Shein, a fast-fashion giant that has taken the world by storm, is not without its controversies. Despite its massive popularity and dominance in the fashion industry, the company’s business model and practices have raised serious concerns about sustainability and workers’ rights. Founded in 2008 in Nanjing, China, by entrepreneur Chris Xu, Shein has grown exponentially.
As of 2022, it was considered the world’s largest fashion retailer, valued at an astounding $100 billion. The company’s success can be attributed to its ability to quickly identify trends using AI technology and produce thousands of garments in record time. This “real-time retail” model has allowed Shein to outpace other fast-fashion giants like Zara and H&M. However, this rapid production comes at a high cost.
As a business model, fast fashion relies on low production costs, often resulting in low-paid workers and unsafe working conditions. The industry is also one of the largest polluters globally, with the production process involving cheap, toxic textile dyes and consuming vast amounts of water. Shein‘s business model is particularly unsustainable due to the sheer volume of items it produces daily.
Each item is produced in small numbers, between 50-100 pieces a day, before being mass-produced once it gains popularity. This rapid production contributes significantly to environmental pollution, with the company reportedly leaving about 6.3 million tons of carbon dioxide a year in its trail. Moreover, Shein’s labour practices have come under scrutiny.
Reports have revealed shocking human rights violations, with workers in Chinese factories working in unfit conditions, often without contracts or minimum wage requirements. In some cases, workers were found to pull 17-hour shifts to make hundreds of garments a day, with their wages docked if any garments had mistakes.
Despite these controversies, Shein enjoys immense popularity, particularly among younger consumers. Its low prices, trendy items, and aggressive marketing strategies involving influencers and social media campaigns have helped the company maintain its top position in the fast-fashion industry.
However, as awareness about fast fashion’s environmental and social costs grows, companies like Shein face increasing pressure to change their practices. Shein has attempted to address these issues, such as committing to lowering emissions and reducing waste and exploring a move to an online marketplace platform to enable other merchants to sell directly to customers.