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Ultra fast fashion brand SHEIN has taken the online apparel sector by storm, and is notorious for its murky practices. So, is SHEIN a more sustainable or ethical company? Read on to learn more about the brand’s “We Avoid” rating, which was published in March 2023 and may not reflect claims the brand has made since then. Our ratings analysts are constantly rerating the thousands of brands you can check on our directory.
Why is SHEIN so bad?
One of the fastest growing online fast fashion retailers, SHEIN was founded in 2008 and now boasts an Instagram following of 28 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?
SHEIN gets our lowest score of “We Avoid” for the planet. Aside from using a couple of lower-impact 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 that we can see. It follows an unsustainable fast fashion model with quickly changing trends and regular new styles. 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.
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. It also received the lowest score of 0-10% in the 2022 Fashion Transparency Index. 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.
SHEIN is “Not Good Enough” for our animal friends. It doesn’t appear to use leather, fur, angora, or exotic animal skin in its products, which is a start.
But it does use wool, down, exotic animal hair, decorative feathers, and silk without stating sources, and doesn’t trace any animal products even to the first stage of production. While it has a formal policy aligned with the Five Freedoms of animal welfare, there are no clear implementation mechanisms in place. 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.
Responsible 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 more sustainable brands and 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.
As consumers, we can make a difference by taking care of what we own (including fast fashion pieces), reducing what we buy, shopping second hand, and choosing to support brands that are doing better. If you’re interested in more sustainable alternatives to SHEIN, we recommend checking out second hand options first. And if you want to buy new, check out the brands below.
Here are some “Good” and “Great” SHEIN alternatives that might meet your needs.