As of 2022, Shein is the largest fashion retailer in the world. It also happens to be one of the most prolific contributors to fast fashion—a term used to describe a manufacturing system that operates under poor conditions to produce mass amounts of clothing.
The general population has flocked to Shein’s website due to it's low prices, fast delivery and surplus of designs. For younger people, Shein is especially enticing when purchasing single-use outfits for going out.
However, these advantages do not exist with extreme disadvantages, namely on the employees and environment. Shein has been under fire for violating human rights in their factories.
Shein’s low-cost designs also mean poor quality. The materials used in their clothing, especially nylon and polyester, do not biodegrade, like cotton or silk. This means that damaged or unworn pieces are useless not only to the consumer but to the environment, as well.
Furthermore, Earth.org reports that 10% of microplastics in landfills come from textiles. These microplastics, resulting from the breaking down of larger plastics, have been linked to human cell damage, as well as disease in the soil.
If this wasn’t bad enough, Shein has also been hit with controversy over its violations of workers’ rights. Because most of the production is done in China, Shein has been able to give their workers 12-14 hour work days, with minimal days off, according to the Business of Fashion. While Shein has responded to these claims, little changes have been reported.
Rumors about the conditions have started to spread on social media, as well. Customers have allegedly found hidden messages stitched into their clothing. Tiktok user, @realmiyahchanel, reports finding notes begging for help on the labels of her garments.
Though these rumors have yet to be confirmed, the long hours have been enough of a concern for individuals to boycott the company. To compensate, there has been a rise in brands that pride themselves on sustainability and humanity.
Wearwell, for instance, is a woman-owned brand that has third-party certifications in sustainability. The brand even goes as far as avoiding toxic dyes and using compostable packaging.
A brand that has gained recognition on Tiktok, Tunnel Vision, is known for promoting workers' rights. Its clothing, many styles similar to those found on Shein, is made in sweatshop-free factories. Owner Madeline Pendleton also pays her employees with equal distribution, including herself.
Pendleton has also commented on the prices of her items. Many have argued that the better quality is not worth the higher cost. However, she explains that the higher cost is a good sign that a company is paying their employees well, while Shein employees fail to make a livable wage.
While it could be understood that these prices might be hard to fare as a college student, the question must also be posed: are these items necessary to purchase, or are we able to prioritize quality over quantity?