Ava Caudle ’25
When someone wants something trendy shipped to their front door fast, SHEIN, a one-stop shop for all kinds of clothing, accessories, and even home décor, is often the answer. While its competitors include other fast fashion brands such as Fashion Nova or Boohoo, it reigns supreme as the option with the highest variety of items and has become valued at billions of dollars. Influencers post hauls of the brand’s clothing, and celebrities have been sponsored by SHEIN on their social media platforms. With its massive campaigns and widespread appeal, the notoriety it has gained is unprecedented. The cost of such notoriety? Ethical business practices. SHEIN provides its products at low prices that make customers rush to purchase them; these low prices indicate SHEIN’s lack of principles or originality. On top of its questionable company morals, many of its designs are taken directly from brands with smaller platforms and reproduced without credit. With SHEIN preying on smaller creators to do the unacknowledged work for its machine-made designs, artists need the help of the public.
SHEIN’s products are produced in mass quantities at speedy rates, contributing to landfills and clothing waste. The site also does not detail the conditions that overseas workers are subjected to, making for a dubious image of sweatshop labor with little pay (all too common in the fast fashion industry already). In addition to these already-troubling facets of the brand’s image, multiple tweets, posts, and articles have surfaced exposing the fast fashion brand for stealing artwork. According to those whose designs have been stolen, SHEIN takes merchandise concepts, including clothing and artwork, and creates cheaper knockoffs of the originals without permission of or an intention of providing credit to the original creator. The majority of creators affected by this abuse are independent artists or small businesses like Valfré, an indie brand that has publicly exposed SHEIN’s style-copying. Such creators are urging customers to reconsider spending their hard-earned dollars and, therefore, giving support to a brand that does not bother to pay homage to those who created their content in the first place.
In the words of its founder Ilse Valfré, “To see my artwork being re-used by yet another fast fashion company shows how little [SHEIN] cares about artistic vision and meaningful designs.” Many small business owners or artists do not have the resources to take legal action against what has become a retail giant, but for those who are able to bring their concerns to the legal table, SHEIN dismisses complaints with a sum of money and continues to fail at addressing the issue at hand. Given that this has occurred numerous times, the brand likely has no plan to change their detached approach to stolen content. From meticulously engraved pins to hand-crocheted sweaters, SHEIN has turned unique designs into mass-produced commodities. The brand releases up to 100 new styles daily. The speed at which SHEIN can rapidly identify and capitalize on viral trends is impossible for those with smaller platforms to compete with, pitting David against the equivalent of ten Goliaths. Creators and customers deserve better than a continued current of appropriated styles resold without regard for those who made them in the first place.
Frugal consumers argue that an artist’s work is reflected in the price, which can be a deterrent. Days spent working on a single piece can add up to a comparably higher price than items offered on sites like SHEIN. Low prices can entice those looking to save money or who cannot access pricier options. While a cheaper top is attractive in the short term, many people do not take cost per wear into account when choosing their wardrobes. Cost per wear, a method of examining the qualitative value of clothing or accessories, is a concept that the “value” of what someone chooses to buy can be found by dividing the upfront price by how many times that person wears that piece. If one were to buy an $80 sweater that they wore 62 times before choosing to donate it, the cost per wear would be about $1.29. Contrast this with SHEIN’s $10 tops that some reviewers state fall apart after only a couple uses. Assuming a SHEIN blouse was worn about three times before it was thrown away, the cost per wear would in fact be over two times that of the sweater. An item that is more expensive on paper can look daunting and will indeed take more time to save up for, but these more expensive products tend to retain their quality and closet life far better than mass-produced replicas. The higher levels of wearability among these pieces are a reflection of the creator’s care and quality, values that SHEIN takes advantage of when it mass-produces stolen designs at a fraction of the cost.
The idea above applies to the general debate over fast fashion versus more sustainable fashion, but even among fast fashion entities, SHEIN maintains a horrid reputation for taking advantage of small creators. Intellectual property represents someone’s creation and their hours, their sweat, their creativity, and their culture spent making it. The effort it takes to swoop in as a massive corporation and steal designs is minuscule compared to the effort creators put towards brainstorming, crafting, and perfecting a piece of clothing or merchandise. SHEIN knows this and continues its practices knowing that it has a loyal audience to fall back on—that is until said loyal audience dwindles.
No customer has a perfect record of sustainable shopping. My sentiment is meant to encourage more mindfulness rather than shame toward those who have purchased pieces from SHEIN. This in mind, each consumer has room for improvement, and one of the first steps toward mindful shopping for many can be abstaining from SHEIN for good. Comparable alternatives to SHEIN in terms of price include Uniqlo, Cotton On, and ASOS. By setting the standard higher for what can ethically be sold as clothing or accessories, fashion-savvy shoppers can finally break the trend of perpetuating theft.