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Shein: Shine or Shame?

Written by: Gabriel Troiano

Pop-up stores filled to the brim. People fighting for a spot in the queue. Store managers sense a desperation in the air, as if they’ve been put on the line for another high-pressure selling day. As the doors open, packs of Gen Zers come flooding into the door, eager to view, try on, and buy clothing pieces with a staggeringly low cost. And, much to our dismay, this is only a small reality of the clothing giant that has come to dominate the fashion industry: Shein.

Maybe you’ve heard of the name, maybe not, but the world certainly felt its impact in the tumultuous year of 2020, where the company managed to reach almost 10 billion US dollars in revenue and become the world’s most profitable ultra-fast fashion brand. This number, of course, is the result of a much larger and grimmer reality than the one illustrated before, fed by the ultra-fast fashion world of online shopping and ecommerce.

Yet, the questions remain: Is Shein, a brand known for its incredibly low prices and sheer number of product offerings, the next big fashion reference?

The answer is uncertain. More importantly to our world of Branding, the questions and concerns raised around the brand pinpoint to issues with its consumers and business decision makers. Who would have thought such staggering rates of consumerism could trump a company’s image, and more importantly, its identity? This is the case with Shein, and the controversies surrounding it.

Gen Zers, the main audience responsible for the company’s success, have been gaining popularity for their devotion to movements that range from the preservation of our ecosystem to human rights, but their illiterate consumption of Shein’s clothing says more about the brand’s lack of identity and value than it does about their inability to conduct in depth research before purchasing low-priced goods.

We in the field of Branding cannot live without consumerism and, for that matter, capitalism. But when brands assume a position to captivate young audiences, stalwarts eager to embrace progressive movements, they sacrifice their value and what best they have to offer. When this happens, consumerism trumps value.

We must be very careful with what we choose to buy, because, more often than not, our own personal, professional, and political values may interfere with the dark side of consumerism. Shein feeds the worst in us, elicits a backlash strong enough to double, triple our need to fulfill the Diderot Effect, and shows us that mindless purchasing is not only our fault, but of the greater forces in play acting out a scripted game of greed and deceit. This is also the tone asserted by the prestigious newspaper New York Times, on its edition on September 1st, 2022.

Shein has become a catch cry for the decreasing reputation of the fashion industry and its consumers, that, persuaded by similar fast content output by platforms such as TikTok, have fallen into the trap of a hypocritical state between a brand’s communication habits and what it actually sets out to do on a daily basis.

We are now entering an era of great discussions about conscious consumption and we must not stop fighting for better market representation, because history teaches us that progress and innovation is not always a good thing. Or, in Shein’s case, where anti-waste has become a naïve buzzword, the novelty and attraction of its products is something to fight against, since we Branding enthusiasts know the importance of cultivating a truthful rhetoric, from the front door to the outside world. And, of course, as nothing is completely on the dark side, we can also conclude that Shein has put pressure on the Brazilian fast fashion movement, influencing several companies to open their stores and offer more affordable prices to the public. But what the news shows us is that there is still a lot to be discovered about Shein. Meanwhile, let’s wait for the next chapters. After all, Shein can be shine or shame.


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