Is SHEIN boarding the sustainability train?
Shein, the fast fashion brand, is introducing Shein Exchange, an integrated app that lets customers buy and resell Shein items. This platform promotes circular fashion and will begin in the United States before expanding worldwide.
“Much of the clothing bought from Shein ends up in landfills, creating an ongoing waste cycle.”
Shein’s move towards sustainability is a response to criticism about its unsustainable practices. By promoting recycling, the fast fashion brand aims to reduce waste, but is it sufficient?
Treatment of Employees
Shein is facing criticism for mistreating its employees.
According to CUT magazine, workers in one factory earn 4,000 yuan per month (about $556) while making 500 clothing pieces daily. Their first month’s pay is withheld. In another factory, workers receive only four cents per item. Employees in both factories work up to 18-hour days and have only one day off per month.
The wages and working hours mentioned above are not acceptable and break Chinese labor laws.
The idea of solely ‘fixing’ the brand’s principles seems unrealistic. How can you promote ‘sustainable practices’ without creating a sustainable environment for your employees?
Overconsumption and Production
Last year, Shein’s revenue reached 15.7 billion, with a worldwide online shopping base of 43.7 billion users. Among them, 7.5 billion are from the United States. Shein’s success lies in offering trendy and affordable outfits with just one click. In an economy of rising inflation and unaffordable designer brands, many turn to Shein for the latest looks. Theycater to various aesthetics and trends, providing trending fits in a wide range of sizes, styles, and colors, which attracts a large user base.
SHEIN also faces substance and clothing issues.
In 2021, a CBC investigation revealed that Shein’s clothing for children and adults, including pregnant individuals, contained elevated levels of lead, phthalates, and PFAS chemicals, known to be harmful to health.
Shein is not the only fast fashion company investigated, but being the top online fashion retailer makes it particularly concerning. This is a problem the Black community knows well.
Throughout history, the Black community has faced exposure to environmental hazards during Segregation, the Great Depression’s housing crisis, the Water Crisis, and even now with online shopping. In the coming years, Black Americans are expected to possess over a trillion dollars in buying power, the highest ever in U.S. history.
Many disenfranchised communities are loyal Shein customers due to its affordability. While specific statistics on the percentage of Black or minority buyers are unavailable, it’s known that Black and Brown communities spend significantly in the fashion industry, making them a substantial consumer base for Shein.
Shein Exchange is a positive step, but there’s hope for more sustainable efforts in the future. True sustainability goes beyond recycling and involves considering the environment comprehensively. This includes working conditions, materials, chemicals used, and being sensitive to the needs of the minority consumer base.
If Shein continues its new approach and becomes more sustainable, other fast fashion brands may follow suit.What are your thoughts on Shein Exchange? Are you excited about it?