The Real Reason Shein Is So Cheap

If you've spent any time online shopping these past few years, chances are you've heard of Shein. Notorious for their super cheap prices, Shein always seems to be on top of all the latest trends. Even just a quick visit to their website will give you access to a whole host of new coupons. It's no secret, then, why it dominates online fashion; at the time of this writing, Shein is ranked as the most-visited fashion and apparel website in the world.


All of this probably sounds way too good to be true. That's because it is. A closer look at Shein reveals that the cost of clothing isn't the only thing that's cheap about the fast fashion juggernaut. Their prices have raised lots of eyebrows over the years, prompting people to investigate the clothing's quality and call out unethical labor practices. While Shein's prices remain difficult to beat, you might want to take your money elsewhere.

Shein has a history of paying their workers low wages

Shein's primary method of keeping their prices low? Paying their workers criminally low wages. Swiss NGO Public Eye released a tell-all on Shein's unethical labor practices in 2021 after interviewing workers in several of Shein's factories. While the labor practices differed per factory, there were some common themes. They said that they were paid not per hour, but per clothing piece. Since their payment can fluctuate greatly depending on the amount of clothing they produce, people often work 75 hours a week, instead of the standard 40. Not only is this unethical, but it also violates Chinese labor laws, which also mandate a 40-hour work week. They also only have one day off each month and no employee benefits.


A year after Public Eye released their study, Bloomberg released their own findings. A test of Shein's cotton revealed that it was sourced from China's Xinjiang region, which is where the Chinese government is strongly suspected to be forcing labor from the Uyghurs, China's Muslim population. Shein's head of strategy, Peter Pernot-Day, told CNBC that, while some of their cotton is from Xinjiang, the company aims to eliminate imports from that region. Whether or not this will actually happen remains to be seen.

Much of Shein's clothing catalog is low-quality

According to worker testimonies given to Public Eye, factories have low expectations for clothing quality. They prioritize manufacturing speed and product affordability over the clothing's durability. In other words: quantity over quality. Public Eye also asked fashion students and a professor to assess the clothing's quality, and they all agreed it was poorly done, criticizing the stitching and the cheap fabric.


It goes much further than just flimsy fabric, however. According to CBC, a 2021 Canadian study found that Shein's clothing (and other similar ultra-fast fashion companies, like AliExpress) contained high concentrations of lead, much more than was deemed safe by Health Canada. A jacket, for example, had about 20 times the amount, while a purse had over five times the maximum. These findings paint a clear picture: Shein, for all its perks and low prices, cares little when it comes to the welfare of its workers and customers. By prioritizing low costs, Shein actively sacrifices quality.