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?
SHEIN gets our lowest score of ‘Very Poor’ 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 360 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 ‘Very Poor’ 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.
One area where SHEIN is at least making a start is for animal welfare, but only because it doesn’t use leather, exotic animal hair, fur, down, angora, or exotic animal skin in its products. It does use wool 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. It gets ‘It’s A Start’ for the animals, but there is certainly room for improvement.
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.
Here are some ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ alternatives to SHEIN.
Sustainable alternatives to SHEIN