From trending outfits to sexy accessories and jewelry, all for cheap prices, Shein is seemingly the perfect store for a broke uni student such as myself. I can understand the choice in remaining ignorant. What you don’t know won’t kill you, right? Except it just might. And if not you, other less fortunate communities. So, listen up and learn of the realities of Shein’s fast fashion industry. 

1. Toxic and harmful materials 

Like most other clothing stores, its products are made from polyester and are often poor quality. Polyester is a type of plastic made from non-renewable fossil fuels and takes up to 200 years to break down. The environmental effect? High carbon levels, air pollution… oh but it doesn’t stop there. High levels of lead were found in clothing items, putting consumers and workers at risk of lead exposure. This can impact neurological health, kidney health, liver health, immune systems, and heart systems, AND can be toxic if ingested.

High levels of Phthalates and other toxic chemicals were also found by research conducted at Toronto University on companies like Shein, Zaful and AliExpress. Researchers explain phthalates can impact hormone levels and the male reproductive system. Washing your clothes before you wear them does reduce your risk but overall is not a long-term solution.

2. Waste pollution!

You hear the term ‘fast fashion’ and the name Shein is the first thought, right? Shein has a “New” tab on its site which reveals the newest arrivals from each day. Up to 9,000 new styles are added every day. The overhaul of clothes is devastating with influencers posting video after video of their “#sheinhaul”, spending thousands of dollars on a regular basis. Only to throw them out or donate, as the new trends come rolling in, with over half thrown away in less than one year. Although donating to promote reusing is a more sustainable option, it is not the solution. Research says in the first two months of each year about six billion metres of fabric was produced in China. China produces more than twenty million tonnes of fashion waste each year. Our planet cannot keep up with Shein’s production.

If this all was not enough to put in perspective Shein’s fast fashion, let me compare to Zara and other fast fashions companies. Fast fashion brands like Zara and Zaful typically require 2-3 weeks to produce a new item while Shein only requires 7 days. Where other fast fashion brands offered new arrivals in a 30-day cycle maximum, Shein is daily. 6% of their inventory is available for more than 90 days.

3. Stolen designs

Shein steals from designers like Mariama Diallo who is the designer of Sincerely Ria and Cassey Ho, the designer of Popflex, as well as small businesses and artists. Small businesses and artists don’t have the power to legally fight this. Shein sells these stolen designs for much cheaper so the original designer cannot compete.

4. Unethical working conditions

We’ve all heard of Shein’s unethical working conditions after Public Eye’s 2021 report. Shein relies on Chinese manufacturing with cheap labor like many other fast fashion companies.

The workers are doing up to 75 hours a week, almost double what an average full-time worker should be doing, with 10-12 hour days, seven days a week. Research says, “In one factory, Channel 4 found that workers receive a base salary of 4,000 yuan per month — roughly $556 AUD — to make 500 pieces of clothing per day and that their first month’s pay is withheld from them… In another factory, workers received the equivalent of four cents per item.” The report from ‘The Cut’ goes on to mention the workers are doing18-hour days with one day off per month. Another factory revealed women are washing their hair on lunch breaks and their wage is penalized if a mistake is made on a clothing item.

Not only that, but the physical working conditions are more than poor. Bags of clothes block hallways and staircases. Rather than a large manufacturing factory, Shein uses a neighborhood of smaller factories, saving on cost.

Shein is not alone with companies like Zaful, FashionNova and PrettyLittleThing operating harmful and unethical practices to promote their fast fashion brands. However, Shein takes the cake as the worst fast fashion brand in all aspects of human and environmental welfare.

Eco-stylist suggests these alternatives:

  • Coalatree
  • People Tree
  • Colourful Standard
  • Wolven
  • Girlfriend Collective
  • For Days
  • Boody

But for affordable options Salvos, Vinnies, and Red Cross remain your best bet.

The main takeaway should be don’t buy into fast fashion. The cheap price tags snag your attention, but you are spending more buying cheap, low-quality clothes on a regular basis than you would on more expensive, sustainable, good quality clothes you’d purchase every so often that last a lifetime.

Sami Peters

Sami Peters

Hi, I’m Sami Peters and I am the Environment and Global Change Reporter for Opus. I study a Bachelor of Arts with a major in English and Writing. I love reading, writing, dancing, and the beach. I have a lot of passions but to combine two of my favourites: the environment and writing… that’s the dream.