Shein People’s Republic
PLANO, Texas — There was a bit of desperation in the indoor mall where Shein had opened a pop-up store.
A security guard posted at the entrance said that on each of the three days the pop-up was in operation, it had refused around 20 bribes from people trying to avoid the queues. Often they would offer $20, he said, although some would go as high as $100.
On Sunday, the last day, the first buyers arrived around 6 am. Shein was supposed to open at noon. The line swelled throughout the morning, hunkering down before rolling into the food court, past the bubble tea stand and Mediterranean grill. Anyone arriving after 12:30 p.m. was told to go home – deprived of the chance to buy, in person, things like $1 daisy earrings, $4 bucket hats, crop tops in $12 cable knit, $13 faux leather baguette bags and $29 neon PVC mule sandals.
“We had to pull the numbers out of the window,” said guard Don Dickerson, pointing to where a white sticker showing the Saturday closing time of 8 p.m. had been peeled off. Low stock had closed the store at 4 a.m. that day.
The excitement was a sight to behold, given that many malls over the past decade have struggled to attract such crowds: around 700 people waiting outside a whitewashed storefront formerly occupied by American Eagle Outfitters, sandwiched between Swarovski and Bath & Body Works. On Friday, a man proposed to his girlfriend outside the entrance.
“I was really nervous and wanted to surprise her,” 23-year-old Nehemiah Jaime-Vega said. “She loves Shein.” His fiancée, Michelle Alvarado, 22, nodded. “It’s so affordable,” she said Saturday afternoon, after her second visit to the pop-up. She wore a red ribbed knit tube top, sold by Shein for $7.
These pop-up stores aren’t how most people interact with the brand. So far in 2022, there have been five in the United States, Shein’s most valuable market. But the pop-ups are part of an effort to make the Chinese fast fashion company less mysterious. Shein – officially pronounced “she-in”, although often pronounced “sheen” – recently overtook Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app in the United States, according to analysis by Sensor Tower. Shein is privately held and declined to share financial numbers, but Coresight Research estimated it would bring in $10 billion in revenue in 2020.
Yet, as Shein grows, questions about his practices also arise. Shein often makes headlines for his controversies, such as selling a swastika necklace for $2.50 or copying designers’ work. (The company said it takes infringement claims seriously, requiring vendors to certify that their products don’t infringe third-party intellectual property.)
Shein has also been accused of working with suppliers who violate labor laws and failing to make necessary disclosures about factory conditions. In response, the brand highlighted “regular internal audits” and a “strict” and legally compliant code of conduct for its suppliers. It has also hired companies including OpenView and Intertek to audit its facilities; “When violations are found, we take other action, which may include termination,” the company said.
Last year, a CBC Marketplace investigation found high levels of lead in some Shein products, such as a toddler jacket and a small purse. Shein said it tests products regularly, in accordance with international standards from regulatory agencies, and “violations are corrected immediately.”
All of this has helped make Shein the epitome of a certain kind of super-cheap clothing company: it’s the leader of a group of favorite Gen Z brands, like Fashion Nova and Boohoo, blamed by critics (including those from Gen Z) of contributing to overconsumption and waste.
Shein, however, called her approach to producing clothes “transformative”: she starts by ordering small batches (100-200 pieces) and monitors customer response before placing larger orders.
Yet many of the videos on social platforms made about Shein — including the insanely popular “haul” clips, which show people trying out their big orders, piece by piece — inspire comments raising these questions: How does a 4-way top can $ last? , so that it does not end up in a landfill? How can the workers who sewed and shipped this garment be fairly compensated?
Still, that hasn’t deterred Shein followers, many of whom feel they haven’t seen enough evidence to stop shopping with the brand.
Ann Taylor, a 25-year-old aspiring fashion influencer in Toronto who has received gift cards from the brand, sees these kinds of comments on videos “all the time,” she said.
More often than not, she noted, they fear the company is violating employment law.
This summer, viral TikTok videos claiming to show cries for help sewn into Shein garments by garment workers have been widely debunked. But watchdog group Public Eye, in a November 2021 report on factories that work with Shein, said its researchers interviewed three workers whose hours exceeded national legal maximums and found some workshops with hallways and stairs. blocked.
Taylor was unswayed. If there were reports that the company violated child labor laws, for example, “I would definitely be against that,” she said. “If the workers are complaining that they are not being paid as much, that is completely different from saying that they are forcing the children to work.
Steven Prugar, a 32-year-old information technology professional in Pittsburgh who uses the pronouns they and them, said Shein’s prices and wide variety of plus-size options allowed them to experiment with their personal style. – to learn what worked for their body type – after coming out non-binary in 2020.
“You can build an awesome wardrobe without breaking the bank, which is really good, especially for a lot of middle- and low-income people who can’t afford to spend $100 on dresses,” said Prugar, who estimated that about a third of their wardrobe came from Shein.
Although they’ve been willing to boycott companies like Chick-fil-A on ethical grounds — concerned about its donations to anti-LGBTQ groups — Prugar generally believes that “every company you buy from has a lot of skeletons. There really isn’t much you can honestly do about it.
That won’t stop Shein from trying. In September, the company plans to launch a social media campaign to give people an “inside look” at the company’s labor, sustainability and product safety efforts, said George Chiao, president. Shein’s American. He also put more effort into “getting the idea of accessibility across – that Shein is an accessible brand.”
“While most of these online allegations, rumors and attacks are false, we are partly responsible for spreading or perpetuating these false narratives,” said Chiao, who has been with the company since 2015. “We neglected to really communicate and engage more with our customers and our community.
Still, Chiao believes much of the negative online discussion about Shein is the result of “falling prey to peer pressure,” he said, comparing online debates about Shein to those taking place in politics. He knows that most customers remain indifferent, still obsessed with low prices.
“I don’t even go to H&M anymore,” said Jaime-Vega, one half of the Dallas couple who got engaged at Shein, referring to the higher prices. Alvarado gestured to his big bag: a hodgepodge of about $100 worth of shoes, clothes, accessories, and beauty products.
“I certainly couldn’t buy so many things at H&M.”