Ultra fast-fashion player Shein is launching a resale platform even as criticism intensifies over its unsustainable practices. The Chinese company is rolling out Shein Exchange, a platform that allows users to buy and sell pre-owned Shein clothing on its app. It will launch first in the US and later expand to other markets.
Despite comments from Adam Whinston, Global Head of ESG at Shein, that the goals of this new platform is to ignite “a cultural movement of circularity within our own Shein community,” Shein Exchange won’t shift the fact that the firm’s core business model encourages overconsumption.
The company, which adds about 1,000 new styles daily and was valued at $100 billion in April, has been pinpointed as a big driver of fashion pollution. Because it sells tops for as low as $4 and dresses for $10, it creates a disposability mindset among customers, fueling a phenomenon where shoppers take photos in an outfit to post on social media and then discard after one wear.
Shein’s supply chain labor practices
The Shein Exchange announcement came on the same day an investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 uncovered harsh and troubling practices in the company’s supply chain. The outlet sent an undercover worker to film inside two factories in Guangzhou that supply to the firm. Workers in both factories toiled up to 18-hours a day and received only one day off a month.
At one factory, the base salary was around 4,000 yuan, or $556 per month, to make at least 500 pieces of clothing per day, but their first month’s pay is withheld from them, the investigation claims. Workers received 0.14 yuan, or just two cents, per item. At the second factory, workers were paid solely per garment at the rate of 0.27 yuan, or just under 4 cents, for each piece. Workers were penalized two-thirds of their daily wage if they made a mistake on a clothing item.
Shein commented that such practices violated its supplier code of conduct and was in touch with Channel 4 to investigate.
Shein clothing quality may not hold up to many wears
It’s debatable whether the quality of Shein clothing will even hold up well enough to be resold. The thrifting community has started to grouse that its golden age is over, now that second-hand stores have begun filling up with fast fashion pieces that fall apart easily.
One alternative is for shoppers to buy fewer but higher quality pieces, which may cost more upfront but can work out to a better cost per wear because the garment can last years or even a lifetime.
Although Shein’s Whinston said the company is “calling on our community to mobilize and keep previously owned clothing in circulation for as long as possible,” the life of a Shein piece of clothing may be too short for this new initiative to matter.