Much to our collective disappointment – but not shock – Shein is 2022’s most popular brand. According to a report by Money.co.uk, it is the most Googled brand across 113 countries, and beat popular brands like H&M, Zara, Adidas and Nike by a huge margin to secure its position.
The fast fashion giant is most well known for its cheap clothing and the unethical labour practices that go with it. In October this year, an undercover investigation revealed that the situation is actually much worse than initially anticipated. Shein pays workers approximately two to four cents for each garment of clothing and often withholds and cuts salaries. The brand was quick to release a statement promising an investigation into their factories and suppliers. However, one cannot expect it will amount to much. They have a long history of ethical violations that they have continually brushed under the carpet. Shein has also faced accusations of stealing from independent artists, designers and small businesses. And this is just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg. Fast fashion is a wasteful industry that takes a humongous toll on the environment.
Despite this awful track record, Shein and other fast fashion companies continue to enjoy a huge consumer base. This is, of course, thanks to the lightning-fast production and delivery timelines they offer, along with rock-bottom prices.
Both these factors prove to be extremely attractive, especially to Gen Z youth who want to keep up with trends quickly and on a budget. The Shein problem, like many others, also forces us to consider the dilemma between individual responsibility and holding corporate giants accountable for their actions. It is not entirely fair to blame individuals for their carbon emissions, wasteful practices and meat-eating, when huge corporations do much worse on a larger scale and get away with it. Individuals often feel trapped and unable to change the lifestyles that have become so ingrained in our culture. In this light, it is important to hold the bigger culprits responsible for the damage they do year after year, with negligible consequences.
But does that mean we get off scot-free? Not really. Sure, fast fashion is easy on the pocket. It is also convenient to have every TikTok and Pinterest fashion trend realised almost immediately and ready to add to cart. But real human beings are paying the price for what we order on a screen, and so is the planet. Small businesses may struggle to compete with Shein’s speed, but many have affordable products, made by artists and creators who receive fair payment. For a generation that is used to one-day deliveries, slow living is a difficult lifestyle to shift to. But perhaps it is the first step we can take towards breaking out of old habits and paving the way for a more sustainable future.