woman wearing cheap bodycon dress by SHEIN
24 Mar
woman wearing cheap bodycon dress by SHEIN

How Ethical Is SHEIN?

Ultra fast fashion brand SHEIN has taken the online apparel sector by storm, and it is notorious for its murky ethics and sustainability. Let’s take a closer look and answer: just how ethical is SHEIN? This article is based on the SHEIN rating published in January 2022.

SHEIN is the worst of the worst

One of the fastest growing online fast fashion retailers, SHEIN was founded in 2008 and now boasts an Instagram following of 18 million people. The brand goes by the philosophy that “everyone can enjoy the beauty of fashion”. It sells clothes at alarmingly low prices and of very dubious quality—if your package arrives at all. No stranger to controversy, in 2020 the brand was accused of selling offensive items, from Islamic prayer rugs as decorative mats to a necklace in the shape of a swastika. SHEIN has also been accused of stealing designs from small independent labels and printing out low-quality copies for a fraction of the price. That’s not what we call “the beauty of fashion”.

Like Boohoo, SHEIN is as opaque as a brand can get. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a contact number on the website, let alone information about the supply chain. It relies on influencers for its marketing and is especially appealing for young women on a budget. All that aside, let’s take a deeper look into how this mass-producing brand treats people, the planet, and animals across the supply chain. How ethical is SHEIN?

Environmental impact

SHEIN gets our lowest score of “We Avoid” for the planet. Aside from using a couple of eco-friendly materials here and there, there is no evidence the brand is taking any meaningful action to reduce its substantial impact on the environment. From hazardous chemicals to carbon emissions to microplastics, SHEIN is making zero effort. On top of that, brands mass-producing such cheap, poorly-made clothing perpetuate a throwaway fashion culture simply by existing. SHEIN would have to do a complete 180 to raise its score in this area.

Labour conditions

It should come as no surprise that SHEIN makes as much effort for people as it does for the planet—next to none. It is rated “We Avoid” here, too. Again, aside from auditing some percentage of its supply chain, it is making no headway on improving its labour conditions. Workers should have the right to a living wage, collective bargaining, an abuse-free work environment, and some protection from the impacts of COVID-19. Do better, SHEIN.

Animal welfare

SHEIN is “Not Good Enough” for our animal friends. It doesn’t use leather, fur, down, angora, or exotic animal skin in its products, which is a start. But it does use wool and exotic animal hair without stating sources, doesn’t appear to have a policy to minimise the suffering of animals, and doesn’t trace any animal products even to the first stage of production. There is certainly room for improvement here, too.

Overall rating: We Avoid

So, how ethical is SHEIN? In a not-so-shocking conclusion, SHEIN receives our lowest possible score of “We Avoid” overall. The brand has a lot of work to do across all three areas and needs to make some serious improvements if it hopes to receive a higher score.

Ethical brands with hundreds of products under $50 may not be realistic—and nor should they be, if we talk about the true cost of fashion—but there are a few options out there for those on a budget. Read our articles on affordable sustainable brands and 8 alternatives to SHEIN, or check out these options below.

Note that Good On You ratings consider hundreds of issues and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

Good swaps

Here are some “Good” and “Great” alternatives to SHEIN.

CHNGE

Rated: Good

CHNGE is a US-based sustainable fashion brand using 100% organic material, built to last a lifetime while making a statement. Find CHNGE's inclusive clothes in sizes 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.

Shop CHNGE.

Afends

Rated: Good
two images of people in tops, shirts and trousers

Offers

Black and white shot of the BROCCOLI Magazine and Afends fashion collaboration.

Afends – Broccoli Collab

The collab everyone has been waiting for: Afends x Broccoli Magazine. Cut from hemp and organic cotton. Step into a new dimension with this super limited capsule. Exclusive 15% off with code GOODBROCCOLI. (Ends: 30 SEP)

Checkout code: GOODBROCCOLI
Shop now
Two people outdoors wearing recycled Afends collection clothes.

Afends – Recycled Collection

Explore Afends' Recycled Collection, created with recycled and organic cotton. From pants to tees and sweats, featuring a slew of new prints. Exclusive 20% off with code RECYCLED20. (Ends: 30 SEP)

Checkout code: RECYCLED20
Shop now

Born in Byron Bay, Afends is a responsible brand leading the way in hemp fashion. Drawing inspiration from the environment, streetwear, and surf culture, Afends’ mission is to create more sustainable clothing through innovation, action, and positive change. As true hemp advocates, they purchased 100 acres of farmland called Sleepy Hollow to grow their own hemp crops and ignite the hemp revolution. Explore their range made from 100% eco-conscious threads.

See the rating.

Shop Afends.

Frankie

Rated: Great

Canadian brand Frankie Collective is dedicated to innovating women’s streetwear while setting a standard for sustainability in the fashion industry. It takes inspiration from 90’s staples and reworks vintage garments to push the boundaries of contemporary style. Find most items in sizes XS to 2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Frankie.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good

Whimsy + Row is an eco-conscious lifestyle brand born out of a love for quality goods and sustainable practices. Since 2014, its mission has been to provide ease and elegance for the modern, sustainable woman. Whimsy + Row utilises deadstock fabric, and by limiting each garment to short runs, the brand also reduces packaging waste and takes care of precious water resources. Find most products in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

Shop Whimsy + Row @ Earthkind.

Editor's note

Feature image via SHEIN, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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