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Shein was just named the most popular fashion brand of 2022 — that's a big problem for the environment

Most of the clothing from the brand is made with cheap plastic materials like polyester, nylon, and other synthetic fabrics.

Shein fast fashion

Photo Credit: iStock

Fast-fashion brand Shein has beaten out the likes of Nike and Zara as the most popular fashion brand in the world. The brand, based in China, was the most Googled brand this year and reported a valuation of $100 billion in April.

The controversial brand relies on artificial intelligence to predict new trends. This allows it to produce thousands of new pieces a day in small production to test the popularity of certain styles before rolling them out on larger-scale production lines. 

Why is it controversial?

A network of workshops and manufacturing hubs across China is crucial to the brand's success. The documentary "Inside the Shein Machine" shows the long hours, low wages, and grueling conditions of the workers inside these factories. 

Shein announced a $15 million investment this December to improve its facilities, but there is still a huge amount to be done to ensure the safety and rights of Shein's workers. 

On top of these fundamental issues, Shein has also been accused of stealing designs from artists and designers. Some brands have been able to take legal action, but many independent designers don't have the capacity to pursue any real action.

How is the brand damaging to the environment?

Fast-fashion brands also have a terrible impact on the environment. A 2021 investigation by CBC found that a Shein jacket for toddlers contained almost 20 times the amount of lead that is safe for children. Lead can cause damaging health effects to the brain, heart, kidneys, and reproductive system, with children and vulnerable people more at risk. 

Shein prioritizes speed and low prices over product quality and the treatment of its workers. Most of the clothing from the brand is made with cheap plastic materials like polyester, nylon, and other synthetic fabrics. These synthetic fabrics are made using fossil fuels that release harmful chemicals into the environment.

By opting for cheaper materials, it is more likely that buyers will find holes in their clothes quicker or that products will break. And with Shein dropping thousands of new clothing items daily, shoppers are encouraged to keep buying clothes to keep up with trends or replace old products, causing even more clothes to end up in a landfill. 

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