If you’re even remotely familiar with fast fashion, then you’ve heard of Shein. If you’ve somehow managed to save yourself from their endless pit, congratulations. If not, don’t feel too bad - millions of online shoppers (over 100 million each month) would say the same. So, if you’ve fallen victim to the endless scroll and need reasons to save yourself, you’ve come to the right place.
But first, a little background. What exactly is fast fashion and what role does Shein play in it all? Fast fashion is exactly what it sounds like. As put by the Good Trade, the term describes “a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing.” For Shein, though, “fast” might be a bit of an understatement…the company makes 6,000 new products daily and is valued at a whopping $100 billion.
As expected, a production scale that massive comes with a multitude of its own problems - environmental and human rights related - to say the very least.
Shein is notoriously shady when it comes to its production process. Despite its claims to be somewhat eco-friendly, the company has virtually nothing to back it up. In fact, if you do a little digging, you’ll find the exact opposite.
You can imagine that a company that produces as many products a day as Shein doesn’t do much to improve the growing sizes of landfills. The company actually goes above and beyond in contributing to the crisis by creating a majority of its products from fabrics like nylon and polyester - both synthetic. That means that when the piece is no longer “trendy” and it’s thrown out, it won’t decay the way natural fabrics would. And because trends are short-lived and SHEIN’s clothing’s quality just isn’t it, it’s likely that a growing number of synthetic pieces make their way into waste piles very quickly (sometimes even before being worn).
It’s also no help that the fast fashion industry is already liable for 10% of annual global carbon emissions. Thanks to major contributors like Shein, the “industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50% by 2030,” according to the World Bank.
But Shein’s negative impact goes beyond just the environment. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a company with such little transparency has plenty to hide when it comes to how it treats its workers. A study done by the Public Eye revealed that workers are putting in 75 hours a week and given just one day off in the entire month. Not only that, but the very organization that set the ethical standard, Social Accountability International (SAI), the organization that Shein claimed to be “proudly in compliance with,”, revealed that Shein had never been certified with SAI in the first place.
The fast-fashion powerhouse also uses a pay-per-item system, meaning that its workers are compensated according to how many pieces they can make and how quickly. The system pushes employees to put in an absurd number of hours, hours that go far beyond China’s legal maximum of eight a day.
But it gets worse. Shein’s name is one that comes up again and again when it comes to the Uyghur human rights crisis and modern-day slavery. It’s no secret that forced labor is one of the many atrocities the millions of captured Uyghurs face in Chinese detention camps. And it just so happens that a staggering 20% of the world’s cotton comes from this very province.
Khaled Beydoun recently shed some light on the lengths that these Uyghur workers, forced to work to create products for companies like Shein, are going to cry for help. The short lines like “I can’t feel my hands anymore”, printed on the tiny tags on the inside of shirts are more than chilling. So, the next time you’re tempted to add that really cute top from Shein to your cart, it might help to take a second and think about who’s paying the actual price.