How this billion-dollar online fashion giant is producing 35,000 items a day
Shein is a fast-fashion site that advertises cheap clothing and produces thousands of items a day. But, it comes at the real cost of unethical labor and environmental waste, critics say
Known for its incredibly cheap clothing, fast-fashion retailer Shein is one of the most downloaded shopping apps in the United States. The company has made an estimated $15.7 billion in 2021 sales, according to a report by Coresight Research.
Shein is a Chinese online retailer that was founded in 2008 and since then has grown into a company that was recently valued at $100 billion, as well as a well-known name on social media. On TikTok alone, the brand has five million followers and over 33 million likes on its account.
The company rose quickly to the top of fast-fashion and in value seemingly overnight. But, according to BBC News and The Wall Street Journal, behind all the sales and success is a staff working over 75 hours a week, alleged design theft and tons of wasted plastic packaging.
The biggest reason for the company’s success is its ability to keep up with trends, but doing that requires a staff that’s able to keep up with production. Shein produces, designs and ships thousands of items of clothing daily.
The exact number of products that the company produces are unclear — The Guardian reported that Shein makes up to 10,000 new products a day and The Business of Business estimates the company makes at least 35,000 items daily.
The amount being produced has reportedly led Shein to violate labor laws, according to BBC News. Per a report by Swiss advocacy group, Public Eye, some Shein employees work 75 hours a week and three shifts a day.
Public Eye also reported that workers often only get one day off a month. These working conditions are in violation of Chinese labor laws, which sets the maximum number of work hours to 44 hours a week and no more than eight hours a day.
“We have a strict supplier code of conduct which includes stringent health and safety policies and is in compliance with local laws,” a Shein spokesperson said, regarding the Public Eye report, per BBC News. “If noncompliance is identified we will take immediate action.”
In its attempt to keep up with production and ideas, Shein has been accused by many small businesses of stealing their designs and selling them on its site.
Painter Vanessa Bowman alleges that her work was used by Shein without her consent. The Guardian reported that Bowman said she received an email from a fan asking if the artist was collaborating with the company.
Attached to the email was a sweater with an unmistakable picture of Bowman’s painting printed on the front. Bowman said they had just taken her “world and whacked it” on a jumper, per The Guardian.
Although Shein has not publicly addressed many of these allegations, the company has apologized for selling the Muslim prayer mats.
“To our community — we made a serious mistake recently by selling prayer mats as decorative rugs on our site,” Shein said in an Instagram post. “We understand this was a highly offensive oversight and are truly sorry.”
What has raised eyebrows for consumers like Ava Grand, a fashion student from Marist College, is Shein’s packaging. In a Wall Street Journal podcast, Grand expressed her concerns for how Shein orders came in one bag per item rather than one bag per order.
With tons of plastic trash in each one of Shein’s orders, concerns about Shein’s sustainability began to grow on social media. Grand found a way to tackle the issue by creating clothes out of Shein clothing bags.
Grand’s project has since taken off to raise awareness of the waste from Shein’s packaging.