Why is Shein bad? Beneath the surface of cheap fashion

Shein's appeal lies in its affordable fashion offerings, but there are underlying concerns regarding its practices. Consumers are urged to consider the true cost of fast fashion beyond the price tag.

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Why is Shein bad? Beneath the surface of cheap fashion

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Key takeaways

  • Shein produces new clothing items at a ridiculously fast rate.
  • The retail chain uses several underhand tactics to maintain its dominance.
  • Fast fashion chains, including Shein, contribute to air and water pollution


In the fast-paced world of online fashion, Shein has emerged as a trendsetting powerhouse, captivating the attention of millions of fashion enthusiasts with its budget-friendly and diverse collection. With just a few clicks, shoppers can access a vast array of trendy clothes, accessories, and cosmetics delivered straight to their doorsteps. However, behind its seemingly alluring facade lies a growing controversy that has sparked concerns and raised eyebrows among consumers and ethical watchdogs alike.

The question echoes through the digital landscape, "Why is Shein bad?" As the brand's popularity soars, so too do the allegations and criticisms aimed at its business practices and product quality. From accusations of exploitation in their supply chain to environmental sustainability concerns and questions about product safety, Shein has become a subject of intense debate in the realm of fast fashion. This article unravels the reasons behind the mounting scrutiny surrounding Shein's operations and the implications these criticisms hold for both consumers and the fashion industry as a whole.

The origin of fast fashion

Fast fashion originated in the 1990s as a response to consumer demand for more affordable and trend-driven clothing. It was a shift away from the traditional fashion calendar, where designers showcased seasonal collections, and consumers waited for new styles to arrive in stores.

Retailers began adopting a business model that prioritized rapid production and quick turnover of clothing items. This allowed them to offer constantly changing styles inspired by runway trends at much lower prices. Fast fashion brands accelerated the design-to-production process, reducing the time it took for a garment to go from concept to store shelves.

The rise of globalization and advancements in technology also played a significant role in the growth of fast fashion. Global supply chains enabled brands to source materials and manufacture clothing in countries with lower production costs and less stringent labor regulations.

As fast fashion gained popularity, consumers embraced the ability to regularly update their wardrobes with the latest styles at affordable prices. However, this rapid consumption of inexpensive clothing came at a cost, leading to concerns about environmental sustainability, labor exploitation, and the impact of disposable fashion on the industry and the planet.

Fast fashion brands: a blessing and a curse?

Fast fashion brands have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering consumers cheap, trendy clothes that are constantly updated. This has benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, fast fashion can be a blessing for consumers. It allows people to stay up-to-date on the latest trends without breaking the bank. It also provides access to affordable clothing for people who may not otherwise be able to afford it. But at what cost?

On the other hand, fast fashion has a number of negative environmental and ethical impacts. The industry is a major polluter, and the use of cheap, non-durable materials means that much of the clothing produced is quickly discarded. Additionally, the labor conditions in many fast fashion factories are often poor.

A culture of unbridled fast-paced production

According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, millions of tonnes of clothes are produced, worn, and thrown away each year. Every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truckload of clothes is burnt or buried in landfills. This stat paints a vivid picture of the sheer magnitude of waste generated by the fashion industry each year. The relentless cycle of producing, wearing, and discarding clothes perpetuates a culture of disposable fashion, where trends change at an unprecedented pace, and garments are treated as short-lived commodities.

Fast fashion industry pollutes the air and the ocean

The pollution emanating from the fashion industry is an urgent and escalating crisis that demands immediate attention and action. The fashion industry leaves a substantial environmental footprint that extends across the entire product lifecycle - from raw material extraction to production, distribution, and eventual disposal.

Global warming is a reality, and the fashion industry contributes to it. This industry is responsible for between 2 and 8% of annual global carbon emissions. And according to the World Bank, at this pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge by more than 50% by 2030. Ultra-fast fashion brands, driven by an insatiable desire for constant novelty and ultra-rapid production, have emerged as major contributors to the fashion industry's alarming carbon emissions. 

Fast fashion relies on low-cost materials and quantity over quality, so synthetic, plastic-based materials such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon are preferred. More than 30 percent of all microplastics released into the world's oceans come from synthetic textiles such as polyester.  The impact of microplastics on marine ecosystems is devastating. Marine animals often mistake these tiny particles for food, leading to ingestion and potential bioaccumulation up the food chain. As a result, microplastics not only pose a direct threat to marine life but also have the potential to enter the human food chain through seafood consumption.

Use of harmful chemicals

The detrimental impact of fast fashion goes beyond polluting the air and oceans through the disposal of used fabrics. The manufacturing process of these fabrics involves the use of harmful chemicals that pose significant health and environmental risks. 

Synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon, are commonly used in fast fashion due to their low cost and versatility. However, the production of these fabrics relies heavily on toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, phthalates, and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs).

A CBC investigation found out that some of the most popular fast fashion brands on the planet, including Shein, have been selling toxic chemicals to the public, hidden in clothing and accessories.

Ethical concerns

Fast fashion brands try to lower the cost of production to increase their profit margins and meet customer demand. They often source their clothing from factories in developing countries, where workers are often paid low wages. There have been numerous reports of labor abuses in the fast fashion industry, including child labor, forced labor, and unsafe working conditions.

One of the most alarming issues is the prevalence of low wages, which fail to provide workers with a living wage, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and dependence. Many of these workers toil for long hours in demanding and hazardous conditions, with little regard for their well-being or safety. And this trend is not always limited to developing countries alone. In the United States, investigators found out that garment workers are paid as little as $1.58 per hour.

Why is Shein bad?

Beyond the general issues associated with fast fashion, Shein has garnered specific criticism and controversy that has contributed to its reputation as a "bad" brand. Some of the key reasons why Shein has faced scrutiny are detailed below.

Shein uses harmful materials

Shein products are ridiculously cheap, so much so that other fast fashion labels find it hard to keep up with the unrealistically low prices. One of the reasons for this ridiculously low price is that Shein heavily relies on synthetic, plastic-based materials like polyester, acrylic, and nylon, which are cheaper to manufacture than natural fibers like cotton or wool.

These low-cost materials enable Shein to keep production expenses to a minimum, allowing them to offer products at extremely competitive prices. However, the heavy use of synthetic materials raises significant environmental concerns, as these fabrics shed microplastics when washed, contributing to the growing problem of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways. Moreover, the environmental impact of using harmful materials extends to resource depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste generation.

Unethical working conditions

Shein is an ultra-fast fashion brand that’s come to be identified with unethical practices, including the unethical working conditions of factory workers. The unethical working condition of Shein workers is one of the reasons for their low prices. Workers are paid well below the industry average while running foul of Chinese labour law. 

Public Eye released a damning report in 2021 that detailed the inner workings of Shein’s business practices at their production sites. According to the report, at Shein’s factories, employees are paid per item, and there is neither a basic wage nor an overtime premium. Workers work 11 hours a day and hardly have up to three free days a month. 

They produce just too much

The Shein machine doesn’t seem to ever stop working. Shein's supply chain operates on a model of excessive production, churning out a vast quantity of garments at an unprecedented rate. A report shows that Zara, one of the most popular fashion companies, launches about 10,000 new products annually. Conversely, Shein releases 6,000 fresh “stock-keeping units” (including old designs in new colors) daily. This relentless pursuit of quantity over quality results in an overwhelming volume of products flooding the market. Many of them end up in landfills and incinerators, while some make it to thrift stores.

As a result, Shein produces just too much, contributing to issues like environmental pollution and textile waste.

Shein copies other brands’ designs

Design is typically the first part of the production process, and Shein can’t do that right either. The issue of design theft has been a recurring controversy for Shein, with numerous allegations from both established fashion brands and small businesses. The brand has faced accusations of replicating original designs without proper authorization or credit, resulting in a pervasive culture of copying within the fast fashion industry.

The practice of stealing designs not only undermines the creativity and intellectual property rights of designers but also poses serious ethical concerns. It fosters an environment of unfair competition, where smaller businesses and independent designers may struggle to compete with a larger, well-funded brand like Shein. Ethically Dressed recently published a list of more than 30 businesses Shein stole designs from.

In clear terms, Shein's business practices raise significant ethical and environmental concerns, providing ample reasons to reconsider patronizing the brand. From the ridiculously low prices that are achieved through the use of harmful materials to allegations of design theft from established brands and small businesses, Shein's approach to fast fashion has sparked controversies that go beyond mere style choices.

The need for sustainable fashion

The rise of Shein and the controversies surrounding the brand highlight the urgent need for sustainable fashion in today's world. The fast fashion model, exemplified by Shein, has come under scrutiny for its detrimental impact on the environment, labor practices, and intellectual property rights.

The big question is, “Are we stuck with Shein?” No, we’re not. Although Shein’s prices are low and their pop-up store is everywhere, there are still alternatives. Choosing sustainable alternatives can support more environmentally and socially responsible fashion choices.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of our fashion choices and are recognizing the significance of supporting sustainable alternatives. Sustainable fashion offers a solution that aligns with ethical and environmental considerations. By prioritizing responsible sourcing, eco-friendly materials, and fair labor practices, sustainable fashion brands aim to minimize their ecological footprint and uphold ethical standards throughout their supply chains.

Embracing sustainable fashion entails opting for quality over quantity. Instead of constantly chasing after low-cost, disposable items, consumers are encouraged to invest in well-made, timeless pieces that endure the test of time. Sustainable fashion emphasizes durability and craftsmanship, encouraging us to cherish our garments and reduce overall consumption.

Recycled fabrics, organic materials, and innovative technologies all play a vital role in sustainable fashion. By incorporating recycled materials into clothing production, brands can reduce the demand for new resources, lessen waste generation, and contribute to a circular economy. 

Moreover, sustainable fashion prioritizes transparency and accountability. Brands that commit to sustainable practices engage in open communication with consumers about their sourcing, production processes, and environmental impact. This fosters a sense of trust and empowers consumers to make informed choices.


Does Shein have child labor?

Yes, it is highly likely that Shein has child labor. The company's mass-produced clothing items are often manufactured in countries with less stringent labor regulations and oversight, making it easier for unethical practices to occur. While there is no direct evidence of Shein's involvement in child labor, the broader issues in the fast fashion industry raise concerns about the potential exploitation of vulnerable workers, including children, in their supply chain.

Is it wrong to buy from Shein?

Yes, it is wrong for consumers who prioritize sustainability, ethical labor practices, and responsible consumption to buy from Shein. Supporting brands with transparent and ethical practices might align better with their values. By choosing to buy from brands that prioritize environmentally friendly materials, fair wages, and transparency, consumers can encourage positive change within the fashion industry and contribute to a more sustainable and ethical fashion landscape.

Why do people say Shein is unethical?

People say Shein is unethical due to concerns about its environmental impact, labor practices, and alleged design theft. The brand's heavy use of harmful materials, rapid production, and lack of transparency raise ethical issues.

Who owns SHEIN?

Chris Xu is the primary owner of Shein. He is a Chinese entrepreneur who founded the company in 2008 as ZKKO. 

What activities did Shein do that was illegal?

Shein’s use of sweatshop labor and intellectual property theft are some of the prominent illegal activities the company is involved in. However, the company has not been convicted of any crimes. These allegations have raised concerns about Shein's corporate responsibility. Recently, three graphic designers sued the Chinese fast-fashion giant over what they allege is “egregious” copyright infringement and racketeering. The designers allege Shein produced and sold exact copies of their designs. 

Is Shein using child Labour true?

Yes, it is highly probable that Shein is using child labour. There have been reports of child labor in Shein’s supply chain. However, Shein continues to deny the allegations. Nonetheless, the company’s history of poor treatment of workers at its production facilities is well-documented.

This lends credence to the possibility of child labor practices in Shein’s supply chain.


The controversies surrounding Shein provide a critical glimpse into the broader issues plaguing the fast fashion industry. From concerns about environmental impact to ethical labor practices, the brand's practices have sparked discussions about responsible fashion consumption.

Consumers hold the power to influence the fashion industry's trajectory. They can drive positive change by prioritizing sustainability practices, supporting brands that prioritize ethical sourcing and labor conditions, and embracing alternatives like recycled fabrics. Making mindful choices about our fashion purchases can lead us towards a more sustainable future, where the allure of new clothes can coexist with the responsibility to protect our planet and promote a more equitable fashion landscape.


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