Shein: the darkest side of the fashion world – and how to protect teenagers from fast fashion

When it comes to Shein, you don’t have to look behind the scenes to realize: The fashion brand is exactly the opposite of sustainable," he says. And for many it is clear: Hands off! But a look at the development of the fashion market shows: far too few people (and companies) are focusing on sustainable fashion and conscious consumption – and more and more are shopping at the new ultra fast fashion brands, which include not only Shein but also companies like ASOS, Boohoo or Missguided.

Especially many teens and young women under 25 shop less in the fashion stores of the well-known brands, but with great enthusiasm in China at Shein. Some people ignore the consequences for the environment – the products are simply too cheap to resist.

Who is Shein?

To understand why Shein is increasingly turning the fashion world upside down and negatively impacting our environment, here are some facts about the company:

  • Little is known about the company, which is based in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. If you look for information about the group on its website, you will hardly find anything there.
  • Shein’s value was estimated at 30 billion US dollars in mid-2021, its turnover at 10 billion. US Dollar (2020) (Source: Bloomberg).
  • Shein primarily produces for the international market; the brand is less well-known in China itself.
  • Shopping at Shein is only possible online and via app – there are no Shein stores.

Unnoticed by many, Shein became one of the big players in the fashion market: the website is one of the most visited fashion sites worldwide, in the middle of last year, the Shein app in the US overtook the Amazon shopping app, which was the most downloaded app to date. In Germany, Shein is now the 5th largest online fashion specialist.

The popularity is also reflected in social media: under the hashtag #shein there are 18 billion views on TikTok run. Shein is also active on Instagram, where the company has over 20 million followers.

Shein: the darkest side of the fashion world - and how to protect teenagers from fast fashion

Shein is enormously criticized

According to all available information, the company has fatal consequences for the environment and workers – and can endanger young people. The Handelszeitung speaks of a "business model of ruthlessness," Funk (ARD& ZDF) speaks of the "embodiment of the worst that globalization has to offer".

  1. Shein is cheaper than other budget brands: While a shirt at H&M usually costs around 15 euros, many are available at Shein for 6 euros.
  2. Shein produces mass, not class: in our research at the end of January 2022 there were 30 in the store.000 T-shirts, the cheapest for 2 euros.
  3. The supply chains at Shein are not traceable.
  4. The designs of Shein products are copied without restraint from other well-known and up-and-coming designers. Various labels have already sued the fashion giant for plagiarism allegations.
  5. At Shein there is almost only fashion made of polyester. The number of organic cotton products in the women’s fashion section is currently a paltry 25 pieces. Here’s where you can read about why polyester is so problematic.
  6. Cheaply produced clothing from Asia is generally suspected of being produced under poor working conditions. The Swiss organization Public Eye has managed to find 17 factories that produce for Shein. According to this research, working for Shein means slaving away for more than 75 hours a week – and that for piecework wages, without an employment contract and social benefits.
  7. What already costs almost nothing to buy can hardly be second-handed or resold.
  8. Everything points to a catastrophic eco-balance at Shein.

Greenwashing: Shein& "Sustainability"

The company seems to be aware that Generation Z not only stores and consumes with enthusiasm, but that they would also like to save the world on the side. The Shein website talks about "sustainability" in some places. For example, it says: "As a company with strong social responsibility, Shein is on its way to becoming more sustainable." And further: "Shein cares about our planet. We only have one planet and it is time to protect our home."

However, the company does not explain how exactly it takes care of the planet. There is talk of sustainable fibers – but in the store the products are very sporadic.

Public Eye also suspects that Shein’s extremely complex and difficult-to-navigate corporate network serves the purpose of paying as few taxes as possible.

Shein works together with "Aktion Deutschland Hilft" – and has released an extra collection in this context. With EcoCosy fibers "sourced from certified sustainable plantations".

Not only that the translation program has been sloppy here, the collection currently consists of exactly five garments… For "Aktion Deutschland Hilft", the company has donated 5.000 Euro donated (according to the website). And that with a turnover of ca. $10 billion (2020).

Why is the company so successful – when it is so heavily criticized?

We are not the first to criticize Shein: Criticism hails from all sides, the reviews on the net are bad, consumer protectionists warn of Shein as a fake store, environmentalists generally advise against fast fashion. This does not seem to affect the fashion group – and its buyers and buyers.

Even if many of us would never store at Shein – for young people the brand is irresistible. The choices are gigantic (good 350.000 products, as of January 2022), there is virtually nothing that does not exist. And that in all colors. Here, there’s little danger of your best friend suddenly having the same shirt. And since Shein Germany offers free returns, Shein offers the quasi-perfect online shopping experience for many young people.

Three-piece necklace for 2.50 euros - what teen can resist?

Beware of manipulation of children

The parents guidebook "Look!" warns, however, against the manipulation of children through the Shein shopping app. Young people are to be made loyal customers here with rewards. The advisory states, "In addition to coupons and discount codes, children and teens encounter so-called ‘dark patterns’ in the app. These are mechanisms to encourage users to buy excessively and to bind them to the app."

There is always some discount promotion going on at Shein and if you open the app daily, you get points for it. The more the better, then shopping becomes even cheaper. Not for nothing Shein is called the "TikTok of e-commerce".

Shein is also omnipresent on social media. According to "Look!" Shein was the most mentioned brand in sponsored posts on both TikTok and YouTube in 2020. Influencers like Bibi (Bibisbeautypalace) or Abigail (ex-GNTM contestant) advertise for the company (keyword influencer:inside marketing) or have their own collection there.

"For young users, it is almost impossible to escape the online presence of ultra fast fashion corporations like SHEIN."

Parents’ guide "Look!"

What to do about ultra fast fashion like Shein?

Anyone who wants to explain to their offspring why shopping at fast or ultra-fast fashion labels (we explain the difference further down in the text) is an absolute no-go often falls on deaf ears. If fashion is soooo cool and available for a small pocket money, why not buy it?? "Mom, chill out, the T-shirts are already produced anyway!"

Here are a few tips and arguments on how you can motivate your child, your friend or yourself for a different consumption behavior:

  • Fair fashion has long been just as trendy as fast fashion. Here you can find the most important brands and the best stores for fair fashion.
  • Fair fashion doesn’t always have to be expensive either: Here you can find all current sales for fair& green fashion.
  • With every purchase, ask yourself if you really need the garment.
  • Inform others about the problems that fast fashion is responsible for (z.B. also in which you share info on the topic in the social media).
  • Take your child shopping to real stores and store less on the internet.

Against fast fashion: book and film tips

For kids and teens to understand what’s wrong with those so-trendy shirts and shorts at pocket-money prices, they need to understand how clothes are produced in the Far East. Pictures and books can help.

  • "Where does it come from? – From raw materials to T-shirts, apple juice and the like." – Book tip for children aged 8 and over
  • "Magical world of things – Anton’s secret journey with Paul Pulli" – knowledge for children from 6 years on clothing and environmental protection told as a superhero story
  • "The True Cost – The true cost of cheap fashion" – a film documenting the dark side of modern fashion production
  • "Unfair Fashion: The high price of cheap fashion" – In the neatly researched book Dana Thomas analyzes the business of the global fashion industry.
  • "The fast-fashion lie: what’s left of the recycling promise?" – a film from the ZDF media library
  • "Shein: The world’s worst fashion company" and "Shein: How influencers sell themselves to Shein" – two cool and extremely watchable video essays by Funk (ARD& ZDF).

What is fast fashion or. Ultra Fast Fashion?

In the last 20 years, global textile production has more than doubled, with about 100 billion garments sold every year, according to Greenpeace. And they are worn less and less.

Fast Fashion means to bring a lot of collections in a very short time and large numbers on the market – and that at low prices, cheap and often produced under bad conditions in textile factories in Asia. Fast fashion promotes the throwaway economy, it is criticized for environmental, social and economic reasons.

The increase of fast fashion is Ultra-Fast-Fashion. Here, high-speed production makes well-known fashion brands like H&M or Zara look old. On social networks, you can see clothes that haven’t even been produced yet. Depending on the likes and comments, companies can see what is well received – and how much needs to be produced. In just one to four weeks, the pieces are made, virtually in real time.

It is true that – in order to get the goods to the customers faster – production is increasingly taking place in Europe, but that too in the low-wage sector. Last year it became public under which conditions the seamstresses (mostly migrants from Asia) in Leicester, England, have to work: At an hourly wage of four euros, not even half of the British minimum wage.

Conclusion: To produce fashion in the most environmentally friendly and socially responsible way possible, companies have to take real responsibility – and for that they also need political and legal frameworks. Regulations such as the German Supply Chain Act are only a weak start here.

At the same time, it is also important that we use our power as consumers:inside and all change our consumer behavior. When it comes to clothing, it’s nowhere near as difficult as you might think.

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