Shein Brings Fast Fashion to New Extremes

'Guardian' explores the ethical issues in the world of cheap, disposable clothing
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2024 5:30 AM CDT
A Fast-Fashion Juggernaut Shows a Darker Underbelly
Pages from the Shein website, left, and from the Temu site, right. (Temu has previously sued Shein and accused it of copying its products.)   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Quick, name the most-Googled clothing brand on the planet. As Nicole Lipman explains in the Guardian, the answer is Shein, a retailer founded in China that has become a juggernaut in the world of "fast fashion." And "fast" might be an understatement—in a 12-month span during which rivals such as Gap, H&M, and Zara listed between 12,000 and 35,000 new items, Shein listed a staggering 1.3 million. It caters to men, women, and children, but women's clothing is the anchor and a big reason why Shein is the biggest fast-fashion retailer in the US and its shopping app one of the most popular in the world. As Lipman explains, Shein's success comes in part from its aggressive use of data analytics and viral marketing on platforms like Instagram and TikTok. The company pores over social media trends to determine what new styles to crank out in its factories.

It also encourages customers to post photos of themselves in Shein wares, for which they get loyalty points, which further drives the popularity loop. The story, however, digs into serious ethical questions about what this breakneck production pace, coupled with low prices, is having, particularly in regard to exploitative labor practices and environmental damage from textile factories. Shein may be impressive in a business sense, but it also might be the poster child for problems in fast fashion, Lipman suggests. A more damning point comes near the end, when Lipman shells out $14.87 for a shirt and summer dress. When they arrive, "neither garment is particularly wearable," she writes, "but the hassle of returning the pieces ... seems absurd when they cumulatively cost me less than $15 to begin with." Read the full story. (Or check out other Longform recaps.)

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