Fast Fashion Faux Pas – Competing with Shein

Despite their approach to sustainability and undoubtedly huge amounts of landfill contribution daily, Shein continues to overtake many in the fashion industry and stay as popular as ever.

Shein is reaching astronomical heights within the fashion world and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. In May 2021, Shein surpassed Amazon as the most popular shopping app on both iPhone and Android. Not only that, Shein has overtaken both Zara and H&M in terms of sales in the US, an astonishing but not unexpected outcome of the growth of the site.

Fast fashion is defined as “The mass production of clothes that represent the latest trends at high speeds and low cost to maximise profit”. Fast fashion is seen in 4 elements, those being; quick, cheap, mass produced and trendy.


Fast fashion garments are notoriously quick to make, because after all, time is money. The quicker an item is produced, the quicker it can be sold, therefore the quicker the profit enters the brands pockets. The constant production of new items encourages buyers to purchase from the new trends before even having the chance to wear their previous purchases.


Fast fashion products are cheap to make, from the materials used to the price of labour. Cheap items make for a higher profit margin for the brands, therefore pushing them to always be searching for cheaper ways to produce a high volume of items.

“Three out of five fast fashion items end up in a landfill”

Clean Clothes Campaign, 2019

Mass Produced

For brands to maximise their profits whilst keeping costs as low as possible, items are produced on a mass scale. Mass production inevitably leads to overstocking and underselling of items. When these items aren’t sold, even at hugely discounted prices, they’re simply just thrown away.


Fast fashion pieces are always on-trend, making customers feel the need to keep up. The keeping up with trends on the regular enables easier selling to society because of their need to ‘stay on trend’.

The problems with fast fashion

High carbon emissions

The fast fashion industry has an incredibly high carbon footprint and is estimated to be responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions related to humans. This comes from all aspects of the process from sourcing materials, the actual production of the items and then the shipping to consumers. In the UK alone, the fashion industry accounts for 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Water pollution & Microfibres

Fast fashion is also a huge contributor to water pollution and microfibres entering the ocean. Microfibres are small bits of plastic which come off a lot of synthetic clothing when washed. These plastics then enter our ecosystems and cause huge amounts of damage. In 2019, a study took place which showed for every 1000 litres of ocean water tested, there were 8.3 million pieces of microplastics found.

Wasting resources

Each year, the fast fashion industry produces 92 million tonnes of waste. Synthetic materials don’t break down when they’re discarded of, leading to the worrying figure that 85% of textile waste in the US ends up in landfill. Some brand will go to extreme lengths to protect their brands, such as destroying product to stop it being sold cheaply.

Shein is best known for constantly being on top of trends and producing quality clothes at unbelievably low prices. But this doesn’t come without its downfalls. With Shein adding up to 1000 items to its site every single day, its contribution to the landfill crisis is beyond anything we could imagine.

Predicted by the ‘test and repeat’ model made famous by H&M, only 6% of sheins inventory remains in stock on their site for more than 90 days. Only around 100 items of each piece are produced, if it does well, more stock is produced, if not, the item is immediately discontinued. Shein is undoubtedly accessible to so many around the world with them shipping to over 150 countries worldwide. Great news for the consumers, not so good news when you think about the amount of emissions, not only for delivering the goods, but to also handle the returns side of things.

Not only are shein enticing people with their incredibly low prices, but they’re also acing the influencer marketing game. All over social media platforms are photos and videos of Shein clothes hauls, and not even because Shein is influencing them.

Out of the 10 most-watched Shein hauls on YouTube, only 2 of those videos were sponsored by Shein. People are showing off their products completely free of charge, meaning not only free advertising for the brand, but their profits skyrocket because of the influence these hauls are having on new customers.

Shein really is on top of their game right now and shows no signs of stopping. How far can they go? How big can they get? Is Shein ever going to slow down?

By Hollie Wakefield