Shein, the global fashion e-retailer based in China, has faced significant backlash in recent years due to proven labour law violations and environmental carelessness. The brand's popularity has surged due to the proliferation of clothing haul videos online, in which content creators would showcase large collections of Shein clothes; however, these videos tend to broadcast items lacking in quality or that are unlikely to be worn again, essentially clothes that are destined for landfill. This is an issue of increasing importance, mainly because Shein has become the world’s biggest retailer. As such, this title reflects an increase in the over-consumptive behaviour of the typical consumer. They acquired this title due to the rate at which they produce clothes. This rate can be regarded as outstanding even in comparison to other leading fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M. With their chief marketing officer disclosing that the company releases an unprecedented 700 to 1000 new styles daily.
More recently, Shein invited six influencers to tour one of its factories in hopes of upholding a facade of due diligence. Consequently, the influencers posted Shein-positive videos online, assuring their viewers of the baseless nature of the allegations made against the company. As a result, the trip sparked uproar on social media, due to accusations that these influencers were shown a model factory and paid to promote propaganda. One of the influencers on the trip claimed to take a stance as an “investigative journalist” despite only hearing from a sparse amount of people working from Shein, with a majority of them holding a higher-up position in the company. In contrast, accurate investigative reporting has been carried out which has revealed the brand’s malpractice. The most prominent is the Channel 4 documentary which can be regarded as an immensely beneficial watch.
Inside the Shein Machine
The Channel 4 documentary "Untold: Inside the Shein Machine" uncovers the reality of Shein's operations and reveals the hypocrisy behind the influencer trip, disclosing long hours, lack of days off, and exploitation within Shein's production facilities. More specifically, workers would clock in around 8 in the morning and would not clock out until early the next day, generally working around 18 hours per day with 1 day off per month, greatly surpassing the maximum of 40 hours per week set out in Chinese labour law. The documentary also exposes the poverty wages paid to workers, as Shein's payment structure relies on piece-rate wages and lacks a base rate, resulting in fluctuating and insufficient wages. The documentary also addressed general misconduct within the brand. For example, it exposed the practice of Shein stealing designs from independent designers, undermining their work and perpetuating the cycle of unethical and unsustainable fashion.
Despite all of this information having been broadcasted, Shein continues to defend their position, presenting a carefully constructed illusion online. For example, they launched a resale platform, attempting to greenwash its image while continuing to produce new items. And the influencer trip appears to have also been a form of damage control. There is therefore the question of how to prevent brands, like Shein, from lying to their consumers and engaging in unethical practices. There is a heavy reliance on consumers’ willingness to educate themselves on the corruption within the fashion industry. This responsibility should not be placed on the consumer in its entirety, but rather on governing bodies. One of the leading solutions proposed is the “Fashion Act”.
The "Fashion Act" is a bill which aims to hold corporations accountable for the damage caused by creating garments i.e., human and environmental abuses. For this to be viable, it must be embedded into international law, due to the international nature of these corporations. As acknowledged by the founders of the act, there only exists “soft law” regulations around fast fashion developed by the United Nations but these lack any real repercussions. Among the various provisions, the bill will force companies to disclose the wages of their workers whilst also ensuring that they reduce their climate emissions.
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