Is SHEIN Ethical and Sustainable?

SHEIN offer stylish clothing for unbelievably cheap prices - but is it ethical?

SHEIN’s philosophy is a positive one. ‘Everyone can enjoy the beauty of fashion,’ they say online – but behind the public messages, how ethical and sustainable is the brand?

The fast fashion Chinese retailer, whose parent company Shenzhen Globalegrow E-Commerce Co. Ltd also owns fast fashion brands Zaful, Romwe, Choies and Modlily, offers trend-led garments that are easily accessible for both plus-size women and those on a small budget.

READ MORE: How Sustainable is Zara?

While the brand’s affordability and size inclusivity has been praised by some, others have expressed concern about SHEIN’s legitimacy and some of its product choices have also been called into serious question.

Here, we take a closer look.

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Is SHEIN ethical?

SHEIN’s ethics have been questioned time and time again and for good reason.

Like BoohooNasty Gal and Pretty Little Thing, SHEIN offers an alarming lack of transparency about its production chain, which is particularly concerning considering rumours that it’s involved in unethical practises such as child labour.

While SHEIN adamantly deny this, many countries in which garment factories are located have varying laws regarding child labour. 

Study Breaks offers Bangladesh as an example, where children as young as 14 are able to work, so SHEIN could legitimately employ teenagers yet still claim to be against child labour.

There’s no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain, and its employee initiatives and support are reportedly absent.

READ MORE: Is Marks & Spencer ethical and sustainable?

While it audits some of its supply chain, SHEIN offers no transparency about what percentage. It also fails to disclose policies in place to support suppliers and workers from the impacts of COVID-19.

A number of fast fashion retailers failed to protect their workers from the impact of the virus, from loss of wages, to health risks, including both Boohoo and Arcadia.

SHEIN has also repeatedly been accused of stealing designs from small businesses and individuals. In 2017, plus-size model and influencer Felicity Hayward accused SHEIN of copying her brand Self Love Brings Beauty’s t-shirt design.

Then in August 2020, SHEIN was accused of stealing a garment pattern from an independent designer.

It also came under fire last year for selling a £2 Nazi swastika necklace, before quickly removing it from its online store. Just five days prior to this disrespectful error, it had also been slammed for selling Islamic prayer rugs as decorative rugs.

In November 2021, findings from a Public Eye report alleged that the fast-fashion giant has been lacking in complying with labour laws, according to WWD. On top of that, the brand also allegedly makes its employees work for 75 hours per week and that their work location has lots of fire hazards.

There’s also the issue of chemicals used in fast-fashion items, though it’s not unique to SHEIN.

Meanwhile, the brand has responded to the allegations albeit in a general way, saying the brand is committed to providing ‘quality, safe and affordable products.’

On the other hand, SHEIN has been praised for being the most size inclusive brand in the UK and offering affordable clothes for those who need them.

Read SHEIN’s Social Responsibility Pledge here.

READ MORE: Is H&M ethical and sustainable?

Is SHEIN sustainable?

While many retailers are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint by using eco-friendly materials, SHEIN isn’t one of them.

While it claims to produce clothing in batches of 50-100 on its website, it lists a reported 6,000 new items on its website every day with an average cost of just £7.20.

The amount of new products SHEIN release every week can never be sustainable for our planet, as it leads consumers to see their clothes as disposable and adds to even more waste from the garment industry that ends up in landfill.

Due to SHEIN’s unbelievably low prices, many social media users have started sharing “SHEIN hauls” on apps such as Instagram and TikTok. These show mountains of cheap items bought from the brand, encouraging others to follow suit.

The average American is now estimated to throw away 37kg of clothes each year85% of which will end up in landfill or be burned.

This fast-paced business model is similar to that of Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, Zara and many other fast fashion brands. You can find a list of those brands here.

SHEIN has made no effort to reduce the hazardous chemicals, carbon or other greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain.

Like many other fast fashion retailers such as H&M and Boohoo, SHEIN offers a recycling service, encouraging customers to drop off their unwanted clothes to its pop-ups and events in exchange for gift cards.

READ MORE: Is Nasty Gal ethical and sustainable?

Animal Welfare Policy

SHEIN offer no information regarding its Animal Welfare Policy on its website and it provides no information about whether it traces any animal products to the first stage of production.

It does not offer cruelty-free items and according to Good On You, it continues to use wool. However it does not use exotic animal hair or skin, fur, down, angora or leather.

Is SHEIN fast fashion?

In short, yes.

SHEIN is one of the fastest growing fast fashion retailers online, offering around 500 new items every day at very unbelievably low prices.

It relies on a quick turnaround of designs, from the moment a garment is seen on a catwalk or celebrity, to when a garment is released for sale on the SHEIN website.

SHEIN’s prices are so shockingly cheap that it’s clear someone is suffering down the line and it’s likely to be the garment workers. They’re likely to be paid very cheap wages, working long hours and in dangerous conditions.

Read more about this here.

READ MORE: Is Primark ethical and sustainable?

Does SHEIN use child labour?

As mentioned, SHEIN has faced rumours that they use child labour to produce their garments.

SHEIN deny this, writing that it ‘never, ever’ engages in child labor on its Social Responsibility page. However it fails to provide the full supply chain disclosures required by British law.

If you’re at all worried about buying items from a brand that engages in the practise, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Wear Next Opinion

Wear Next believes it’s important to highlight the negative and unjust practises taking place in the fashion industry.

We believe ethics and sustainability are an important talking point to bring about change and we encourage you to contact fashion brands to demand this.

However we understand that sustainable fashion isn’t accessible for every body due to various factors, such as budget and the ability to find confidence-boosting clothes that fit.

We will continue to offer you fashion inspiration and guidance to suit every body and budget, while also highlighting the unjust systems at play in the fashion industry.

Sustainable brands to try instead

There are plenty of slow fashion brands that don’t compromise on style. While they may cost more than Shein, you can feel comfortable knowing who made your clothes.

These women make all their clothes to order, so there’s no waste involved either.

By Megan Crosby

by megan crosby gradient dress

Megan Crosby designs and hand makes a selection of colourful dresses, jumpsuits, tops, trousers, skirts and jackets.

Shop her designs at bymegancrosby.com and don’t forget to check out our interview with Megan.

With Love Evie

with love evie gingham red dress made to order fashion brands

UK-based designer Evie Ashwin also hand makes a selection of made-to-order dresses, tops and trousers.

Shop her designs at withloveevie.co.uk and don’t forget to check out our interview with Evie.

Molby The Label

molby the label gingham dress

Molby The Label boasts a whole host of celebrity fans, from Louise Thompson to Holly Willoughby.

Her recognisable split-colour gingham Tilda dresses are instantly recognisable.