The Shien Crisis

Written by: Chloe Tan (22-I6), Jovielle Bruto (22-A2)

Designed by: Sophia Chiang (22-O1)

Lucy Siegle, a British environmental journalist, once said: “Fast fashion is not free. Someone, somewhere is paying the price.” With fast fashion becoming increasingly rampant due to the ease brought about by online shopping, it becomes even more important to keep conscious of the costs of having such luxuries. 

One major factor driving the rise of fast fashion is the presence of fashion giants, such as Shein. Shein’s marketing model is to imitate popular Western trends and export such items to the public in large quantities. While this extremely effective method has brought in a revenue of USD$15.7 billion for Shein in 2021, it has simultaneously and severely devastated  society. 

Environmentally, Shein’s impact has been undeniably severe and of great concern. For example, materials used in production of clothing range from hazardous chemicals to microplastics. Each article of clothing is also wrapped in plastic zip-top bags, contributing to increased plastic pollution. Many social media users have been participating in clothing hauls, or more specifically termed ‘Shein hauls’, as depicted in such videos or posts whereby they showcase the many clothing items they have bought. When taken into consideration the cheap prices and varieties of clothing that Shein offers, many consumers thus give no thought in discarding clothing items once current fashion trends gradually die out and evolve. This thus results in the increased waste in landfills, subsequently leading to greater global environmental harm. 

In addition, Shein has inflicted harm on vulnerable groups by partaking in exploitative practices such as sweatshops and underpaid labour. In 2019, Shein was discovered to have flouted wage laws by paying workers in Los Angeles factories wages as low as $2.77 per hour. Unethical sourcing of labour are staples of the fast fashion industry, with instances of large businesses disguising minors’ as legal adults for work and unacceptable working conditions. 

The Rana Plaza garment factory, a production centre for clothes for various fast fashion brands such as Mango and Primark, collapsed on 24 April 2014. This brought to attention the various repercussions fast fashion could have on human life, as work conditions are not regulated for these exploited workers. A painful and uncomfortable reminder of the horrors of fast fashion, the Rana Plaza collapse spurred the creation of the #WhoMadeMyClothes movement. With greater global awareness of this serious worldwide plight, consumers have since increased their efforts to go green and make ethical fashion choices by choosing Fairtrade brands. 

However, Shein has had a positive social impact in terms of empowering low-income groups. With the extremely affordable costs that Shein brings, the less privileged now have the ability to spend on clothes that make them feel good. Shein provides trendy, cheap clothing, which means that lower-income people have more fashionable options. This helps bridge the gap between income groups as they can indulge in the same trends, improving confidence and self image for lower income groups. This is especially relevant for youths who are in the midst of developing their identity and would like to join in on popular trends, but do not have the means to do so. Hence, fast fashion may be a saving grace for fashion-savvy youth with less spending ability. Consequently, it is important to not shun others for making different choices as differing circumstances play a significant role in determining what we can and cannot afford. 

In conclusion, despite the positive impacts Shein may bring to some, it is undoubtedly more beneficial for everyone if global consumers were to gradually avoid supporting Shein products. This could be done through methods such as spreading awareness of its environmental harms and further negative impacts while promoting other more sustainable brands for replacement and limiting frequent consumption of clothing. As the global climate suffers at the hands of unethical consumerism, tackling one such contributor to this crisis could thus be a positive step towards realising effective change. 


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