Is Shein Legit and Safe to Shop At?
The retailer is popular—but that doesn't mean it's harmless.
By now, you've undoubtedly heard of the fast-fashion retailer Shein. The brand blew up during the pandemic, when shoppers turned heavily to online platforms, and has remained a favorite for influencers, Gen Z, and budget-conscious fashion lovers ever since. However, you may have found yourself wondering: Is Shein legit? After all, the prices are so low—and the company's PR—which is riddled with digs from sustainability advocates and accusations of unethical labor—isn't all that inspiring. Read on to learn everything you need to know about Shein, from the quality of its clothing to the safety of its website.
What Is Shein?
Shein is an online clothing and lifestyle retailer that was founded in Nanjing, China, in 2008 by entrepreneur Chris Xu. Now based in Singapore, it is one of the world's most valuable private companies, according to the Wall Street Journal, with a current $66 billion valuation, down from $100 billion in early 2022.
The site has a large inventory of cheap clothes across multiple categories, meaning shoppers can stock up on everything from winter attire to tropical vacation wear to Halloween costumes all in one place. Shein updates its inventory frequently, keeping shoppers coming back for even more trendy clothing.
Where Is Shein Located?
As mentioned, Shein is headquartered in Nanjing, China, but serves customers in more than 150 countries, including the U.S., Ireland, and Brazil, and employs 10,000 people worldwide, according to its website. Much of its allure comes from its rock-bottom prices: Think $10 sweaters, $7 bikinis, and $14 cargo pants, which appeal to its younger clientele, especially when there are concerns about a recession.
Is Shein Legit?
It depends on how you define legitimate. Shein is a fully functioning e-commerce website that will provide you with your order if you make one. It has a D rating from the Better Business Bureau and is not listed as a scam. There are concerns about item quality, eco-friendliness, and the labor conditions that the company upholds—but shoppers and their wallets will likely remain safe if they place an order on Shein.
Of course, those aforementioned complaints are practically synonymous with the fast-fashion category at large, of which Shein is a member. About 100 billion garments are produced by global clothes makers each year, and 92 million tons end up in landfills—and the clothing industry's global emissions are only expected to increase by 50 percent by 2030, according to Earth.org. Companies like Shein, which drop as many as 10,000 new items a day, encourage such overconsumption and require fast labor and cheap materials to create the products.
Are Shein Clothes Good Quality?
In two words, not really. "While these low prices on trendy pieces can be very tempting, consumers need to know that those low prices come at a cost," warns Mandy Cordia, owner and founder of The Kindness Cause. "Consumers are often surprised to receive items that look very different from what is pictured online."
What's more, she says the low prices "usually indicate low-quality materials (which have been known to include hazardous chemicals), poor craftsmanship, and inconsistencies in manufacturing." Most items are made from materials like polyester, acrylic, and rayon, which don't perform well in heat and cold temperatures.
When leaving a review on a Shein product, the reviewer has the opportunity to comment on the "product quality"—so you can check the assessment for individual items. Because the company produces so much, the level of craftsmanship may be different from piece to piece.
Ultimately, the decision to buy is up to you. If you're accustomed to high-quality clothing, you'll likely find that Shein's isn't up to par. It's comparable to many other fast-fashion brands, though, if that's what you're looking for.
Is the Shein Website Safe to Use?
Whenever you fork over your credit card number and other personal information, you want to make sure the site you're using is safe. In general, Shein has proven its website is up to snuff—you won't have your identity stolen or get caught in a phishing scam as a direct result of shopping at Shein.
However, there have been slip-ups. In 2018, a cybersecurity attack against the site resulted in the theft of 39 million Shein credentials. According to TechCrunch, the company failed to notify most of the users that their information had been compromised. The state of New York fined Shein $1.9 million for its negligent handling of the incident.
What Does the Better Business Bureau Have to Say About Shein?
The Better Business Bureau is a trusted U.S. watchdog on businesses and charities. Right now, Shein is unaccredited on the site, which means the BBB would give them an unfavorable rating. Its letter-grade rating is D, and there have been 1,527 complaints against it in the past five years. Many complaints regarded delivery issues and refund snafus.
"Placed order on 12/1 and was promised a delivery date by 12/13. Ive been contacting both this company and their shipping company with no communication since the 12th when I got the your order is being delivered today notification. When I finally get ahold of an agent, they tell me I need to wait until the 21st until they will do anything about it," wrote one disgruntled shopper, whose complaint was similar to many others on the site.
"I spent $331 with this company , my transaction number was X. I was missing part of my order and the company will not refund for missing items," wrote another.
Why Is Shein So Controversial?
Shein is no stranger to controversy and has had many bouts of bad press since its inception.
One of the most recent controversies was concern over chemicals used in manufacturing. A 2021 investigation with the University of Toronto found that a jacket for toddlers on Shein had 20 times the safe levels of chemicals like lead, PFAS, and phthalates. A red purse had more than five times the healthy levels.
"This is hazardous waste," Miriam Diamond, an environmental chemist and professor at the University of Toronto, told the CBC.
Then there's the waste and overproduction issue—and a report by Synthetics Anonymous 2.0 that Shein's consumption of oil results in the same amount of CO2 as 180 coal-fired power plants. The shop sends out between 35,000 and 100,000 pieces each day, per EuroNews, and it's no secret that many of those items go into the trash after a single wear, only to be replaced with a different low-cost garment.
The company has been accused of intellectual property theft—a practice it may resort to to continue pumping out new designs. In one case reported by The Guardian, a U.K.-based painter found one of her paintings stamped onto a Shein sweatshirt. Another artist found her depiction of frogs on a sticker sold at Shein. And nail artist Yan Tee found her intricate nail designs on press-on nails sold at the company, reports the BBC.
Large designers aren't safe, either. Brands like Levi Strauss and Dr. Martens have also sued the company for trademark infringement, according to the Financial Times.
There are also reports of poor, unethical working conditions. "Recent investigations have raised concerns about the conditions workers are subjected to, including long working hours, low pay, and potential violations of workers' rights," Gareth Boyd, a retail entrepreneur and the co-founder and managing director at Boyd Hampers, tells Best Life. "These findings suggest a potential disconnect between Shein's public declarations about fair pay and the reality within their supply chain."
Tips for Shopping on Shein
Don't Shop for Staples
As mentioned, the quality at Shein can be questionable at best, with many items hardly making it past a wash or two. That means you should probably skip the store for staple clothing you'll want to wear again and again, like jeans, jackets, and work-appropriate dresses—they likely won't last as long as you want them to.
Get Familiar With the Return Policy
If you purchase something from Shein that you're not satisfied with, you can return it. The online retailer accepts unworn returns within 35 days of the date of purchase; all tags must be on the item.
A few item categories are not eligible for returns, including bodysuits, lingerie, underwear, jewelry, cosmetics, pet products, and customized products. If an item isn't eligible for returns, it'll be marked on the product page (or specified by Shein's customer service representative if you decide to contact them directly).
"Shein's return policy is decent, but the process can be a bit cumbersome," Joseph Manktelow-Pimm, retail analyst and fashion stylist, tells Best Life. "Customers might have to cover return shipping costs, and it could take a few weeks to process, which can be frustrating if you're eager to get a refund or exchange an item."
Check Sizing Charts
Determining your size in any piece of online clothing is tricky business, and that's especially true at Shein, where standards vary. Most shoppers suggest utilizing the size guide on each product rather than purchasing your usual size.
Unfortunately, even that's not foolproof. "It's not uncommon for shoppers to find significant size discrepancies, with items being too small or too large, despite following the provided size charts," says Manktelow-Pimm. "It's always a good idea to check each item's size guide and customer reviews, but even then, the fit can still be unpredictable."
Read the Reviews
One of the best ways to vet your purchase at Shein is to read the Shein clothing reviews. Fortunately, many products have hundreds, and a good percentage of the reviews even include photos. People may mention if the item runs small or large, arrived at their home on time, and looks as advertised (and you can figure out the same by scoping their pictures).
Keep in mind that some Shein reviews may be skewed. "Shein rewards points to customers for reviewing products in exchange for discounts of up to 70 percent off an order," Cordia says. This has led to hundreds—if not thousands—of 5-star reviews that give minimal context or helpful information to the consumer reading them, she explains.
The trouble isn't just limited to the product page, either. "While common across the retail industry, Shein also has an extensive reach on social media given their large Gen Z customer base, partnering with influencers for free merchandise or financial compensation in exchange for sharing the love with their followers," Cordia adds.
The decision to shop at Shein is ultimately personal and will depend on a variety of factors, from what you're shopping for to how you view sustainability and working condition issues.
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