SHEIN is praised for its trendy styles, cheap prices, and huge product selection. As an entirely digital e-commerce company, SHEIN generates about $10 billion in annual revenue.
What SHEIN doesn’t tell you is that despite their massive profits, they steal styles from designers, pay their clothing makers below a living wage to work in sweatshop conditions, and produce huge amounts of waste while creating their excessive variety of styles.
In fact, they add 6,000 styles to their site every single day. Let’s be clear about one thing: this level of hyper consumption can never be sustainable.
SHEIN is the definition of fast fashion.
Millennials mock the brand on Twitter for culturally appropriating styles, including a Swastika necklace, Islamic prayer mats as Greek rugs, and traditional South Asian clothing as pant sets.
Meanwhile, they continue to grow with the help of influencers and Generation Z ‘zoomers’, unboxing $1,000 SHEIN hauls on TikTok–string bikini sets for just a few dollars, knockoffs of the trendiest handbags, shoes, and jackets for $20 or less, and cheap crop top options for nights out on the town.
SHEIN may be an easy option to look stylish, but their company is the epitome of the phrase ‘cheaper is not better.’ After getting hit with claims of unethical production practices, they have hid behind greenwashed claims.
SHEIN needs to be canceled, and this time for good!
Remake, Eco-Stylist’s partner, looked further into SHEIN’s practices and policies, including their greenwashed claims. Their findings prove SHEIN is not better quality, not better for the environment, not better for the makers—simply not better for anyone.
Remake’s criteria is based on transparency & traceability, maker well-being, environmental sustainability, sustainable raw materials, leadership, and diversity & inclusion. They create a transparency report that gives the brand a score for each of these categories.
So how did SHEIN score? Their original evaluation yielded 0 points—yikes! Their most recent evaluation, based on Remake’s 2021 Accountability Report, yielded 5 points—still yikes! Remake’s analysis drew several conclusions about the problems with SHEIN.
First and foremost, SHEIN doesn’t make it easy to find out who their suppliers are. This is a key factor in traceability and transparency, two values SHEIN does not have.
SHEIN’s own claims prove this as they offer fluffy statements and empty promises, without evidence or accountability.
SHEIN likes to say it treats “employees like family by providing industry-leading working conditions. From offering above-average salaries and benefits to building state-of-the-art factories and offices, we make sure everyone can work in a safe, clean, happy and productive environment.”
Not only does SHEIN lack supporting evidence of fair working conditions, but recent research proves that it is a lie, with SHEIN factory workers clocking in up to 75 hours per week!
Let’s look at the sustainability of their materials. Dangerous levels of lead and other toxic chemicals have been found in SHEIN clothing. These chemicals are bad for workers, bad for the planet, and bad for the consumers who purchase SHEIN’s clothes, whether new or second hand.
SHEIN claims to be environmentally conscious. Their website says, “When selecting fabrics, we do our best to source recycled fabric, such as recycled polyester, a non-virgin fibre that has little impact on the environment and reduces damage to the original material.”
But how much of this recycled polyester are they ‘doing their best’ to use? What is their environmental impact to begin with?
It is pretty obvious SHEIN has some serious work to do to put any truth behind their bold claims of sustainability efforts.
Lucky for them, without many realistic and enforceable transparency, fair labor, and sustainability policies they only have room to improve.
Ethical Alternatives to SHEIN
While we are usually optimistic that brands can improve, it is hard to imagine a brand this far off the mark, that drops 6,000 styles in a day, can ever be sustainable. Of course, we hope we’re wrong.
The good news: there are brands that offer similar styles as SHEIN, but actually have truth behind their sustainability claims. These brands offer higher quality clothes, at a more responsible rate of production, made better for people and the planet.
Reformation, an Eco-Stylist Certified brand, does just this. As a climate neutral company and Fair Labor Association member, Reformation is where sexy meets sustainable.
Groceries Apparel specializes in active and casual wear that is made out of 100% organic recycled fabrics. They know how to do business without compromising values.
Girlfriend Collective is Eco-Stylist Certified (of course), includes models of all body types and identities, has great color selection for their lounge wear products, and is designed with comfort in mind.
On Affording Alternatives to SHEIN
SHEIN’s prices are powered by un-sustainable practices and sweatshop labor. Any alternative is going to be more expensive per piece, but that doesn’t mean it’s more expensive for you. Here’s some tips to shop ethically and still beat SHEIN’s ridiculously low prices:
- Buy less but buy better
- Only buy what you need
- Supplement your wardrobe with thrift shopping
- Restyling and layering basics can create endless outfit options
To find other Eco-Stylist Certified brands that value looking and feeling good in your clothes, shoes, and accessories, head to our sustainable brand guide!
Which brands would you like us to review next?
Emma is a writer at Eco-Stylist. She studies journalism and mass communications at the University of Iowa. Emma’s love for sustainable fashion was sparked by thrifting with her mom throughout her childhood.