What is behind Shein's rock bottom prices?

September 27, 2021

f you're into fashion and the latest trends, you've probably heard or even been tempted to buy a product from Shein. With dresses costing around £6 and pairs of sneakers costing £10, the Chinese e-commerce has been raising questions about the conditions of its workforce and production.

On several social networks, influencers and content creators post their purchases at the retailer, evaluating the quality and cost-effectiveness of the brand's products and extolling the fact that Shein offers products in different sizes without questioning how viable it is the production of clothes at that price and the working conditions of the factories to pay for such cheap pieces.

About the company

Shein is a Chinese brand that has been around since 2008, but it went viral for a few years now, when it was smart to capture the trends of Generation Z and reproduce them in very cheap outfits combined with a good presence on social media.  

The brand has invested a lot in influential marketing and its presence on social media is huge, it has partnered with big names like Katy Perry and Hailey Bieber, opened pop-ups in England and the United States and, even so, continues to sell the outfits at very low prices.

Source: Shein

According to the brand, 500 new clothing items are launched per day. The explanation given on the site is that they test a product with a circulation of only 50 to 100 pieces and, if they see that the trend has caught on, they start mass-producing it.

The accusations

The international news agency Reuters investigated the truth behind the official statements available on the Social Responsibility page on the company's website, which claims to have good working conditions and does not relate to slave or child labour. However, according to a study by Reuters, this information may not be all that true.

When contacted by journalist Victoria Waldersee, the brand refused to reveal its annual revenue – in several countries, brands with revenues greater than 36 million pounds are legally required to present a series of information about the working conditions in their factories. Analysts estimate Shein's revenue is around 5 billion pounds annually, with an estimated market value of 15 billion pounds.

The Reuters website also claims that it was not able to access any of the factories used by Shein or the salaries paid by the company to its employees.

We know that fast fashion doesn't do anything about loopholes in labour laws in several countries, but even the brand's main rivals, such as H&M, Asos, Boohoo and Zara, nowadays publish reports with various transparency data. In the case of H&M and Inditex, this data even includes specific addresses and names of factories that the brands use.

In addition, the brand is often accused of plagiarism by several small creatives and designers. In the most recent case, designer Bailey Prado accuses the Chinese retailer of copying more than 40 of her crochet outfits; the brand removed 10 of these pieces from circulation and kept the rest for sale.

Interestingly, the brand recently announced the project Shein X, a reality-show/new talent incubator, created to discover new fashion talents to sell their pieces on Shein. The project has personalities such as Christian Siriano and Khloé Kardashian as spokespersons and judges and was born amidst a series of controversies surrounding the supposed support of Shein and these personalities for new designers while the brand suffers accusations of plagiarism from several creators.

Cases like these raise the question of how long will people turn a blind eye to working conditions analogous to slavery and child labour to always have new beautiful clothes at low prices? It's important to remember that if the consumer isn't paying the true price of an outfit, it's because someone, somewhere else – possibly on the other side of the world – is. It is also important to reinforce the need for legislation that requires brands to be more transparent and investigated by the conditions of their factories and employees.

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