New documentary goes undercover at SHEIN factories

SHEIN employees are required to work up to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are granted just a rest day each month. “There are no Sundays here,” says a factory worker.

In April 2022, SHEIN was valued at £100 billion.

Made possible by its operating practices, SHIEN has surpassed all competitors in terms of production rate by pumping out 10,000 new products each day.

And despite selling its products for a fraction of the price of Zara and H&M, the sheer volume of its stock has allowed the Chinese retailer to become more valuable than those two brands combined.

Untold: Inside the Shein Machine documentary directly addresses the relationship between cheap clothes and exploitation in the fast fashion industry.

But it goes without saying that these types of companies also commit serious environmental offences. Fast fashion has been proven to be a key driver of the climate crisis, generating around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Not to mention the pollution caused by companies like SHEIN, whose cheap, shoddy products end up in landfill after just a few uses. If they don’t collapse first.

And when it comes to customer returns, many fast fashion retailers have started allowing shoppers to keep purchases instead of returning them.

This is not a goodwill gesture, but a cost-cutting strategy, as it is cheaper than shipping and returning the garments in proper packaging for official resale.

On YouTube, where the Channel 4 documentary is available for free, viewer responses are mixed.

While many acknowledge that the practices of companies like SHEIN are unacceptable, others point to broader social and economic issues creating the perfect storm for the success of fast fashion brands.

I work closely with charities and with families who cannot afford to buy clothes, most families told us that they prefer to shop with SHEIN as Primark have massively raised prices and that they can’t afford new things.’ –Leigh Anna

Frequently mentioned is how the cost of living crisis has caused people to support brands operating with poor ethical codes.

With the cost of living rising dramatically every year in the UK, working class people can’t even afford to turn on their heating or literally feed themselves. While living in this kind of deprivation, we have no choice but to take a step back and “choose” to see what is sustainable and only shop on that basis..

If we have to dress ourselves or our family, we are faced with the fact that we are obviously going to make the cheapest decision, even though we know the repercussions and the domino effect that has on the other side of the world. It’s a cruel cycle.‘ – Phoebe

Others point to capitalist influencer marketing as a sales driver for companies like SHEIN.

Influencers who make regular trips are the main problem. Average shoppers who can only afford fast fashion don’t buy enough to make these businesses successful.‘ – Natalie

And some just think there aren’t enough people too interested to stop buying affordable clothes from fast fashion brands, despite realizing the injustices that occur to make them.

People already know that this oppression must exist, but they use denial so they can keep buying things to feel better. I feel like taking care of things is a privilege.‘ – Kayt,

While all of these comments make valid points, one thing is certain: people who have the means to change their behaviors to have a positive impact should do so. Awareness is key, making accessible documentaries like those on Channel 4 more necessary than ever.

Daniel L. Vasquez