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Ultra-Trendy, Ultra-Fast Fashion At Aloo Tikki Burger Prices: The Temptation Of Shein To Gen Z

While most of the fashion industry was barely staying afloat during the pandemic, Shein’s estimated revenue for 2020 was 63.5 billion yuan (close to $10 billion). It reported, revenue growth of more than 100 percent for the eighth year in a row.

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It’s Before Covid Era. I’ve checked Addison Rae’s Tiktok and see the Shein top she’s wearing. The link takes me to my Shein app. “But what if Ananya has the same top?”, I think. No problem. The app shows me 50 similar options, slight variations in colour, strap design, thickness etc. I spend the next thirty minutes hanging out on the portal and finally zero in on one. I don’t think I’ll see it on anyone in college. What are the odds with so many options in one style?  I scroll down to the customer reviews. ‘Slightly tight at the bust’ says one review of a girl whose uploaded a mirror selfie wearing the top. ‘True to size.’, says another review with an attached grainy pic of the top strewn on a bed. I check the price. 200 rupees? I’ll take my chances, I can always return it. I add it to cart and I’m immediately shown earring options to go with it. “I guess I need some for that Goa trip.”, I think. It’s not like I’ll find them any cheaper elsewhere. I add the earrings too and checkout at 300 bucks. All done in a matter of 40 minutes. My college budgeting instinct kicks in. Cheaper than 2 McAloo Tikki meals? I pat myself on the back for being so thrifty.

This scenario was well before Shein and Tiktok were both banned in India by the government; in June 2020. But it’s not like Gen Z doesn’t know this drill. In the US it’s already the most downloaded app in the age group beating even Amazon. While most of the fashion industry was barely staying afloat during the pandemic, Shein’s estimated revenue for 2020 was 63.5 billion yuan (close to $10 billion). It reported, revenue growth of more than 100 percent for the eighth year in a row.

In India, ever since Shein’s closure, other ultra-fast fashion sites like Urbanic and Romwe have gained popularity for selling similar styles at similar price points, targeting, you guessed it, Gen Z. In a surprising turn of events however, Shein recently announced that it will relaunch its outlet during the two-day Amazon Prime Day Sale starting July 26 to July 27. Amazon has even created a dedicated page for the launch of SHEIN. The internet has been in an uproar ever since the news; with Gen Z-ers celebrating and environmentalists spouting cusswords. But what’s all the fuss about?

Ultra-fast fashion. It’s a term doing the rounds among sustainability activists and the fashion industry for a while. Ultra-fast fashion’s main premise? Ultra trendy clothes at ultra-cheap prices with ultra-fast turn-around times. Runway to website in a jiffy. Journalist Lucy Siegle’s famous quote comes to mind. “Fast fashion is not free. Someone somewhere is paying for it.” Let’s find out what creates the magnetism towards ultra-fast fashion brands that students love and eco warriors detest.

  • Super low prices… but at what cost?

It’s obvious that the main attraction of ultra fast fashion brands like SheIn are the barely-graze-the-pocket prices. But cheap prices can often indicate a company's labour practices. An article in the Sun UK quotes Sarah Ditty, Global Policy Director at Fashion Revolution, an organisation that was formed shortly after Bangladesh's 2013 Rana Plaza disaster. “The main concerns with ultra-fast-fashion companies like this — and Shein isn’t the only company producing thousands of styles a week — is the lack of information. There’s a history of long, exhausting working hours for some garment workers. The prices are a huge red flag. How do you pay your workers when you’re selling so cheaply? We love ‘retail therapy’ to make ourselves feel good but the reality can be tragic. Worst-case scenario: People are buying into forced or child labour and human trafficking without realising.”

Yikes. That 250 rupee top doesn’t seem like such a great bargain anymore, huh?

  • Super trendy but capitalising on wardrobe waste?

Shein’s debut on the ecommerce major’s marketplace “will allow Amazon to take some real fashion market share,” Ashutosh Dabral, chief product officer at MoneyTap, wrote on Twitter. This optimistic outlook is largely due to the fact that SheIn positions itself in the super-trendy segment, where its price competitors are few in number. According to Nikkei, ‘Shein studies Google Trends as well as competitors' websites for real-time data analysis of the latest fashion trends in dozens of individual markets. In-house designers quickly prototype new items then pull in suppliers to launch production. Once new items go live on its platform, Shein monitors user behavior such as clicks and additions to virtual shopping carts to forecast demand and inventory needs, automatically updating orders to its suppliers as well as the companies that in turn provide them with materials.’ In short, their key is to never hold much inventory in a volatile trend-driven market suc as theirs.

And that’s not all. Shein markets itself through the trendiest GenZ apps of all: Tiktok. Ranked as the ‘most talked about brand’ on Tiktok, SheIn was an early adopter of the platform. It’s little surprise since their founder is known as an ‘expert in SEO’. Environmentalists argue that it is this model that has glamourised overconsumption among the youth. Kids ‘get bored’ of their clothes too soon only to be discarded in landfills. A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that if this trend continues, over 150 million tonnes of clothing waste will clog landfills by 2050.

  • Super fast TATs but at what quality?

Gigi Hadid spotted on the streets of NYC in a fab crop top? Don’t worry, you’ll have it on Shein in a range of colours in less than 2 weeks. A SCMP article about garment manufacturer Kenny Li, says that while factories usually have a month or two to make thousands of T-shirts for a brand, Li only has five days, as required by his client Shein. Li is also told to develop 100-200 new designs for consumers to choose from, even though Li’s factory only has one designer. According to Li, “No other brands have such detailed and demanding requests like Shein”. If garments are passed, the T-shirts Li makes leave the factory at a price of 20 yuan (US$3) each, shipped on to overseas markets where they sell for US$10 apiece.

The quality has often been claimed to be dubious. But what’s more dubious are the reviews on the SheIn website. Not surprisingly, they are mostly positive, but a poll on Trust Pilot UK has a rating of 2.8 on 5 for their site. There are 2,700 reviews, 46 per cent called the Shein site “bad”. Stuff like ‘broken zipper on 2nd attempt at zipping’ and similar complaints cropped up regularly.

  • Lack of transparency but one can always dig deeper right?

Not really. The company founded in 2008 in Nanjing, Eastern China is hyper-secretive. (Hint: Shein wants to keep it that way.) This $15 billion company that’s got the most downloaded app on iOS and Android in the US has an empty Wikipedia page. If you Google Shein founder Chris Xu you find 4 pictures of him, all looking different. SheIn has almost aggressively avoided journalists and investors. But for a company that’s all over social media to be so low profile seems like a huge feat. 

Avoiding tier-one investors is a company policy. With their aggressive growth moves, they don’t need that kind of interference. “This is China’s most mysterious billion-dollar company,” said one Chinese investor. Though Shein refuses to publicize its investors, some industry veterans — JAFCO Asia and IDG Capital along with private equity titans Sequoia and Tiger Global — are all confirmed backers. Yet none have come forward about the company, citing an oath of secrecy they committed to upon investing.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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shein Generation Z fashion industry fashion business

Romita Roy

The author is a fashion designer and has worked with menswear brand Peter England after interning with Wills Lifestyle, Louis Philippe etc. She designs film costumes, researches fashion psychology and blogs- 'A Girl Named Romita'. It traverses topics like style, pop culture and women, with a good dash of humour

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