Fast Fashion Frenzy: Shein’s UK Move Sparks Debate

Last Updated: June 15, 2024By

Fast Fashion Frenzy: Shein’s UK Move Sparks Debate

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At a time when responsible politicians are finally pushing back against the expansion of the fast fashion giant, Shein, it feels ironic that the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is inviting the company to make itself at home in the UK.

Recently, Sky News revealed that Hunt met with Shein’s executive, Donald Tang, in hopes that the e-commerce company, which has faced hurdles in New York, might choose to list on the London stock market instead. A Treasury spokesperson said, “We have developed reforms to boost the UK as a destination for IPOs, including making it easier for companies to list more quickly.” After being snubbed by other markets, a Shein entry valued up to £70bn would be a major coup for London and a clear message: We’ll List Anyone!

What’s the Deal with Shein?

So, why would a company like Shein, known for its dirt-cheap clothes and controversial practices, want to come to the UK? Some might wonder if unresolved labor issues would clash with British standards. Or maybe the UK’s recent concerns about Chinese interference might be a problem (Shein has faced questions in the US about its ties to the Chinese Communist Party). And then there’s France, where a new bill penalizes fast fashion for its negative impacts.

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But clients of Shein can relax. While US politicians might not be fans, in the UK, Jeremy Hunt is practically waving a welcome flag for them, and he didn’t even need a box of free beachwear or a discount code.

The London Listing

Listing in London would show that the stock market there won’t turn away a company just because its business model is the antithesis of sustainability. Shein’s strategy of flooding the market with up to 10,000 new styles a day, at rock-bottom prices, and its shaky track record with labor practices don’t seem to be deal-breakers. As Democratic Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton has said, “If the fast fashion giant Shein wants to go public in the US, they should have to prove to American consumers that their products are not sourced from forced labor.”

For possibly the first time in his career, Jeremy Hunt finds himself aligned with the interests of teenage girls and young Gen Z shoppers, who balance ethical concerns with a love for Shein. It’s like, “Don’t talk to me about the Uyghurs until you’ve seen this adorable spring-summer tote bag!” Many in Shein’s target market seem able to reconcile their progressive values with a penchant for cheap, fast fashion.

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Shein’s Marketing Genius

Despite regular complaints that Shein rips off designs from unknown artists and big brands alike (like Uniqlo, which is suing for over $1 million), its marketing machine rolls on. The company recruits thousands of women as brand ambassadors and micro-influencers who post videos of their massive Shein hauls. It’s all about excess, not thrift: “I’m so obsessed with this!”; “This is super-cute!”; and, “I also got this in a couple of different colors!”

The average US Shein shopper spends around $100 a month. The company’s genius lies in its diverse, uncritical promotional army. Fans defend Shein as if their own integrity is being attacked, often retorting, “All brands do the exact same thing lol.”

The Ethical Dilemma

Research shows that despite Gen Z’s ethical awareness, it has little impact on their fast fashion habits. One study found that nothing would bridge the gap between their values and actions, except maybe a rash from a dangerous substance.

Without some form of regulation, the only hope for protecting workers, the environment, and local UK retailers from untaxed Chinese packages lies in official action. In France, a new bill addresses how fast fashion fuels consumer impulses and a constant need for new things.

The Final Word

Shein defends its mission of providing affordable clothing in a cost-of-living crisis. Just wait until it discovers the average #sheinhaul, filled with cheap thongs and trendy tops, and the impact this has on the environment and ethical standards.


By the way, what do you think? Do you find yourself torn between loving Shein’s prices and worrying about its practices? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist

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