It’s one of the most popular retailers on earth. But after reading this, we hope you’ll realise there are loads of reasons not to buy at Shein!
By Lora O’Brien
When I used to find fast fashion bargains online I thought I’d scored big time! A dress, blouse AND a pair of shoes for under thirty bucks? Score! Now, knowing what I do about sustainable fashion, all I can think about is the poor condition of the workers who make these cheap garments, as well as the toxic crap they’re likely made from.
And while there are many brands keeping the fast fashion momentum going, there is one brand on our radar that seems to be worst than the rest. Yep, we’re looking at you, Shein!
Buying from this website can be like participating in a game of Russian roulette. Sometimes you’ll score and your items will arrive, other times your cheap haul will go missing in transit. But it seems many don’t care, as they continue to flock to this worst-of-the-worst fast fashion sites.
But there are many reasons not to buy at Shein besides not receiving your goods. Here are a few.
Main image: Madelaine Petsch for Shein Image below: @mindful_mending on Instagram
7 Reasons NOT To Buy At Shein
1.’Faster Than Fast’ Fashion: From Shop To Landfill
The first of our reasons not to buy at Shein is the most obvious. It’s fast fashion!
Shein is all about selling short term, fast fashion trends. Mainly through mobile phone apps.
In the early days of Shein, founder Chris Xu would scour Chinese wholesale clothes markets for garments he thought would be popular in Western markets. The items sold were advertised on the website and then purchased from the wholesaler once there was sufficient demand for the items. Xu, who was an expert in SEO, experienced a high volume of sales with Shein. This left little time to launch unique new products. So, they just decided to copy others’ designs.
By 2018, Shein had a design team that consisted of 800 people. They used Google Trends and other data to help highlight new clothing and push it to become trendy. Digital channels, such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube help to do this, alongside influencer marketing campaigns.
By shortening manufacturing cycles and making its items readily available, the ultra fast-fashion retailer invests most of its resources into capturing fashion trends even faster than its competitors. Investing in logistics, Shein can easily distribute these clothes to meet the demands of their millions of customers across the world, without having the burden of physical stores. This undercuts other fast fashion shops.
‘What sets (them apart) from the Zaras and the H&Ms of the world was their absolute rock bottom prices,’ author Lauren Bravo told the Guardian. ‘Shein have taken things even further by selling clothes priced so cheaply that they’re encouraging consumers to see them as disposable.’
According to an interview Shein CEO Molly Miao gave to Forbes, the store drops 700 to 1,000 new items a day on the site. And retail analysts Edited report that 70% of its products have been on the site less than three months.
2. Shein Haul Videos = Western Culture At Its Worst
With the Shein app having been downloaded 229 million times, Shein pushes its presence on social media big time. They heavily use influencers to help produce ‘Shein haul’ videos that gain millions of views. This targets the younger generation who really don’t understand why fast fashion is so bad.
If you’re not on TikTok (good for you!) then you’ll be stunned to learn that videos made with the #sheinhaul hashtag have 3 billion views. BILLION! And if you scroll through the videos, you’ll see the recurring ‘influencer’ image is the same: thin, conventionally pretty, wealthy white and Asian girls. They’re all spending between $400-$800 on over-the-top-clothing hauls. Which will probably end up in landfills within weeks.
Shein gifts influencers loads of free clothes or pays them. The more followers, the more clothes or money they get. The deal is: promote our brand, and we’ll dress you for free. The influencers then glamorise overconsumption and highly unethical fast fashion, making it look ‘cool’. Which is one of the core reasons not to buy at Shein!
And when it comes to social media leverage, no one domineers the world more than China. TikTok is a hub for Gen Zers. So it’s no coincidence that Shein – a Chinese brand – is featured heavily on TikTok – a Chinese owned app. In fact, Shein is the leading brand globally on TikTok, with 6,625 mentions per month. And the official Shein TikTok account was the third-fastest growing brand on the platform.
3. Kardashians, Design Theft & Overconsumption
As if Shein isn’t getting enough traffic from the likes of social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, the fashion brand has now joined forces with the queens of overconsumption: the Kardashians. Khloe, specifically.
Khloe, who has 185 million followers, took to Instagram to announce her collaboration with Shein. Specifically, she plugged the ‘SHEIN X Designer Incubator Program.’ This gives talented fashion designers around the world the ability to design a collection for Shein’s Fall/Winter 2021 virtual fashion showcase.
Since announcing the collaboration, Khloe has been slammed by many for supporting the brand. It’s problematic enough that someone with a Kardashian status is using their fame to promote a brand like Shein. Khloe has such a huge influence on social media, she could easily it to ignite change in the fashion industry. But no. She prefers to push a brand whose business model is based on overconsumption.
But the biggest irony is this. Shein is promoting their #sheinx100challenge worldwide to help one lucky fashion designer. Yet the brand continues to steal designs from indie fashion designers without paying them an ounce of credit OR commission! Which is another of our reasons not to buy at Shein.
In fact, Khloe’s famous sister Kim has previously hit out at fast fashion brands like Shein for knocking off unique outfits she’s worn. And small designers, including Mariama Diallo, founder of Sincerely Ria, and Bailey Prado, whose work is pictured below on the right (with the knock-off on the left), have accused the brand of ripping off their work, uncredited.
Perhaps the most laughable part is that while Khloe tweets out her 20% off discount code for Shein to her followers, she’s sat at home wearing clothes many can only dream of affording.
Photo image: @diet_prada
4. Shein Does NOT Care
Another of our reasons not to buy at Shein is their lies. The fashion giant is trying to lead everyone into believing that they’re doing all they can to be ethical, with their #sheincares hashtag on Instagram. You’d think this would mean ditching their fast turnaround, acknowledging the designers they continuously steal from, and paying their overworked and underpaid staff a fair wage.
But, no. The hashtag is a strategic marketing ploy to get people to spend more money on their site. They bombard social media with photos of cute animals, making a big deal over how they’re giving $300,000 to various animal welfare charities. Yet what they fail to mention is that the brand makes billions in revenue each year, so really, when you think about their $300,000 donation, it’s paltry! Plus, they offer zero information regarding its animal welfare policy.
That’s not all. Do you think #sheincares about the planet, given nearly all the materials they use for their garments are synthetics that take forever to biodegrade? Um, no.
In response to claims that its business model is unethical and unsustainable, a spokesperson for the company said: “Shein is one of the only large retailers that orders 100 pieces or less for new products to help eliminate dead stock – which makes up 10% of the carbon emissions across the entire supply chain for the apparel industry. Shein is fully committed to upholding high labor standards across the entire supply chain and to improving the lives of workers in the global supply chain by supporting national and international efforts to end forced labor.”
Ok, great. Proof, please?
5. They Appropriate Foreign Cultures For Profit
The world isn’t short of brands profiting off cultural appropriation. But one that keeps finding itself in hot water for doing so is, of course, Shein.
For example? In July 2020 the brand faced a backlash after selling Islamic prayer rugs on its website. Turning the sacred mats, used to pray between five and six times a day, into trendy homeware decor caused outrage with Muslim activists. And rightly so!
To add further insult, Shein didn’t even give the prayer mats their appropriate name, or reference Islam. Instead, Shein gave them a generic title of ‘Fringe Trim Carpet’. Meaning consumers bought them, oblivious of their importance, to use as a decorative piece of their home.
And the worst part? This is a pretty rich move coming from a company based in a country that is currently enacting a genocide against their native Muslim population! (more on this later).
And the trouble doesn’t end there. Instead of learning its lesson, the brand faced further backlash less than a week later for selling a necklace with a swastika pendant. Yep, that’s right – Shein actually thought it was cool and trendy to sell swastika necklaces! Of course, they tried to redeem themselves by insisting the necklaces were in fact a Buddhist swastika, which is true. But considering the hurtful connotations to many people around the world, the damage was already done.
After apologising for both the Islamic mats and the swastika necklaces, they’ve also had to issue an apology for selling necklaces with the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic, a reference in Islam to God. The necklace might have not been so offensive if the tacky chain wasn’t positioned between necklaces featuring the words ‘baby girl’ and ‘Scorpio’ in diamante bling, thus cheapening the Islamic faith.
6. Shein Kills Off Small Businesses
Just like retail giant Amazon, supporting a huge global retailer like Shein means shoppers are not supporting small local businesses – who really need our money. That’s especially true after Covid lockdowns.
Being forced to shop online due to quarantines, many consumers added to the coffers of global retail giants. Shein’s value climbed from $15 billion to $30 billion, while local shops with no or a low online presence were those who suffered the most.
Wouldn’t you rather support entrepreneurs in your neighbourhood?
7. They Don’t Care About People
We saved one of the worst reasons not to buy at Shein for last.
If you think fast fashion is brilliant because it’s so cheap, ask yourself this: how can they afford to make it so cheap? And if you’re buying a top for $2, what do you think the person who made it was paid?
While Shein’s social responsibility page on its website stated that it “never, ever” engages in child or forced labour, it doesn’t provide the transparency required to prove it.
Its website previously stated that Shein was “proudly in compliance with strict fair labour standards set by international organisations like SA8000”. But Social Accountability International (SAI), which created the ethical standard, told the BBC that Shein was not certified and never had been to its knowledge. And recently, Reuters reported that Shein failed to make full disclosures about its supply chain, which are required by UK law in accordance with the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
In fact, Shein has gone to great lengths to keep its supply chain hidden from the world. Despite its spectacular success, the company has a reputation for extreme secrecy, leading one investor to dub it “China’s most mysterious billion-dollar company.”
The reality is, most cheap fashion is made in sweatshops with unsafe working conditions and child labour. It’s likely that Shein’s is not exception. Also, when it comes to cotton picking, employers prefer to hire children because their small fingers do not damage the crop.
It’s therefore a huge problem that 20% of the world’s cotton comes from China’s Uyghur region, where Uyghur families are being enslaved by the Chinese government. And the likelihood is, they are the hands who make Shein clothes. Or at the very least, pick the cotton used to make them.
Enslaved in camps, the Uyghur people are forced to work as the Chinese government carries out an unchallenged and largely ignored ethnic cleansing program. The abuse the Uyghur people are facing in these camps is horrific and inhumane. From torture, sleep deprivation, and rape, the true cost they face when trying to fight for their lives and rights is murder.
Now ask yourself – how good does that $10 Shein dress look now?
Do you have any of your own reasons not to buy at Shein? Let us know in the comments, below!
Main image credit here.