SKU’d: Shein is running a fashion design competition. And the judges push back the “negativity” of the public

Kaarin Vembar is obsessed with the luxury and clothing markets. She also has a sassy mouth, so her editor decided to columnize her in an effort to tap the knowledge of readers. Kaarin can be contacted at [email protected].

Imagine for a moment that you are a clothing company that grossed around $ 10 billion in 2020. You represent 28% of fast fashion sales in the USA. You’re huge on TikTok, add 1000 new styles per day, and currently have more app downloads in the US than Amazon.

But, there are rumors of problems. One of the more pressing allegations is that your company is copying some of its designs from independent fashion labels. And it didn’t happen once, but a number of times.

So what are you doing? Hold a contest to find the next big fashion designer, of course!

This is the direction that Shein decided to go with her Shein X 100K Challenge. A group of 30 emerging and up-and-coming designers competed for the chance to become one of five finalists in a four-part series that began August 22 and will run through September 12. These finalists were then flown to Los Angeles. The contestants work one-on-one with the judges and the winner receives $ 100,000 and their collection will be presented as part of Shein’s Fall / Winter 2021 virtual fashion show.

The biggest surprise of this whole setup was the judges Shein managed to attract. They searched for Рand got Рsome of the biggest names in fashion and pop culture including Khlo̩ Kardashian, designer Christian Siriano, style director of InStyle Laurel Pantin, stylist Law. Roach, and Jenna Lyons of Loveseen and J. Crew fame.

But then something happened. Many people in the fashion community came back with questions and a few words for Shein and the judges on why they were entering the contest.

In a post to the contest on Instagram, Lyons turned off comments.

Listen – here’s a long explanation that sidesteps liability.


“Listen – there are a lot of comments on SHEIN and I appreciate the comments and everyone has a chance to say what they are feeling,” she wrote. “The reason I participated… is because THE WHOLE PROCESS was designed to support young designers, and all of the applicants were incredibly talented, passionate, and deserved a chance to win 100,000.” Lyons then encouraged people not to jump to conclusions, to express their feelings on their own private Instagram accounts, and then to read Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena”. Because there is a huge overlap between fashion and Roosevelt’s stans.

(No seriously – our guy Roosevelt was a bit forward thinking and helped popularize the Panama Hat after visiting the construction of the Panama Canal in the early 1900s. That’s right. There is an intermediate article on HISTORY LESSON!)

Kardashian left comments after her Instagram post on the contest. She’s received over 6,000, many in the vein of one follower who said, “Shein steals little designers” and another who said, “Fast fashion is not sustainable. Disappointed with the news. that you advocate. ” SheinOfficial, on the other hand, responded cheerfully, “We love you! So excited to watch!”

Christian Siriano’s page had fewer comments, but he said “We’ve removed the negativity! Thank you.”

Which, of course, is the exact dilemma. This is not unwarranted social media trolling. These are not negative waves. What is happening (in large part) is thoughtful criticism from people reporting an issue. And the message to the judges was mainly, “What are you doing?

Shein simply cannot be ignored. The company is a force when it comes to fashionable clothing. According to a recent survey by Coresight Research, around one-third of respondents who had purchased clothes and shoes in the past year said they had bought from Shein.

And also according to Coresight, its business practices can be widely adopted by other retailers. This is mainly related to the efficiency of the supply chain and data collection. If a new product gets “clicks, pushes, and sells” when it goes live, an algorithm then extends the manufacturing quota and updates the supplier’s factory in real time to order additional materials. This means Shein has significantly reduced the time between product design and manufacture from three weeks to around seven days.

Shein is therefore considered to be very efficient, responsive and adaptable. It has also tapped into the popular Gen Z market. And, people seem to really like stylish, inexpensive clothing. Which, if you’re on a budget and want to get what you pay for in fashion, makes sense.

However, this also has consequences, including the environmental impact of producing so many SKUs per day. The Environmental Protection Agency says the main source of textiles in municipal solid waste is discarded clothes. Over 9 million tonnes of clothing and footwear ended up in landfill in 2018.

“Shein lacks transparency on her production line and has been accused of involvement in unethical practices, such as child labor and the use of sweatshops,” Coresight wrote in her report on Shein. . The company “probably contributes huge amounts of waste from unsold clothing that ends up in landfill … We believe Shein needs to take big steps forward in its sustainability initiatives and ethical practices to build consumer confidence.”

And that brings us back to why partnerships with Shein baffled many supporters of the Judges. Siriano less than a year ago in partnership with ThredUp. He created a durable badge that people put on to let others know they’re wearing second-hand clothes.

The thrifty badge designed by Christian Siriano that identifies people wearing second-hand clothes.


“[W]e created a logo that represents the power of savings, ”Siriano said at the time of the announcement. “The design is an endless loop, representing circular fashion and a future where clothes are reused over and over again.

In a interview with the American magazine he also has said that “sustainability is becoming more and more of a priority as people realize the impact of our actions on the planet”.

Shein, on his website, takes lightly its approach to sustainability. “By turning to sustainable fabrics and practices, we are doing our part to keep the planet as beautiful as possible.”

The result looks like retail gas lighting. As the audience asks questions, the message from the company and the judges is that the reality we see unfolding is not what is happening. That there is no reason to question Shein’s fashion design competition. This pressure for responsibility gives way to negativity.

Fashion is a tough business. It’s hard to break through, it’s hard to keep the momentum going, it’s hard to get funding. And it’s true that spotlighting unknown creators, especially from a wide range of backgrounds, breathes new life into the industry. Shein positioned the company as a philanthropic. But to this observer and others, it sounds like a public relations move that is meant to distract from the tough questions about the business.

Joseph E. Golightly