Shein is a remarkable company. The Chinese fast fashion brand (pronounced She-In after its original name, Sheinside) has contrived to conquer the world so rapidly that many people have not noticed, aside from its millions of bargain-conscious, social media aware, Generation Z fans.
Its low profile comes in handy, given the criticism that rivals have faced for selling cheap clothes sewn by low-paid workers. Boohoo, the UK brand that also appeals to teenagers and shoppers in their early twenties, is facing an investor rebellion on Friday over a labour abuse scandal, with some suppliers having paid far below the minimum wage.
Shein has done its best to remain private, despite having overtaken Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app in the US last month. TikTok and YouTube fans parade their “Shein hauls” of £8.49 floral dresses and £15.25 chunky mules, yet the company appears “generic, storyless and nationless”, as one analysis put it. Its app provides few clues to its national origin.
Anonymity is getting harder, given that it is reported to have sold $10bn of clothing last year as the pandemic encouraged online orders. Several companies and designers, including AirWair International, the maker of Dr Martens boots, have taken legal action against Shein for allegedly copying designs and infringing trademarks. “They’re infamous for what they do,” one told the FT.
This feels like a throwback to the past, when Chinese companies were known for…