Is it Ethical to Buy From SHEIN?

My stance on buying from places like SHEIN, and other exceptionally unethical companies

For those who are not aware, SHEIN is a popular fast fashion brand that sells predominantly women’s wear, such as $5 tops and other similarly cheap, trendy garments. The controversy around financially supporting the company arises from the fact that it relies heavily on child labor to source and produce their products. In addition, they’re responsible for a number of other scandals regarding problematic items they’ve sold on their website, such as a necklace with a swastika pendant, traditional prayer mats as casual carpets, and more.

I would argue that, in general, it is not unethical to buy from SHEIN. Millions of people worldwide do not have the means to buy more ethically-sourced clothing due to the elevated prices and are thus forced by financial necessity to buy fast fashion, and it would be wrong to blame those people for their financial struggles or status. It is no one individual’s fault that these companies rely on unethical means to source and produce their products, it’s a systemic problem. However, the wealthier you are, the more financial mobility you have, giving you more options and the ability to buy clothing from more sustainable sources. Therefore, I would say that the more financially comfortable you are, the stronger your moral obligation to buy ethically (or at least as close to that as you can get) is.

So if SHEIN and other problematic fast fashion brands are all you can afford or all you have access to, I am on your side. I am on the side of the consumer completely. We are all inevitably forced to buy unethically under capitalism, and I don’t blame individuals for that in the slightest, I blame the corporations, and overall, the system. But if you have the financial means to buy from other places and yet still choose to buy from SHEIN, and even go on several-hundred-dollar sprees, I believe you have a moral obligation to alter your spending habits and make them more sustainable and ethical, and try to wean yourself of off buying fast fashion in excessive amounts, though I don’t deny that it can be difficult to do so, given the culture we live in.

However, and this is a more broad statement, if you buy from SHEIN, whether you’re forced to by necessity or are wealthy and choose to, whatever the reason is, it is under no circumstances is it okay to make jokes about the fact that the company uses child labor or try to make the claim that SHEIN isn’t an (exceptionally) unethical company. This is something that happens disturbingly often on popular social media applications like TikTok and Twitter. People also try to downplay SHEIN’s unethicality by making the point that many companies utilize child labor. Sure, many companies use child labor but SHEIN a) does so to a greater extent and b) has done a long list of other terrible things. Do not try to minimize it, don’t try to defend or glamorize the company to make yourself feel better. Remember, a reasonable person will only blame you if you choose to buy there when you have the ability not to. It’s insensitive and cruel to post about or conversationally try to act as if SHEIN isn’t objectively a bad company.

In addition, don’t get mad at or scorn people who say that you generally shouldn’t buy from SHEIN. Again, it isn’t a personal attack unless you choose to regularly buy from there when you don’t, by any means, have to. People aren’t wrong for not being a fan of child labor and urging people not to support it, they’re wrong if they turn to classism or AT ALL blame lower-income people for buying from SHEIN (and other places like it). Classism is unacceptable, concern for children in the Global South isn’t.