Dear Shein customer,
As a 22-year-old Zoomer, I am no stranger to the near impossibility of ethical consumption. Almost every company available to us has some unjust labor practice or negative impact on the environment. Additionally, while I am privileged to be pursuing a college degree, the part-time job I have on top of multiple unpaid internships leaves me with barely enough money to buy groceries each week, let alone clothes. So, when the time comes for me to buy a new article of clothing, I am often left with no choice but to pursue the cheapest and fastest option. When my shoes fall apart, with no car and no shoe stores around me, I turn to Amazon to deliver a new pair of poorly made sneakers to my apartment in under twenty-four hours. I know how hard it can be to save money for a quality, union-made new piece of clothing instead of going for the cheapest option from an unethical company.
With that being said, there are levels to how problematic our consumption can be. While general fast fashion stores like H&M and Zara are terrible and contribute to a significant percentage of global carbon emissions, Shein is on a level of its own, producing 6.3 million tons of CO2 a year. Every single day, Shein uploads around 2,000 new items to its store. That is around fifty times the rate that H&M and Zara release outfits. While Shein will only produce about fifty items per unpopular look, that still creates a shocking amount of waste. This waste ends up in dumping grounds around the world, including a desert in Chile that receives 59,000 tons of unsold clothes each year. And when you consider the fact that the Shein items that actually get sold are made to only be worn once, its impact becomes clear. Shein is standalone in terms of waste in the already wasteful fast-fashion industry, and should not be supported.
Despite all this, it is normalized, even among people who are otherwise socially conscious, to buy from Shein regularly. There are countless “Shein hauls” on TikTok, inspiring people like you, dear shopper, to buy items from their online store. I know the convenience and trendiness of the store’s clothes can be tempting, but it is a trap, and you must stop buying from Shein.
In a world where trends change constantly, it can feel like you have to rapidly purchase new outfits to stay socially relevant. Yet, you must remember that the fashion industry pushes this idea on you to get you to consume more. Sure, you can donate your used Shein clothes to a thrift store for someone else to wear, but after only a few wears the pieces will fall apart and end up in a landfill. There is no way to avoid the waste you create when buying from this unethical company.
It is also important to remember that you are not saving any money by shopping at Shein. The items may be cheap, but because they only last a few wears, you need to buy more items to continue having clothes to wear. Instead of buying five Shein items to wear a few times and then get rid of, why not use that same money to buy one quality item from a thrift store that will last you years? You may actually find yourself saving money in the process.
Additionally, Shein mistreats their workers to a horrific extent. An undercover journalist discovered that Shein workers work 18-hour shifts, with only one day off a month, and are paid pennies for their labor. If you start to remember what conditions the clothes you buy were made in, they begin to look a little bit less chic. It’s uncomfortable, but try to make note of that every time you see a piece of Shein clothing.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done, and the pressure to stay trendy is a legitimate one, but change has to start somewhere. We need to work to promote a sustainability culture ourselves, because we all know the fashion industry never will. Take pride in buying fewer, higher quality items and compliment your friends’ “staples”. There is truly nothing wrong with wearing the same outfit multiple times, and when you really think about it, it starts to seem silly that we are conditioned by greedy companies to think otherwise.
I know that we have been left an unideal world by the generations before us, and it sucks that we have to be the ones to fix their messes, but we must begin to take responsibility. If we succumb to the powers that be instead of taking whatever action we can to make the world a better place for our children, we are no better than those who came before us. How can we criticize others for contributing to climate change when we continue the trends ourselves? It is on all of us to make a difference, no matter how small that difference may be.
An Open Letter To Shein Customers
Dear Shein customer,