Shein is planning to rock the runway—and rankle, perhaps, its critics.
The hotly popular Chinese e-tailer will be hosting on Sunday a virtual “hybrid-special” blow-out that it describes as part concert, part fashion show. Headliners include Saweetie, The Chainsmokers, Darren Criss, Thuy, Willie Gomez, Riley Clemmons and Blu DeTiger.
“Rock the Runway” will showcase “stylish trends” from Shein’s fall/winter 2021 collections, along with “dynamic performances” by its musical guests, said the company, which has quickly won over shopaholic Gen Z teens and twentysomethings for its cheap prices, ever-changing inventory and social-media savvy. In honor of the Shein X Challenge, which aired its finale on YouTube on Sept. 12, “Rock the Runway” will spotlight designs from the top five finalists during a dedicated segment.
Streamed through the Shein app, the event will also raise awareness of and donations for the National Action Network, the civil-rights organization founded by Reverend Al Sharpton, and Youth Emerging Stronger, a youth homeless shelter in Los Angeles, said TikTok’s most-mentioned brand. Shein, which recently dethroned Amazon as the No.1 downloaded mobile commerce app, will shell out a combined $350,000 of its own cash to the charities, it added.
“As a one-stop destination for fashionistas, Shein aims to create a one-stop destination for discovering indie music, global superstars, dance choreographers and entertainment through this unforgettable fashion event,” said Shein, which churns out thousands of new items, including $23 jeans and $14 dresses, every day.
It’s unclear how much blowback Shein’s celebrity lineup will receive from the e-tailer’s detractors, who criticize the brand for its disposable wares, supply-chain opacity and persistent copyright infringement. When Khloé Kardashian announced on Instagram last month that she was judging the Shein X Challenge in support of emerging designers, her followers were quick to express their opprobrium. “Lmaooooo Shein supporting designers?! All they do is rip off small independent designers to make fast fashion tat,” said one comment, which received nearly 1,800 likes. “Shein is one of the most unethical fast fashion brands,” read another comment liked more than 2,800 times.
The media personality’s fellow judges, Zendaya stylist Law Roach, former J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons and designer Christian Siriano also drew flack. Siriano said he was deleting negative social-media comments, while Lyons wrote a long explanatory post on Instagram entreating her followers to dig deeper into the purpose of the initiative before “jumping to conclusions.” Roach echoed her sentiments, writing on Instagram, “My Tribe please just watch this when it airs and you will see why I choose to do this!!! I promise you will be proud of me.”
Ayesha Barenblat, founder and CEO of fashion advocacy group Remake, cautioned any indie musicians taking part to consider Shein’s “history of stealing from indie designers.” She also warned consumers about succumbing to the company’s charm offensive, which she said papers over its problematic business model.
“If Shein truly cared about a bright future for youth, they would move away from exploiting the young people who toil in sweatshops making their products and the overproduction of cheap clothes that contributes to the climate crisis,” she told Sourcing Journal. “What youth need is a shift in their core business practices, not charity donations to greenwash their reputation.”
When asked about the backlash, Shein said it believes fashion and personal choice should not belong only to the “privileged few who can afford premium goods, but to all those who seek beauty, regardless of age, culture, country, race or social rank.” It seeks to “empower today’s women” by allowing them to “explore and express their individuality.”
“Shein’s business model addresses the fundamental challenge of the fashion industry—meeting consumer demand for more affordable options in real-time while reducing inventory pressure. The company utilizes technology and a fully integrated supply chain to lower costs, increase product speed to market, and limit excess inventory and waste,” a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “Shein has a strict supplier code of conduct, including zero-tolerance policies for harassment, discrimination and forced labor.”
Ciara Barry, policy and research coordinator at Fashion Revolution, a grassroots sustainability organization, said, however, that Shein cannot “empower women” if they exploit the women who make their clothes.
“I applaud the valuable, important empowerment work of the National Action Network and Youth Emerging Stronger, but for Shein to cherry-pick causes of social justice while failing to be transparent about their own supply chain and operations is unacceptable and misleading,” Barry told Sourcing Journal. “Shein should empower the women who make their clothes by paying them a living wage. Shein should empower women by stopping mass overproduction and reducing environmental degradation. If they don’t, women will disproportionately be forced to flee their homes because of climate change. And we know that displaced women are at significantly higher risks of gender-based violence.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Sept. 24, 2021, to include statements from Shein and Fashion Revolution.