SHEIN’s 100K Challenge: Gen Z and the Reality of Fast Fashion

The Chinese fast fashion conglomerate’s new design competition aims to change the brand’s public perception. Despite being accused of stealing from independent designers on a regular basis, SHEIN will award $100,000 to the winner of its new design series.

Tinashe | Credit: The Guardian

Thanks to a heady mix of fast-paced fashion, low pricing, and a highly addictive, gamified approach to content, SHEIN has become a big player in the US market this year. On Sunday, the e-commerce giant began its most high-profile marketing campaign to date: a brand new reality TV programme.

The upcoming SHEIN100k challenge is a four-episode competition series, Be Bold, Be You. It follows 30 designers as they fight for $100,000; and the opportunity to stage a fashion show in Los Angeles. The panel of celebrity judges includes Jenna Lyons, CEO of Loveseen and former creative director at J. Crew; American fashion designer Christian Siriano; celebrity fashion stylist Law Roach and reality TV star Khloé Kardashian.

The series premieres on August 22 via SHEINs app and social media channels. The competitors will be cut down to a final five, announcing the winner during the finale on September 12.

Surpassing Standards

SHEIN is breaking records recently, becoming the world’s largest online-only retailer. The ultra-fast fashion brand currently holds an estimated worth of $30 billion. And the surge of stranded customers flocking to the internet during the epidemic is helping the company achieve exponential growth. According to Earnest Research, SHEIN currently represents 28% of the fast-fashion industry in the United States. Sales are up by 160% between January and June alone.

In recent times, however, the business is coming under pressure from environmentalists. This is due, in large part, to transparency regarding their labour and sustainability practices.

Public Disclosures

On 6 August, Reuters found that SHEIN has failed to make public disclosures about working conditions in its supply chain (as required by UK law).

Credit: Reuters

Reuters claims that the company also falsely stated on its website that conditions in the factories it uses are certified by international labour standards bodies.

As part of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, firms of a particular size must clearly disclose the actions they take to fight forced labour.

SHEIN refuses to release its yearly income to Reuters, claiming that the firm does not publicly disclose its revenue. Upcoming policies are in the process of creation as Reuters explains,

“We are creating detailed policies, which we will release on our website in the coming weeks,” stated a Shein spokesman on Aug. 2.

Source: Reuters

A similar law in Australia compels firms with yearly sales of more than A$100 million to submit an annual modern slavery statement to the Australian Border Force (ABF).

Social Media Dominance

Credit: Vox

Since SHEINs debut in 2008, the company’s current turnaround is astounding. According to CEO Molly Miao’s Forbes interview, the site adds 700 to 1,000 new products every day. Approximately 70% of its products have been on the site for little more than three months.

SHEIN also makes clever use of its supremacy on social media platforms. This ensures that its core of Gen Z customers are kept close-by. On TikTok, the hashtag #Sheinhaul has 2.5bn views, according to Rogue Media. SHEINs Instagram and TikTok accounts collectively include more than 23 million followers – many of them young women showing off its bargain-price clothing. The app encourages users to view live streams and engage in outfit challenges, earning them loyalty points to spend on the site. They also reward customers with points based on cumulative logins, playing in-app minigames and writing reviews.

In June, it was announced that SHEIN has beat H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 in becoming the largest fast fashion store in the United States. According to online traffic tracking firm Similarweb, SHEIN’s website received more than 160 million visitors in June. 

Supply chain issues, environmental harm and design plagiarism, however, follow the firm even as it rewrites the rules on marketing in the social media age.

The Reality of Fast Fashion

Credit: Daily Mail
Khloé Kardashian has come under fire recently, due to her partnership with the brandThe reality star announced earlier this week that she is appearing as a guest judge for the fast fashion label’s 100K Challenge. Law Roach, Christian Siriano, Jenna Lyons, and Laurel Pantin are joining her on the panel – which gives young designers the chance to win $100,000 and a potential designer spot in the F/W virtual exhibition.

“I am so excited to have teamed up with @sheinofficial to judge the #SHEINx100Kchallenge,”

Kardashian writes on Instagram alongside a plug for a 20% off code.

“The SHEIN X Designer Incubator Program gives talented fashion designers the ability to design a collection for SHEIN that will be seen by fashionistas all around the world!”

The reality star’s post seems to be met with resistance, owing to ethical issues about SHEIN and other fast fashion businesses. The concerns include its environmental impacts, labour abuses, and continuing allegations of design theft from independent designers. One user comments,

“”Lmaooooo Shein supporting designers?! All they do is rip off small independent designers to make fast fashion…”

Another simply states that,

“Shein is one of the most unethical fast fashion brands.”

Whilst a third comment expresses,

“Hmmm I didn’t think you’d support a business that steals ideas from small creators also not to mention the horrible pay and work conditions their workers are provided. I thought better off you.”

Gen Z Values

Credit: Glossy

This new reality programme, as well as the company’s overall success, is prompting doubts about Gen Z consumer values. Have we lost respect for innovation? What about safeguarding employees, and ensuring sustainability? For some, the reality TV competition’s premise – “be bold, be you” – contradicts everything that the corporation has come to represent.

“What set (them apart) from the Zaras and the H&Ms of the world was their absolute rock bottom prices,”

says Lauren Bravo, author of How To Break Up With Fast Fashion.

“Shein have taken things even further by selling clothes priced so cheaply that they’re encouraging consumers to see them as disposable.”

Its popularity contradicts what many have come to assume about SHEIN’s primary Gen Z customer market’s purchasing habits.

Bravo continues,

“I think there are many who are deeply concerned about sustainability while at the same time feeling pressured, even obliged, to keep refreshing their wardrobes on a weekly basis,”

Source: The Guardian

SHEIN’s success defies conventional beliefs about the purchasing habits of SHEIN’s primary Gen Z customer base – that “generation Greta” emphasises sustainability, authenticity, and transparency above low prices and quick fashion.

Jodi Muter-Hamilton, founder of the sustainability and communications consultancy Other day, explains,

“To (assume) that all of Gen Z think in the same way is a mistake,”

Source: The Guardian

Size Inclusivity

Credit: A Thick Girl’s Closet

Plus-size SHEIN hauls are a sub-genre of popular TikTok videos. According to We Thrift, SHEIN is the most size-inclusive fast fashion shop in the UK, with 88,850 plus size selections. They have sizes ranging from 6 to 26.

“I know that there’s problems with Shein and consciously I try not to spend too much money on Shein any more just because of those problems. But when you’re fat and broke there isn’t many places you can shop,” says one user, Morbid Muse, in a #plussizeshein video.”

Source: The Guardian

SHEIN x Incubator + Competition

Credit: Dazed

Shein X, a fashion design incubator programme that supports over 500 designers, appeared on the site in January, with new designers joining on a monthly basis. The site highlights Shein X as

“a way for indie fashion designers to get noticed.”

The design program allows designers to develop a capsule collection from their sketches. SHEIN will then handle the “ manufacturing, marketing and selling.” Designers may also take advantage of SHEIN’s “millions of fans on social” for promotion, whilst “splitting profits and keeping ownership of designs.” Given the program’s recent popularity, Shein X is providing a chance for fashion aficionados to build their own styles.

As the incubator programme expanded, SHEIN launched the controversial Shein X competition in April, with the accompanying tagline “Be Bold, Be You.” Its focus is on discovering creative talent from around the world through the reality show, airing on the SHEIN app and the retailer’s social media platforms.

The Be Bold, Be You series will narrow down 30 potential talents to a top five, then fly the finalists to Los Angeles to fight for a chance to win the $100,000 prize cash – and, of course, a capsule collection on the brand’s ecommerce portal.

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