While I’m traveling I’m re-upping a few posts from the archives. This one, about the Chinese retailer Shein, was originally published on October 6, 2021. Shein is still in the news!
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.
A still from a Shein “haul video” posted in December 2020 by Instagrammer Fabienne Pelaud, who struggles with the pronunciation of “Shein.”
A couple more stats from “Taking Stock With Teens,” a recent survey by the investment company Piper Sandler:
- “52% of teens cite Amazon as their No. 1 favorite e-com site (down 200 bps Y/Y [basis points year over year] ; SHEIN took No. 2 spot (9% share, +400bps Y/Y”
- “Crocs, PacSun, Hey Dude, Zara, SHEIN, Gymshark are all fashion brands gaining share”
But I am not here to discuss Shein’s business model, which conflates shopping with social media to produce something called “social commerce.”** Nor will I get into the questionable ethics and environmental impact of fast fashion in general.
No, I’m here to talk about the Shein name.