Why students are boycotting Shein

3 Mins read

UAL students are staying away from Shein, despite it being the most affordable and popular clothing brand, one which has new styles coming out every day and even a 15% discount for students.

They are boycotting the Chinese clothing retailer because of allegations about their ethical record and unsustainable manufacturing practices. 

Students we spoke to at University of the Arts London (UAL) overwhelmingly said they would not buy Shein or that they have stopped buying it after hearing the allegations about their immoral practices that are circulating around the internet and social media.

The alleged treatment of garment workers, including poor working conditions, extended hours, no breaks, and no days off were the most common reasons given.

Some also mentioned the poor quality of clothing, which many felt simply reflected the poor conditions they were produced in.

Jessica, who studies at London College of Fashion, read that a number of dangerous chemicals such as lead, phthalates and per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were found in their clothes and that has “put her off” from purchasing Shein in the future. 

Although the concerns about Shein have been circulating for years, it’s still a very popular brand that many people continue to buy, raising questions about what is making Shein so desirable for shoppers.

The students we spoke to think the influencers who promote the clothing on social media are playing a big part in this. Shein always gets all the latest trends out first and, compared to other fast fashion brands, is the cheapest. Where else can you buy a dress for 10p?

The cheaper the clothes are, the more you can get, and in a culture where it seems as if you can only wear an outfit once because no-one wants to be seen in it twice, Shein is “perfect” for shopping.

Elyse, a student at Central St Martins, said she couldn’t understand why: “Most people are aware of what Shein are doing and what they stand for, but there’s an ignorance towards caring for other communities and caring for our climate.”

In an undercover investigation by Channel 4, it was revealed that Shein is in violation of Chinese labour laws. In the documentary Inside the Shein machine: UNTOLD, we learn that workers get one day off per month, meaning “there’s no such thing as Sundays here”.

Garment workers at their factories get paid per item they make, but the amounts equate to only 2-3p per garment, which is £16.50 per day.

Shein also holds their worker’s payments for the first month and deducts their wages if any mistakes are made during production, taking £12 (almost one day’s wage) per piece of clothing.

So they pay 3p per item to someone to make an item, but take 400 times more if they sow something incorrectly. The more mistakes are made, the more money is taken away from the worker.

Screenshot of documentary film inside a Shein factory
Channel 4’s Untold documentary filmed inside a Shein factory [Screenshot: All-4]

It is clear that one top sewn wrong is not stopping Shein producing huge numbers of garments, and there are tens of thousands of pieces of clothing coming out of Shein’s factories every day.

The fine or punishment, is absurdly unfair, but the documentary demonstrated that Shein has never been about their workers, only about profit.

The fast fashion retailer is worth $100 billion and its founder Chris Xu’s net worth is $5.4 billion. These numbers are evidence that garment production workers at Shein factories could get paid a living wage and live normal lives if their employer took a different attitude.

Students from different campuses all agreed on never wanting to purchase from Shein again, having heard about the workers’ conditions in the documentary.

“I’m staying away from Shein because the garment workers are in awful working conditions and are not being paid enough,” said Elyse.

Another student, Natalia, told us: “I almost never buy from Shein, but after watching a new documentary about it I am completely boycotting it.”

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