ThredUP, one in three Gen Z feels assisted to fast fashion, whereas one in five feels pressured to keep up with the latest fashion trends.
But that’s not what fashion is about. Created as a medium of self-expression and creativity – today, the industry has taken a 180-degree turn. And sadly, it’s no foreseeable end to the trend. However, a huge section of the population is standing up against fast-fashion brands like Shein.
The Need to Adopt Responsible Fashion
The industry is huge, and Shein is not the only culprit. By engaging in the fast fashion trends, we are giving the green light to brands like Shiens to continue labor exploitation and release humongous amounts of toxic chemicals.
But by educating and supporting ethical and truly sustainable fashion brands, we stand a chance to snowball a positive change in the industry. Fortunately, the trend of responsible fashion is already catching on with young shoppers.