Opinion: Boycott Shein

2 mins read

Amid a growing teenage demand for cheap and fast clothing, one fast-fashion company, in particular, is a lead beneficiary: Shein. The huge sudden popularity of the brand makes it difficult for any teenager to not know what Shein is—or, for that matter, its egregious human rights violations and disregard for the environment. While Shein may be well worth its financial costs, the same cannot be said for its ethical costs. With such unacceptable practices, the company should be boycotted altogether.

Shein was founded in 2008, but only in recent years has it gained widespread recognition. Although based in China, the brand is reliant on international exports, employing an online-only business model. This approach allows it to operate with a highly efficient system, initially producing new items in small quantities before using algorithms to determine items that are particularly popular. These are then quickly mass-produced. 

Shein uses advanced algorithms to scan social media and quickly determine microtrends. This, combined with enticingly low prices, make it a convenient way for consumers to keep up with rapidly-changing trend cycles. For many people buying from the site, Shein’s trendiness overweighs concerns about quality: purchases are quickly discarded and replaced to keep up with inexhaustible, short-lived microtrends. 

During the pandemic, a time when social media usage skyrocketed and consumers relied nearly completely on online shopping, Shein’s popularity grew rapidly. From 2020 to 2022, the company’s net worth increased from 1 billion to 100 billion. Its value has surpassed fellow fast fashion giants H&M and Zara to become the third-highest-valued private company in the world. In the United States, Shein alone makes up 28% of the fast fashion industry. 

Because of its convenience, and ethical issues surrounding Shein are largely disregarded. Consumers point out that the problems attracting criticism of the company are common throughout the fast fashion industry. Shien’s issues are certainly not unique to the brand, but Shein’s unsustainable practices of overproduction are exceptionally bad. Wired found that, in 2021, Zara and H&M, the two largest fast fashion companies besides Shein, listed 35,000 and 25,000 different items, respectively. Shein listed 1.3 million. Only 6% of Shein’s inventory remains in stock for over 90 days.

The pressure to comply with the immense output demanded by Shein falls squarely on the shoulders of exploited Chinese garment workers. The company has violated Chinese labor laws, forcing 75-hour work weeks on its employees, far over the 40-hour legal limit. Employees work 18 hours a day, with only one day off per month. Employers dock their pay if they make any mistakes while producing the overwhelming amount of garments expected, and employees earn less than $20 per week. 

Investigations have found that Shein likely sources from China’s Xinjiang region, where the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims is used to produce goods. 

The company has faced controversy in other issues as well. In the U.S., the brand has come under fire for design theft from small artists and designers numerous times, profiting from their work without their knowledge or consent. The brand has also been sued for stealing the work of more established companies.  

The numerous and established harms of Shein have attracted plenty of attention, but despite this, the brand’s convenience has led many people to blatantly ignore how detrimental it is. The seemingly unavoidable nature of fast fashion altogether does not justify the extreme overconsumption that drives Shein’s practices. Consumers should even stray away from buying the occasional piece from Shein.

Not only should we be purchasing more thoughtfully and selectively instead of mindlessly following trends and allowing ourselves to be sucked in by low prices, we should be thinking critically about where we shop. Shein is not a typical fast fashion brand, and buying from it should not be treated as such. There should be a line when it comes to brands we allow ourselves to consume from, one that Shein stands firmly on the wrong side of. 

Fast fashion aside, sustainable and affordable alternatives do exist. Buying thrifted and secondhand clothing is just as cheap as Shein, and affordable secondhand clothing can be found on numerous websites, such as Poshmark and Depop. When there are plenty of other options, Shein, for all its appeal, is not worth its damage to the environment and exploitation of laborers. One cannot, in any good standing, claim to care about issues such as poverty or climate change while choosing to shop in a way that perpetuates them.

Margaret Koenig is a sophomore at M-A in her first year of journalism. In her free time she enjoys reading, listening to music, and hanging out with friends.

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