Image source, Shein

You’ve probably seen it on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. A teenage girl dumps Shein clothing on her bed and tries each one on for likes.

During the pandemic, the popularity of Chinese fast fashion companies has increased dramatically. Are you over thirty? You probably haven’t even heard of it.

The online giant, which is exclusively available through the internet, adds an astonishing 6,000 items daily to meet demand from trend- and cost-conscious shoppers via social media.

It has been criticised for its negative environmental impacts, lack of transparency, and accusations that it copied small designers. Shein says she takes these allegations seriously.

What’s the secret to the success that the company has achieved, leaving behind rival brands Asos & Boohoo?

Sheinside was founded in 2008 by Chris Xu, an entrepreneur who began in digital marketing to sell wedding dresses online.

Shein, pronounced She-in, started in the current form of its name five years later.

Although it’s based in China, the firm mainly targets customers in the US, Europe and Australia with its cut-price crop-tops, bikinis and dresses, costing just £7.90 ($10.70) on average.

It is today one of the largest players in fast fashion shipping to 220 nations.

Richard Lim, Chief Executive of Independent Consulting Retail Economics, said that the Covid crisis gave the company a boost in sales.

Lockdowns were a result of consumers spending more time online browsing and the battle for brand recognition was being waged across all digital platforms.

The online retailer was able to expand their reach quickly and increase its visibility.

While the private company doesn’t disclose financial figures, data provider CB Insights estimates that sales topped 63.5bn yuan (£7.4bn/$10bn) in 2020.

Shein offers up to 600,000.000 products on its website at any given time.

Near its Guangzhou headquarters, it relies on about 200 contract producers and thousands of third party suppliers.

Matthew Brennan is a Chinese technology expert who calls it “real time retail”. It feeds information to smaller businesses along its supply chains from its proprietary tools, which include trending products and data on how they are doing.

This data allows them to produce 50-100 styles per batch. Is it successful? Shein orders more. It’s not available anymore.

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A new product can be delivered by Shein in just 25 days. Many retailers can wait months.

It has accelerated the “test and repeat” model, made famous by the likes of H&M and Zara owner Inditex. According to the BBC, less than 6% remains in Shein’s stock for longer than 90 days.

Company ships its orders directly to customers, mostly via a 16-million square foot warehouse located in the suburbs of Guangzhou.

However, the packages can take up to a week for delivery in countries like the UK or US. This is unlike rivals such as Boohoo and Asos, which provide next-day delivery.

Shein’s social media platforms have more than 250,000,000 followers. It has used an entire army of influencers, including student ambassadors and reality stars like Georgia Toffolo from Made in Chelsea.

Shein’s success has been driven by its online presence, says Emily Salter (a GlobalData retail analyst).

Advertising and sponsorship of influencers through Instagram and TikTok have helped the company remain relevant to younger customers.

This is due to the fact that they often host live streams on their platforms in order to advertise its products.

Shein has a unique approach to live streaming. However, it is less used by Western brands, and still holds huge potential for driving sales as demonstrated in China, Ms Salter says.

The UK has raised concerns about the company’s use of customer records.

Rouge Media, a web design agency that specializes in Web Design and Marketing, recently called Shein “manipulative”. It identified eight prompts to encourage shoppers to make more purchases or share personal information for rewards points or discounts.

It studied 30 top fast fashion stores in Britain and ranked them according to the number of prompts they provided before customers made a purchase.

Tom Tugendhat, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee said that “millions” of people have given up their personal information to buy cheap clothing.

He stated, “When the cost is too high, you should ask who really is paying it and how.”

Heather McCurry was 27 years old when she thought she would buy new leggings during the first coronavirus locking down.

Shein noticed Shein’s Facebook advertisements: “Because its a fast-fashion company, it’s possible to go on every single day and there’s always new clothes added at reasonable prices.”

She bought homeware, joggers, and got her mother to go online shopping.

However, it’s not without faults she admits. Heather says that discount clothing may have had a lower quality.

She admits that she’s seen online comments questioning Shein’s wages and the impact ultra-fast fashion has on the environment, but she still plans to buy from Shein in the future.

“I don’t think any of the actions I take would make such a difference.”

Shein is under criticism for creating a huge range of products and styles in record time.

It has come under fire for selling things such as a Muslim prayer mat called a “Greek Carpet”, and was later forced to withdraw.

The e-retailer was also accused of copyright infringement. It faces litigation from Dr Martens boot maker, though it has denied wrongdoing.

Fast fashion giant has 200 employees.

The BBC was informed by a top Shein executive that the firm also had a team who reviewed new designs submitted to it from suppliers. They did this to help filter any potential infringements.

Although the firm has paid out more than $1m (£741,000) to independent designers to date, Twitter still sees complaints from smaller businesses. Some say Shein copied their designs, and then sold identical items at lower prices.

Shein X, the retailer’s tutorial programme, recently ran a competition for young designers with a $100,000 (£74,227) prize and fashion collection on offer in a bid to boost its credentials.

The move was criticised by social media users who asked why celebrity Khloe Kim Kardashian and Christian Siriano, fashion designer, would sign their names.

Shein’s prices raise questions regarding its environment footprint and labour practices.

According to UN studies, the fashion industry is responsible for as much as 8% of all global carbon emissions.

Roberta Lee is a sustainability fashion stylist. Shein uses polyester fabrics a lot. These materials rely on “pulling more oil from the ground” than natural materials and are not biodegradable.

She says the company is “preying” on her fears about outfit repetition syndrome. Shein items in Shein haul videos will “likely be discarded to the landfill after just few wears.”

Chinese brands insist that their method of making clothes in smaller batches is more effective and less wasteful. According to a spokesperson, the business model balances both consumers’ needs and inventory.

The website also highlights that the company wants more recycled fabric and that its printing technology is cleaner than traditional screen printing.

BBC News has discovered that Shein factory and warehouse workers were advertised in Chinese employment websites. This indicated that people from Uighur ethnic backgrounds should not apply.

Shein stated that it didn’t approve or fund the advertisements and was dedicated to maintaining “high labour standards”.

Shein spokesmen told BBC it had “zero tolerance policies for forced or child labor and discrimination.”

Retail analyst Emily Salter said that it’s customers are “quite inconsistent shoppers”. Gen Z is more inclined to buy second-hand or rent clothes, and also forms the basis of Shein, one of the most scrutinized fast fashion brands.


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