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How Sustainable Is Shein?

Shein is not a sustainable brand, as it is a fast-fashion based company.

As you may already know, the fast-fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries, it is only exceeded by the oil and gas industry. Fast-fashion commerce alone is accountable for over 20% of wastewater and more than 10% of carbon emissions globally. Fast-fashion brands also typically support excessive consumer consumption and worrisome trend following, which are equally detrimental to the environment.  

Shein is a Chinese e-commerce apparel brand that sells: womenswear, menswear, kidswear, and fashion accessories such as shoes and bags. This brand is intercontinental as it ships and sells its merchandise to over 220 countries globally (according to Forbes Magazine, 2021). However, the greater part of Shein’s products are shipped from their warehouses in China, to their primary target markets in the United States and Europe, which results in a substantial carbon footprint. Shein’s packaging is also problematic to the environment. This brand ships each individual item or garment encased in a (non-biodegradable) plastic zip-top bag within the shipping package, creating excessive waste and unnecessary utilization of single-use plastics. And additionally, its business model is based on relentlessly following the latest fashion trends and styles and overwhelmingly supporting a consumer who purchases excessively;  such as promoting and encouraging social media influencers’ massive Shein Hauls also known under the hashtag, #sheinhaul. 

Thousands (and sometimes millions and billions on TikTok) of #sheinhauls have been showing up on social media over the years, with social media influencers buying and trying on sometimes 30 or more of one item or category of apparel. And thus spending over $1,000 USD on a superfluous amount of clothes. Yet, according to Shein’s website, under the sustainability tab the brand says they produce only 50 to 100 items per product to avoid environmentally damaging overproduction; which according to the vast amounts of apparel solely social media influencers are buying, does not and can not add up. To make things even more contradicting, on another tab on their website, Shein proudly states to upload 2,000 new items onto its website almost daily; which means extremely unsustainable production methods and quantities. Additionally, these mismatching and conflicting statements undermine the brand’s authenticity and trustworthiness in regards to all of their sustainability announcements made on their website; leading us to also question some of their other so-called eco-friendly manufacturing methods, responsible-sourcing, and other sustainable practices.

Some of these sustainable manufacturings and ecological logistic claims that Shein makes on their website include: screen printing techniques that create less pollution than traditional screen printing, the use of solar-powered vehicles in their warehouse facilities, automatic systems that regulate energy usage and thus carbon emissions, and the increased utilization of recycled textiles. Unfortunately very few of these claims have been verified by external third parties to be fully accurate and by examining the website, we have determined the majority of the textiles used are not created from recycled materials. 

On a more positive note, Shein has started offering an Incentive Recycling Program in their pop-up locations and college campus events. This program rewards customers with a Shein Giftcard in exchange for any unwanted clothes or textiles to be recycled or reused; Shein then donates these items to various charity groups. While this new facet has been validated for authenticity and we praise and applaud Shein efforts into a more circular fashion cycle; sadly this recycling program is not a permanent segment of Shein, and through that many eco-friendly and sustainability opportunities are missed. To summarize, this singular progressive action is not enough to counteract the other damages Shein and their supply-chain does to the environment.

Materials used:

Nylon Polyester Wool

Is Shein Ethically-Made?

Shein is not ethically made, as the brand is unclear about many vital aspects regarding their workers. And currently there is still no supply chain transparency from Shein. This supply chain transparency would include information about their factories’ working conditions, their employees’ wages and benefits, and would be highly useful in determining the ethical status of Shein.

Shein states on their official website that all workers in their factories and partnered factories receive: wages above the legal minimum salary, safe working conditions, investment plans (such as retirement funds), and compulsory health insurance; however, Shein never discloses if and how often these factories and suppliers are audited. Additionally, no auditing from an outside third-party source is ever even mentioned.  

Shein does not fully state where it produces its merchandise and where its overseas and local suppliers are located. According to a 2021 Forbes Magazine investigation, Shein’s primary warehouses and manufacturers are located in Foshan, Guangdong Province in China. However, Shein has been known to obtain their merchandise and supplies from unbranded wholesale factories worldwide; making tracking working conditions and workers rights even more difficult. Shein has been confirmed to have a fulfillment center close to Los Angeles, California, USA, where North American orders arrive. However, further information on workers salaries and working conditions in this facility have not been made public.

To make matters worse, in 2021, the BBC reported that an investigation by Swiss advocacy and campaign group Public Eye had revealed that workers for Shein, had worked 75 hours a week.  Public Eye secretly audited 17 factories producing for both Shein and its parent company Zoetop and its findings were very alarming. Of the 10 different workers, they were able to interview, the workers admitted to being forced to work 3 shifts a day and only receiving 1 day off per month. Public Eye also discovered that workers were mostly migrants and fearing discrimination from management if they were to voice any concerns or complaints. These extreme unjust working conditions also violate Chinese labor laws, and Shein has responded to allegedly correct all aspects of Public Eye findings.

Is Shein a Vegan Company?

Shein is not a vegan brand. This brand uses wool, a wool blended textile, and down in a considerable number of their products. However, Shein does not use any: genuine leather, real silk, angora, exotic animal skins, or fur. This brand’s website also declares Shein to be cruelty-free and that they do not test their products on animals. 

Regrettably, none of Shein’s products have been approved by PETA or another legitimate organization to be truly accredited cruelty-free or vegan. And while Shein states on their official website, “we have a strict no animal policy”, the fact that the brand uses wool products and items containing down sadly means that the brand does not stand behind their statements and as consumers we can not 100% trust what they maintain.

*Shipping Details

This brand offers free shipping on orders over 19 EUR, however, this brand also has multiple promotions during the year that allow for lesser purchases to be shipped free of charge.

The brand ships to the following locations: International.

**Return Policy

This brand offers one free return per order. Return items must be returned unworn, unwashed, undamaged, and with all original tags attached.

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