Since the pandemic, online retail sales have increased significantly. Fast, cheap, and trendy fashion has progressively become more popular too.
One online retailer has caught a lot of consumers' attention: Shein. A simple search on TikTok shows that the hashtag “#shein” has 10.4 billion views. But what attracts consumers to Shein? The prices. Shein sells items like $5 dresses and $10 coats and is one of the cheapest online retailers. Yet, despite the low price of trendy styles, comes at a price: Shein is accused of harming the environment, exploiting workers, and poisoning its consumers with toxic chemicals.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is a relatively new concept in the industry that causes harm to the planet and exploits workers. Fast fashion delivers the newest trends and styles to consumers as quickly as possible. The fashion industry is the 2nd largest polluting industry in the world and fast fashion is making the problem worse.
Shein is one of the fastest growing fast fashion companies and is producing 700-1000 new products daily. Shein pushes out designs much faster than any other retailer and the company's business model is raising red flags around its impact on workers, consumers, and the environment.
"While fast fashion places like H&M and Zara introduce new pieces by tracking trends and going through a 3-week process to come out with new designs, Shein is able to use real-time data to cut this process to 5–7 days."
Is Shein Selling Toxic Chemicals and Labor Abuses?
Shein’s products have been tested for toxic chemicals and metals and found to contain phthalates, PFAS, and lead - all of which can harm human health and the environment.
There is no evidence that Shein is taking any action to protect consumers or workers from toxic substances. Shein received the lowest rating on Green America's Toxic Textiles scorecard for the company’s failure to adopt a (Restricted Substances List (RSL) to protect consumers, a Manufacturer’s Restricted Substances List (MRSL) to protect workers, or a commitment to eliminate any class of toxic chemicals.
Recently, Health Canada recalled a children's jacket sold by Shein that contains nearly 20 times the amount of allowable lead in children's products. Researcher Miriam Diamond (an environmental chemist) describes the jacket as “evil.” Miriam Diamond was right; the jacket is very evil. Not just evil to the consumers but to the workers. Imagine the workers for Shein who are exposed to higher levels of chemicals and other harmful substances than the average customer and what that long-term exposure is doing to their health.
Lead exposure over time can negatively impact your body and overall health. Exposure to high levels of lead can cause:
- Brain damage
- Abdominal pain
"I know it looks cute, but this is actually evil. The levels of lead in this trench coat are 20 times higher than the allowable limit for kids' jewelry. The allowable limit was put in place to safeguard kids' health," she told the crew on location in her laboratory in September." - MD
The jacket is not the only case of Shein selling dangerous products. A woman’s story recently went viral after purchasing nail products from Shein and having to go to the emergency room. Sara Holcomb, a comedian in Chicago, Illinois alleges that the product caused numbness that spread from her hand to her elbow. Her most recent video described how doctors told her she had chemical poisoning, and she notes that “Shein needs to be held accountable.” She is correct.
Shein is also accused of putting its workers at risk and creating horrible labor conditions. A recent undercover report by the U.K.’s Channel 4 found workers were working 18-hour days for very low pay, with only one day off per month, and were penalized 2/3 of their daily pay if they made a mistake on one item.
Shein's global head of ESG, Adam Whinston, recently spoke at a sustainability summit touting the company’s business model as “transformative”. However, the company seems to do little to address the concerns of high levels of toxic chemicals found in its products that affect workers and consumers alike, nor addressing poor labor conditions overall.
What You Can Do
Skip toxic fast fashion, and instead check out:
- 7 tips for less toxic clothing
- Secondhand clothing options
- Certified clothing companies in our Green Business Network
Green America recommends that consumers avoid Shein’s products and purchase used clothing to save money, resources, and our health instead of fast fashion.
And tell people you know – friends and family – about the harm caused by fast fashion companies like Shein and encourage them to seek out green alternatives as well.