The Dangers of SHEIN

The Dangers of SHEIN

Honor Wescott, Reporter

When it comes to shopping everyone is constantly hunting for brands that are both affordable and trendy and many online brands see this as an opportunity to capitalize in order to further grow their business. A name familiar among most teenagers, the company SHEIN, an online fashion retailer, is known for having dirt cheap prices. However, after numerous thorough investigations of the company, it’s transparent that the inexpensive clothes sold by SHEIN are at the expense of people and the environment.

The Chinese-based company rose in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. SHEIN became the most mentioned brand on Tik Tok when clothing hauls from SHEIN became trending on the app. SHEIN is notorious for collaborating with popular internet influencers that often come out with lines of clothing or promote their clothes by modeling them on their Instagram. Katy Perry, Lil Nas X, and Rita Ora are just some of the celebrities associated with the brand. Additionally, the company is constantly producing new items that adhere to fast fashion trends, enticing many of its customers to buy their clothes in order to keep up with the most recent trend. Teenagers, including students at FMHS, flock to SHEIN’s website in order to purchase clothing that not only adheres to these ever-changing trends but also to purchase clothing that is affordable for them. The dangers arise when these masses are ill-informed of the harmful activities that occur behind SHEINs factory doors

Ethical Treatment of Employees
In a recent undercover British investigation conducted as a part of the Channel 4s docuseries “The Shein Machine” the unethical working conditions of SHEIN factories were exposed. Factory employees work 18-hour shifts producing almost 500 items in one day of work. They are paid monthly 4,000 yen which converts to about 556.00 USD meaning that workers are only paid about 4 cents for each item of clothing they make. This is of course before reductions. In previous years SHEIN has been known to reduce workers’ pay when mistakes are made on clothing. With minimal breaks, no weekends, and only one day off per month, it’s evident that these factory workers are suffering in these high-pressure work environments.
On the site’s social responsibility page, SHEIN states that “we treat all our employees like family by providing industry-leading working conditions”. Sounds promising right? Well, not exactly. In truth, no independent body has actually confirmed these claims made by SHEIN to be true and the company is not certified to have proper working conditions. The results from the investigation also directly contradict these claims by SHEIN, ultimately uncovering how the cooperation uses manipulation and deception to reassure customers that it is an “ethical” brand.

SHEIN and the Environment
The fashion industry as a whole is the second biggest polluter in the world and SHEIN is a part of this problem. One of the materials used commonly in SHEIN’s clothing is virgin polyester. SHEIN uses this material because it is cheap and can be mass-produced, but it is at the cost of the environment. In a year, the production of virgin polyester creates the same amount of carbon dioxide as about 180 coal-fired power plants as reported by Euronews. These emissions ultimately add to the larger problem of global warming and the ongoing climate crisis.
Another problem arises with SHEINs packaging. If you’ve ever ordered from SHEIN, you know that each item comes individually enclosed in a plastic bag. These bags are not recyclable and most of the bags end up in the trash immediately after the clothes are taken out. Problems arise because the bags only contribute to the amount of waste sent to landfills and because the bags are not biodegradable.
The company has also done a lot of greenwashing. The company has set up multiple recycling programs as a front so the company can avoid having to take any real sustainability measures. The cooperation also lacks general transparency when regarding sustainability. For example, the company claims to produce in small quantities of “fifty to one hundred” in order to reduce waste. What exactly does the company mean by this? Do they produce “fifty to one hundred batches” at a time or “fifty to one hundred batches per item?’ The wording here is definitely vague and generally just unclear. The company also lacks transparency in other areas such as dyes (in some cases lead had been used in the clothes dye), water usage, and transportation.

Fast Fashion And Sustainability
A big part of the problem with SHEIN comes from not the company itself but the lifestyle it promotes. Since the clothes are so incredibly cheap, many customers buy in bulk and end up over-consuming. The clothes themselves are also not the best of quality and often only last a couple of wears. This creates the toxic cycle of over-consumption and then viewing the clothes as disposable. This is only worsened by the issue of fast fashion heightened through the use of social media. “They encourage overconsumption by making it seem cool and desirable on social media with try-on hauls, micro-trends, and huge sales,” says senior and environmentalist Ellie Lintott. SHEIN’s ability to quickly find and profit off of micro-trends only adds to the issue of overconsumption and then disposal of clothing when the newest trend arrives.

So the question remains where should we go from here? Well one of the major issues regarding those who still shop from SHEIN is that people are just not as informed as they should be about the issues regarding consumption. Being aware of the websites that you shop from and informing those around you about the issues regarding SHEIN and other similar cooperation is the first step in the right direction to creating a positive change. Additionally shopping in a sustainable fashion also helps lessen these problems “To me, sustainable fashion is about buying only what you need, buying second hand, making your own clothes and consuming as little as possible,” says Lintott who has made it a priority of hers to shop ethically. “In my opinion shopping sustainably has the potential to be just as affordable, especially when it comes to higher quality stuff. Plus, it makes my outfits more unique.”
When shopping it’s important to look for ethical brands both for the workers and the environment. Thrift stores including the first Arc and Goodwill are all local stores that sell quality inexpensive clothing items. However sustainable shopping can also be done online, Poshmark, The RealReal, and Vinted are just some of the stores that have cheap and unique pieces. All of these stores are a great alternative to large corporations like SHEIN, at these shops you can purchase clothing items that are guaranteed ethically sourced.