Why I didn’t go to the Shein Vancouver pop-up

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      The Vancouverite in me was already turned off by the massive line that formed on Granville Street over the weekend (my credentials include living in this city for over a decade and having only been to Jam Cafe twice, both times begrudgingly)—but when I realized what the line was for, I was also bewildered. Did we not all watch that Brandy Melville documentary?

      Shein, a fashion brand known for its art-stealing, child-labour, and world-polluting practices, offered a limited-edition in-shopping experience this past weekend in downtown Vancouver. Despite the questionable ethics behind their products, it’s estimated that over 8,000 people eagerly waited in line to browse the poorly-made goods (playing it loose and fast with the word “goods”) in-person.

      With the aid of the pandemic, Shein—which was founded in Nanjing, China in 2008—is now the world’s most prominent fashion retailer. Its cheap prices, constant churn, and trend-inspired items have given it a chokehold on fast fashion. Perhaps it’s my decades-long love of fashion and my exploration into what it means to be a mindful consumer, but I was genuinely baffled to see such an outpouring of support for the e-commerce giant. Considering that its practices are widely known, this seems like the type of business that, if you are willing to support it at all, you want to do so under the privacy veil of online shopping.

      There are many reasons why I won’t shop at Shein, and it would be hard to touch on all of the topics thoroughly without subjecting myself to writing a book, but here are some key points.

      The rampant consumerism

      We have become obsessed, if not entitled, to the idea of always having more. When fashion was functional and thoughtful, each decade had a defining look (think: poodle skirts in the ‘50s). However, with our shorter attention spans and countless new styles added every week, micro-trends are seemingly impossible to keep up with. I maintain that there is a vast difference between appreciating fashion and loving clothes, and that the love of “stuff” stifles personal style. Be honest: who held onto their furs after the short-lived Mob Wife Aesthetic?

      The harmful environmental effects

      As outlined in countless films, including Riverblue, fashion is one of the world’s top-polluting industries (third behind fossil fuels and agriculture). I saw many content creators argue on social media that Shein offered a recycling program at the pop-up, but what percentage of the clothes donated will actually find new life? Just because they’re not taking up room in your closet anymore doesn’t mean they’re not taking up room somewhere else, unused and destined for the trash.

      The ethical cost 

      As fashion influencers dominate my feed with massive hauls and act surprisingly shocked by Shein’s low prices, it’s worth asking who pays the difference. If you think critically about it, the materials alone should cost more than the retail price of Shein’s items. We all collectively mourned the 2013 collapse of fast-fashion factory Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, questioning why over a thousand people were crushed or suffocated to death. The answer is actually quite simple: the demand for a t-shirt that costs less than a coffee.

      The love of fashion

      I would argue that buying a slouchy leather bag can be called Bottega Veneta-inspired, but buying a woven faux-leather croissant bag with a chunky zipper and knotted handle is a straight-up counterfeit. Shein doesn’t just copy global luxury brands, either—it also has a reputation for stealing from small, independent designers and artists.

      Unlike Brandy Melville, there might not be a one-size-fits-all solution to why an individual consumer can bypass fast fashion—but it’s worth reflecting on whether you need something rather than whether you feel entitled to it. Do we all deserve access to clothing that fits us and expresses our style? Of course. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of people and the planet.