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Shein Throws a Little Bit of Money to “Help Upgrade its Supply Chain”

Those incredibly cheap clothes aren’t gonna make themselves. Getty Images

$15 million over three to four years, from a company valued at $100 billion.

Shein, the fast fashion behemoth, is killing it. Look at this headline! And this one! Look at all these kids wearing its stuff! This company was only founded in 2008, is now valued at over $100 billion, and frankly it doesn’t seem to matter that the cotton in its garments has been found to have been sourced from Xinjiang, or that reports are piling up of labor violations at the Chinese factories with which it contracts.

Well, maybe it matters to the company a little, insofar as it hurts its image. And so this week Shein announced – after a recent report of labor abuses brought some unwelcome attention and PR fallout, like the Rolling Stones canceling a clothing line through the brand – that it will spend $15 million “over the next three to four years to help upgrade hundreds of factories in its supply chain.”

$15 million, over three to four years, from the company valued at $100 billion? Slow down! Don’t break the bank, guys!  

But will that sum of money, drop in a bucket as it may be, be enough to improve the working conditions for those who churn out Shein’s garments? Experts told Vogue Business no, not on its own:

“Fast fashion brands compete in a race to the bottom, where they are always looking for the cheapest labour and they shirk responsibility onto suppliers to make changes and meet deadlines,” says (fair fashion campaigner Venetia La Manna). “This system is not ‘flawed’; it was created to do that,” adds Swatee Deepak, environmental activist, practitioner-in-residence at London School of Economics’s Marshall Institute, and co-founder of Remember Who Made Them (alongside La Manna). 

Shein sells its products in 150 countries and makes a lot of money doing it. However, it would be making a lot less if it weren’t able to exploit a U.S. trade rule that allows it to import duty free its piles of questionably sourced and made garments. Congress should close the de minimis loophole.

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