Shein’s new resale program won’t make it any more sustainable

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Ultra-fast fashion giant Shein is launching a resale, despite criticism that circularity can’t fix a business model reliant upon exploitation and overproduction.

Shein Exchange launched on Monday, 17 October, in the US, with plans to expand to other global markets next year. The platform was created in partnership with branded resale technology platform Treet. The app pre-populates customers’ previous purchases to streamline the resale process.

Shein is upfront about its motivations to get into resale — its goal is to bring any secondhand Shein sales that may happen on other platforms back into its ecosystem. In an announcement, Shein said it will not be making any profits from the platform but “acknowledges that resale threatens to cannibalise the sale of new items” and “wants to provide a destination for Shein customers to become active participants in circularity and find new closets for their pre-loved products”.

Shein also said the resale platform will offer a blueprint for customers looking to extend the life of their clothes “while promoting the environmental benefits of purchasing secondhand clothing”. However, experts say the real sustainability promise of resale is its potential to reduce the industry’s total production volumes, something Shein has given no indication it is trying to do.

On the same day that the resale platform launched, a documentary exposé on Shein’s factory working conditions was released. Untold: Inside the Shein Machine, available on UK TV network Channel 4, alleges that workers in Guangzhou factories have no defined working hours, working up to 18 hours a day with only one day off per month. Instead, they’re paid by garment, the documentary claims, having to reach the 500 garment per day target and being paid 3p per garment, with deductions taken for mistakes made. The investigated factory was unnamed to protect the identity of the undercover garment worker.

Shein has aligned itself with projects related to sustainability in recent months: it introduced a five-year, $50 million climate fund with $15 million going to The OR Foundation in June and published an ESG reportwhich outlined its supply chain network among other aspects of the business (which critics thought lacked accountability over overproduction and worker rights). Video journalist Iman Amrani, the host of the documentary, said that the investigation followed a November 2021 report that outlined the pay and conditions for 10 garment workers across six of Shein’s suppliers. The brand said it would investigate the allegations and found in its 2021 ESG report that 83 per cent of its 700 suppliers required corrective action.

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