Is Shein Ethical? Brand Rating & Analysis

If you are wondering, is Shein fast fashion, and why is Shein bad for the environment? Then, you are in the right place! In this deep dive, we explore the brand’s ethical issues, materials, and where its clothes are made.

If you’ve been paying any attention to the latest Tiktok and Instagram hauls, you’ve probably noticed that the fast fashion brand Shein has taken over the feeds of some of the most popular influencers. On TikTok alone, #SHEINhaul videos have garnered close to 8.7B views. 

Image credit: Hilltop Views

Shein is an online marketplace founded in 2008 and headquartered in Jiangsu, China. The ultra-fast fashion company offers apparel, beauty, accessories, and home goods. Xu Yangtian, also known as Chris Xu, is the mysterious billionaire founder of Shein. But despite his $23.5B worth, there’s little to know information available about him and his life.  

 In just a few years, the e-retailer from China managed to overtake giants like Nike and Adidas as the most-Googled clothing brand, so much so that Shein went from being a low-cost Chinese clothing brand to a global, online-only fashion giant almost overnight skyrocketing in sales from $10 billion in 2020 to a whopping $100 billion in 2022.

 The business model of Shein is similar to Amzon’s. The e-retail has over 6,000 clothing factories in China working under the label. Each day, between 2,000 and 10,000 individual styles are added to their shopping app. Public Eye’s researchers visited 17 factories that supplied Shein and its parent company Zoetop. And they weren’t the only ones. Over the last few years, several reports have exposed the shocking human rights abuses and environmental issues of the Shein fast fashion business model. 

So what about Shein’s ethical issues? Why is Shein bad for the environment? Does Shein use child labor? Here’s everything you need to know about the fast fashion e-retail brand. 

Is Shein ethical?

We rate Shein the lowest possible score of 0/5, and wouldn’t consider it a fashion brand we’d support.

Read our analysis to find out more.

Yes — Shein is a fast fashion brand. 

In fact, along with Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, Shein has entered a new territory of overconsumption: ultra-fast fashion. This means that their cheap clothing “moves” even faster than fast fashion, with brands releasing new styles weekly or even daily.

For reference, a cami top for $5, a bikini for $12 bucks, and if you are “lucky,” you can run into a flash sale that will allow you to shop items for as low as $1.50. It’s safe to say that there’s no way to produce that much clothing at such cheap prices ethically and sustainably.

Just like Cidedr, Romwe, and YesStyle, Shein chooses low-quality fabrics which are turned into clothing in unsafe and unfair working environments. Shein cannot claim that the materials or stakeholders in their supply chain are sustainable. How could they be with such a high production rate? Shein is inherently unsustainable.

Shein primarily uses petroleum-based fabrics to keep the prices as low as possible. According to the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), over 346 million barrels of oil are used yearly to make them. The production of this petroleum-based clothing leaks waste and toxic substances into waterways, soil beds, and groundwater.

Shein only uses a small proportion of organic materials such as organic cotton and hemp or recycled materials such as recycled polyester and regenerated nylon. The fast fashion brand also uses a tiny portion of semi-synthetic fibers or regenerated cellulosic fabrics such as Tencel lyocell, modal, and acetate. 

Additionally, Shein uses wool without stating sources. Despite their claims, the e-retail doesn’t appear to have any actual policies in place to minimize the suffering of animals. 

Surprisingly to no one, none of Shein’s materials are GOTS Certified or have similar sustainability certifications.

Shein is not a carbon-neutral brand, and they make no claims to be carbon-neutral. They also don’t have any initiatives to become carbon neutral through offsetting or emissions reduction. It’s estimated the company emits about 6.3 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, wiht no sign of slowing down.

Shein is not ethical or sustainable. All of their clothes are made in their partner factories in China. Until recently, we had no idea about the shocking working conditions, but an in depth new Channel 4 documentary exposes the behind-the-scenes truths at the world’s most popular fast-fashion clothing brand. Untold: Inside The Shein, Machine revealed that workers in both factories worked 18 hours a day, with shifts starting at 8 am and finishing in the early morning. Their monthly payment? 4,000 yuan (approximately £492) to make 500 pieces of clothing per day. That’s 3p per item!

Let’s not forget the “help me” messages reportedly found on the labels of their clothes, which workers most likely left in their manufacturing factories.

The Shein ethical issues list doesn’t end there. The fast fashion brand is literally drenched in controversies. In 2020, Shein was accused of selling offensive and culturally innapropiate items, from Islamic prayer rugs as decorative mats to a jewelery in the shape of swastikas.

SHEIN has also been accused by independant artists and brands of stealing designs without credit, printing cheap copies for a fraction of the price. As it turns out, that $5 cami comes with a huge humanitarian cost.

Shein sources its clothing from various manufacturers and suppliers worldwide, including China, Bangladesh, India, and Vietnam. However, in a true fast fashion way, SHEIN does not disclose the specific manufacturers or countries of origin for each of its products, so it is difficult to determine the exact production location of each garment.

SHEIN does not have a clear and explicit cruelty-free policy. They use wool but don’t carry any certification from recognized animal welfare organizations, such as PETA, which has strict criteria for companies to meet to be considered cruelty-free.

Shein does not have a clothing recycling program. However, if you do have any SHEIN clothing, you can still recycle your unwanted items by donating them to local charities or thrift stores, or by using textile recycling programs offered by other organizations. 

Surprisingly, Shein became a signatory of World Circular Textiles Day, a coalition of brands, suppliers, and other organizations who share a mission to shift the fashion and textiles industry toward full circularity by 2050. This is after they launched a resale destination where customers can buy and sell previously owned Shein products. Many sustainability advocates argue that this is just one of the many sleazy greenwashing tactics of the fast fashion brand – and we can’t help but agree.

We’re reader-supported. The following post contains affiliate links. If you click through a link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission. We only partner with brands who share the same values as we do.

1. Reformation

Reformation ethical alternatives to Shein

Sustainability: Stylish ethical clothing made with sustainable materials and deadstock materials.

Best for: Dreamy Dresses, blouses, and jeans

Price range: $$-$$$

Ships to: Worldwide

Reformation ethical alternatives to shein

2. Pact

Pact sustainable alternatives to shein

Sustainability: Pact is an ethical clothing brand creating garments from GOTS-certified organic cotton

Best for: Dresses, tanks, pants

Price range: $$

Ships to: Worldwide

Pact - Is Shein ethical?


Sustainability: Ethical clothing created from sustainable and organic fabrics

Best for: Dresses, crop tops, pants

Price range: $$ – $$$

Ships to: Worldwide

Afends sustainable clothing

4. Organic Basics

Organic Basics alternatives to shein

Sustainability: High-quality GOTS-certified organic cotton basics made ethically using sustainable production practices

Best for: Sweatshirts, t-shirts, organic cotton underwear

Price range: $$

Ships to: Worldwide

Organic basics

We hope you’ve enjoyed our brand analysis. If you enjoyed this article, and want to discover more ratings, check out our analysis of Nasty Gal, Express, Zaful, and Banana Republic, Blushmark, and a complete list of the worst fast fashion brands to avoid.

Konstantina Antoniadou
Konstantina Antoniadou

Konstantina Antoniadou is a sustainability writer focused on helping conscious readers discover the best fashion, beauty & home products on the eco market. When she’s not crafting ethical shopping guides she’s either trying to perfect her roller skate dance moves, thrifting, or bingeing series for the hundredth time.

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