Saturday, May 25, 2024

The controversial Chinese fast fashion giant which attracted stars including Khloe Kardashian, Katy Perry and Rita Ora: How Shein burst onto the scene in lockdown with clothes as cheap as £1 – and now plans to go public in London

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Chinese fast fashion giant Shein has enjoyed a rapid expansion in recent years after becoming famed for its unbelievably cheap prices. 

The brand, which is popular among young shoppers from more than 150 countries, releases over 6,000 new products on its website every day, typically costing under £10 each, with some pieces even listed for as little as £1.

Its global rise in the fashion industry, which the company claims is down to its unique business model and efficient supply chain to keep prices low, has attracted collaborations with stars including Khloe Kardashian, Katy Perry and Rita Ora.

Most recently the online retailer has held talks with Jeremy Hunt over a possible listing on the London Stock Exchange, in another big move that is set to boost its worldwide recognition. 

But such success has not come without its share of controversies. From being accused of imitating other retailer’s products to allegedly only paying its workers 3p an hour, the brief history of the brand has been far from plain-sailing. 

Fast fashion brand Shein has risen to global fame in recent years and has garnered collaborations with celebrities including Khloe Kardashian 

Katy Perry performed in an event hosted by Shein during lockdown in 2020 

Rita Ora also took part in the event which aimed to raise money for COVID-19 relief efforts

Rita Ora also took part in the event which aimed to raise money for COVID-19 relief efforts

Shein (pronounced ‘she-in’),has seemingly come from nowhere in recent years to dominate online clothes shopping. It is is based in Singapore but its suppliers are located in Guangzhou, a city 100km north of Hong Kong, China.

The firm, which is now valued at around £53billion, has enjoyed a rapid expansion thanks to its popularity with budget-conscious younger shoppers across more than 150 countries.

It uses what it describes as a unique business model and efficient supply chain to keep prices low, with teams of designers and and complex algorithms on hand to seek out fast growing fashion trends on social media. 

The brand’s worldwide popularity has attracted several famous faces who have collaborated with the brand to promote its fashionable apparel. 

Khloe Kardashian announced her partnership with Shein in August 2021, for which she appeared as a guest judge on the brand’s Shein X 100K Challenge series.

The project runway-inspired challenge was created in honor of Fashion Week, with emerging designers showcasing their collections virtually in the hopes of winning prize money and having their collection available for purchase on Shein.

A year earlier, during lockdown in 2020, a host of stars took part in Shein’s Together Virtual Festival, which aimed to raise money for COVID-19 relief efforts.

The event featured musical performances from major performers, along with plenty of actors and influencers including Katy Perry, Hailey Bieber, Tyler Cameron, Rita Ora, Yara Shahidi and Lil Nas X. 

Celebrities such as Khloe Kardashian have previously been associated with the brand

Celebrities such as Khloe Kardashian have previously been associated with the brand

Khloe Kardashian announced her partnership with Shein in August 2021,

Khloe Kardashian announced her partnership with Shein in August 2021,

The star appeared as a guest judge on the brand's Shein X 100K Challenge series

The star appeared as a guest judge on the brand’s Shein X 100K Challenge series 

A year earlier, during lockdown in 2020, a host of stars took part in Shein's Together Virtual Festival, including Katy Perry who performed with her backing singers

A year earlier, during lockdown in 2020, a host of stars took part in Shein’s Together Virtual Festival, including Katy Perry who performed with her backing singers 

Rita Ora also made a stylish appearance in a midnight blue top with intriguing cut-outs over her chest featuring metal orbs

Rita Ora also made a stylish appearance in a midnight blue top with intriguing cut-outs over her chest featuring metal orbs

Old Town Road rapper Lil Nas X wore a playful 'Please Wash Your Hands' T-shirt during the event in 2020

Old Town Road rapper Lil Nas X wore a playful ‘Please Wash Your Hands’ T-shirt during the event in 2020

The rapper wore an opulent black and white cowboy hat for the occasion as he also performed in front of viewers watching at home

The rapper wore an opulent black and white cowboy hat for the occasion as he also performed in front of viewers watching at home

Since being founded in 2012, Shein has enjoyed global sales of more than £20billion, including £1.1billion in the UK. It is currently the UK’s 11th largest apparel retailer and is anticipated to rise to the sixth spot by 2027, having acquired many of its rivals – including Missguided.

To add to its success in the country, Shein has reportedly looked towards a UK listing amid concerns over onerous regulations that would not allow it to go public in the US, according to reports from Bloomberg. 

Shein’s executive chairman Donald Tang met with the Chancellor earlier this month in an effort to persuade the firm, which was founded in 2012, to list in London, Sky News reported. 

The introductory meeting was requested by Tang, a government source said, adding that he had raised the prospect of an initial public offering to be placed on the London Stock Exchange. 

Shein has already applied for a US listing but has faced opposition from the likes of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, partly due to claims that it has used cotton from forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region.  

Shein has said it has a ‘zero tolerance policy for forced labour’ but the US opposition has left it seeking alternative venues – though it could face similar scrutiny from authorities in the UK. 

Such claims were uncovered following two landmark investigations into the company by the Swiss human rights advocacy group Public Eye in 2021, and by Channel 4 in 2022. 

They found consistent examples of workers in its supply chain being exploited and were put under pressure to complete orders that took up to 18 hours a day. 

Lucinda Strafford attends the launch of the SHEIN Christmas pop-up store at The Stables

Lucinda Strafford attends the launch of the SHEIN Christmas pop-up store at The Stables

In 2018, Shein's annual revenue was reportedly £1.64 billion; by last year, shipping to more than 150 countries, that had increased eightfold

In 2018, Shein’s annual revenue was reportedly £1.64 billion; by last year, shipping to more than 150 countries, that had increased eightfold

Influencer Jordyn Woods models a Shein outfit in an ad  post on Instagram

Influencer Jordyn Woods models a Shein outfit in an ad  post on Instagram

Anna Vakili attends the SHEIN VIP party at Creamfields festival

Anna Vakili attends the SHEIN VIP party at Creamfields festival

Channel 4’s documentary Untold: Inside the Shein Machine secretly filmed inside two Shein suppliers and found workers who were allegedly paid piecemeal for their part in producing a garment. 

They received as little as 2p per item and were required to complete an average of at least 500 a day before being guaranteed the payments they were owed at the end of the month, it was claimed.

Channel 4 also found what is claimed to be dangerous working conditions and a lack of fire safety. Workers appeared exhausted and unhappy, and in some cases were shouted at to work harder by supervisors, even into the night if they had to.

Meanwhile, Public Eye’s Toiling Away for Shein report featured interviews with ten workers from six factories supplying Shein. 

Many of their claims about pay and hours were similar to those Channel 4 would find a year later, suggesting nothing had improved.

Public Eye concluded: ‘Shein takes advantage of the fact that these employees are prepared to forgo even a minimum degree of safety, free time and quality of life, because they feel that they don’t have an alternative.

‘None of those interviewed could show an employment contract. According to our information, no social security contributions are being paid, and many companies [in the supply chain] fail to comply with even the most basic safety standards.’

The claims that were made in the Channel 4 documentary led to Georgia Toffolo to cut short her contract with the Chinese fast fashion outlet.

The former I’m a Celebrity winner, 28, had released three collections since first partnering with the label in 2020 and often promoted the brand to her 1.7million Instagram followers at the time. 

But the company’s controversies don’t just stop with its supply chain and more recently Shein came under fire for selling ‘sexy’ clothes and padded bikinis designed for girls as young as six months.

Parents took aim at the producer after unveiling its children’s range last month, which features dresses and swimwear that some considered inappropriate.

Former I'm a Celebrity winner Georgia Toffolo cut short her contract with Shein after she was branded 'exploitative' by charities over her deal with the fast fashion outlet

Former I’m a Celebrity winner Georgia Toffolo cut short her contract with Shein after she was branded ‘exploitative’ by charities over her deal with the fast fashion outlet

Toff pictured wearing the brand's clothing

Toff's decision comes after a damning Channel 4 documentary found workers at Shein's factories are only paid 3p an hour

Pictured wearing the brand’s clothing, Toff’s decision came after a damning Channel 4 documentary found workers at Shein’s factories are only paid 3p an hour

Miss Toffolo 28, released three collections since first partnering with the label in 2020

Miss Toffolo 28, released three collections since first partnering with the label in 2020

Then earlier that month, Uniqlo announced it is suing the online retailer over claims it is selling fake imitations of its shoulder bag.

Since its unveiling in April 2022, Uniqlo’s popular Round Mini Shoulder Bag has been featured in viral social media videos for its surprisingly large capacity.

As such it has been compared to the infinitely large magical carpet bag carried by Mary Poppins in the eponymous 1964 film. While the Uniqlo bag is sold for £14.90, very similar-looking bags are listed on Shein for £5.

Uniqlo’s parent Fast Retail said a petition had been filed in a Tokyo court against Shein Japan and two of its subsidiaries on December 28.

Justifying its complaint, Fast Retailing said the ‘imitation products sold by SHEIN closely resembles that of its own product’.

A spokesperson for Shein said at the time the company ‘respects the intellectual property rights of others and takes all claims of infringement seriously. We are currently investigating this matter’.

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