Mallory Nilles — Staff Writer
Thirty-two billion views on TikTok. “Hauls” dot your feed as influencers share their most recent unnecessary, massive purchase. Despite the cute designs and low prices, there is still a dangerous problem we face with SHEIN.
SHEIN, pronounced “she-in,” is a Chinese clothing company based online. Fast fashion describes the practice of many clothing companies who make cheap, unsustainable clothing meant to be turned over in a short amount of time. Created in 2008, the company has blown up over the last few years, increasing its revenue by 398 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to Daxcue Consulting. On average, SHEIN drops over 2,000 new clothing items each day, totaling nearly 150,000 new items yearly. For reference, one of its other fast fashion competitors, Zara, produces 20,000 new items per year.
But fast fashion’s practices are even less ethical.
The least of SHEIN’s problems is the way it allegedly steals the designs of independent artists and creators. Not only does it take the design, but it makes them less than half the price of the original.
SHEIN also uses disgusting labor policies. An undercover investigation into SHEIN’s practices revealed many people were getting paid $556 a month for making 500 pieces of clothing daily—they get two cents per clothing article, according to Brightly.eco. On top of this, many of the workers are women. Working 18-hour shifts, the report noted that some wash their hair over their lunch break. It’s also suspected that SHEIN uses child labor, as the company is highly secretive about its labor practices and has provided no evidence against these claims.
Next time you unzip a SHEIN bag, remember the worker who got paid two cents for your rip-off, contaminated sweater, produced under life-threatening conditions. I hope it looks cute enough on you for it to be worthy of them dying from untreated chemical burns.
Just like ripped jeans and layered tank tops, these articles of clothing cycle rapidly in and out of trends. At any given point with SHEIN, you can hop online and buy something that will be out of style in less than a month. Our most impulsive desires can be met with no regard for the future of both our wallet and our home. Around half of fast-fashion garments produced get thrown away in one year.
Chemicals contaminate each article of SHEIN clothing you can get your hands on. Rayon is a type of fabric made from wood pulp. Used in numerous contexts, rayon itself is not inherently harmful—but the chemicals needed to make it are toxic, namely carbon disulfide.
Carbon disulfide is neurotoxic and harms the eyes, kidneys, blood, heart, liver, and skin. Readily absorbed through the skin and in the respiratory tract, these chemicals affect both consumers and workers.
SHEIN kills the environment. Fast fashion is in the top three most wasteful industries, behind construction and food. Fashion gives off more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to the Dhaka Tribune. Despite claims saying they value lowering their carbon footprint, there has been—again—no evidence supporting this claim. While SHEIN says they value using recycled materials, only 64 of their 50,000 dresses are made using recycled polyester, according to Brightly.eco.
Our water sources are also being contaminated by SHEIN. It produces overseas, where there are less regulations regarding environmental conditions. This works out well for companies like SHEIN: about 20 percent of wastewater worldwide is created by textile dyeing, according to the Princeton Student Climate Initiative. This wastewater becomes toxic, with very little potential to ever become safe again.
SHEIN is cheap, yes. But its affordability is not an excuse to support it, and it’s not classist to hate the company. There are plenty of low-cost options like thrifting or consignment store shopping. Nobody needs new outfits weekly—and clothing can be worn more than once, despite what fast fashion culture has pushed.
Be conscious of what you consume. Know what you’re supporting when you buy. The prices are low, but the cost is unbearably high.