Shein, the billion-dollar fast fashion empire renowned for its intense micro-trend proliferation, has been accused of ripping off yet another small business in familiar fashion. Stick on nail fans have been going crazy for a 75p design being sold on the site that would not look out of place in the store of an up and coming nail technician who handcrafts all their designs. This is in fact the case for Yan Tee, a nail artist who has been designing her own nail patterns ever since she was a young girl, recently making the horrifying discovery of seeing her exact designs being sold for as little as 75p, a staggering decrease from her £40 original selling price on the website.
Bringing in a whopping £18.8bn last year, the Chinese fashion retailer relies on overworking its employees through eighteen-hour long days, and isn’t afraid to penalise pay for anyone suspected of not fulfilling work obligations. Earning $556 a month, those who work for Shein are not only disadvantaged financially by the company but also physically and mentally, expected to work in unsafe conditions which have left workers desperately placing secret ‘Help me!’ messages into garments which have been later found by shoppers when unpacking their deliveries.
The formula behind its fast-moving success lies in the mass scale of garments the retailer uploads onto its website on a day to day basis, satisfying the fashion hunger pangs of a TikTok generation that move weekly from trend to trend. Micro-trends are given space to breed through fast fashion houses like Shein, dismantling the trend cycle process and leaving the environment desperately trailing behind, scrambling to keep up with the carbon emissions emitted from the huge factories where these micro trends are being created. Having dictated the need-it-now attitude of a generation thriving off extensive clothing hauls and endless clicks, Shein isn’t afraid to speed up the creative process even more by leaching off the designs and patterns created by small up and coming businesses, slashing prices in half in the process.
Shein’s cheap design acquisition skills have led to the ripping off of hundreds of indie creators’ ideas. Two weeks down the line, creators will eventually come across their designs posing under the Shein label, with a price tag barely reflecting the creative time and money that was put into originally making the product. It is a grim reality for so many creators in the fashion climate of the day, aimlessly scrolling on social media and left seething whilst watching the unboxing of their product disguised under the Shein label. Small businesses are unarmed against this fast fashion monster that survives off the creative time and money of others, and with no financial or legal support behind them all these designers are left to do is watch the mass production of a product they can no longer call their own.
This has been the case for hundreds of designers attempting to pave their way into a fashion climate that does not reward innovative and new designs. Elexiay, a sustainable knitwear brand discovered copies of their hand crafted and original designs on Shein after working hard to get noticed and struggling financially. Being reduced to a throwaway rip-off is a demeaning practice that the billion-dollar company will carry out willingly with no ethical care for those they are ripping off. Many are calling for justice, but when these small brands are bringing in nowhere near the same amount of profit as major clothing retailers in the fashion climate of today, little legal and financial intervention is able to take place.
Shein is legally protected from facing up to the consequences of stealing the designs of others, as small businesses are unable to claim broad protections for items of clothing that serve a basic function. Designers are able to claim copyright status over the patterns and design that make it different from others. However, Jessica, 23, frequently purchases garments from the retailer and argues that the original designs are simply out of her price range, and so turning to Shein makes for better financial decision. Although she has supported small businesses in the past, Jessica argues that ‘with the cost of living you just cannot expect people to be willing to pay hundreds for a garment that can be bought for half the price and looks exactly the same, it’s just simply the way people will choose to shop’.
As Shein is expected to bring in an annual revenue of £48.6 billion by 2025, many small businesses are pushing for a change in a fashion climate that seemingly prioritises labels that aren’t afraid to use dodgy tactics and leech off others to get to the top. As the practice of fast fashion dominates the fashion scene today, many small designers fear for their livelihoods when individuals are accessing the same designs at much cheaper prices in just a few clicks.
Edited By Aminat Akintobi
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