Here’s a statistic that surprised even me, a follower of fashion and retail trends: The most downloaded shopping app in the U.S. in May 2021 was not Amazon. It was Shein, an online-only retailer of cheap fast fashion for women and men (plus beauty products, plus home products) founded in 2008 in Nanjing, China, by Chris Xu, a search-engine-optimization specialist with no previous experience in fashion or retail.
Today, Shein (often styled as SHEIN) is a “quindecacorn”*—its gross merchandise volume is worth US$15 billion—and it’s forecast to surpass $20 billion in volume by the end of 2021. The word “juggernaut” comes up frequently in coverage of the company, which has achieved its numbers by targeting the mostly female tween, teen, and early-20s members of Generation Z who can’t resist buying tops and dresses for as little as $5 (and posting about their “hauls” on social media) and who eagerly anticipate Shein’s monthly roster of designer collaborations.
Still from a Shein “haul video” posted in December 2020 by Instagrammer Fabienne Pelaud, who struggles with the pronunciation of “Shein.”