Shein is back and so is fast fashion
it almost slipped under the radar. but the spotlight doesn’t stray too far from one of the largest names in fashion — Shein. the Chinese company is back in India after being on the list of apps banned in the country due to mounting tensions between the two countries. but this time it has returned through Amazon.
Shein was popular in India even before its ban. so popular that within a year of its original India launch in 2017, it garnered 5 million downloads. and since then it has continued to grow.
Shein today is almost synonymous with fast fashion, and in the event of its return, it is important to understand how fast fashion has grown and how it has adapted not just to the internet but also to the pandemic.
fast fashion has been popular for a while. Shein is now the biggest player in that sector and, for those who missed it, H&M and Zara are two of the other most popular names in the business. let’s quickly break down what fast fashion really is. everyone wants to wear the swankiest clothes on the runway. but very few can afford true designer labels. so, they opt for those who imitate. now, there needs to be a differentiation between fast fashion and knock offs. fast fashion uses designers who take large trends from various fashion shows and adapt them into scalable apparel. these companies now even use AI to find everything from the right colour to the right price. and since trends and prices change often, these companies need a system that keeps track of the volatility in the market.
fast fashion is all about speed. Shein is the leader for a reason. it has compressed the process from identifying the trends, to manufacturing and then shipping it to five days. it takes Zara three weeks to ship out and H&M two weeks. for a high-end fashion company like Gap, it takes six months from designing to manufacturing to retailing its products. this is key to how fast fashion works. the speed also allows these companies to reach further out into the world. Shein claims it reaches 220 countries across the world. curiously, it doesn’t sell in China. H&M reaches over 75 countries, while Zara has customers in over 100 countries across the world.
these companies have been growing. for context, the UK, which is said to be a proponent of fast fashion, bought 10 million single-use clothing just for weddings in 2019. this is a trend across the world. the fast fashion market is expected to grow by over $10 billion in 2021. in 2020, despite the pandemic, the global fast fashion market was valued at $25.09 billion. this market will scale to $39.84 billion by 2035. The two biggest players in the market — Shein and Zara — are both valued at around $15 billion. Shein, in fact, claims it made a topline of over $10 billion in 2020.
one way these companies have been able to stay on top is how they use social media. Shein, for example, uses popular influencers such as Madelaine Petsch to sell its products. its success is such that Shein was the most talked about brand on social media in 2020. H&M, meanwhile, has been leaning into social commerce. it recently was part of a $45 million funding round in Indian social commerce startup, Trell, which raised capital from Mirae Assets as well.
Zara, however, stands apart from the duo. It reportedly spends just 0.3% of its total sales on advertising. it has created a loop between its customers and the designers within the company. and any complaint about a product is considered a priority. It also doubled down on e-commerce during pandemic related lockdowns and will spend over $1 billion until 2022 on upgrading its technology.
Shein’s tactics have started to pay off. Its popularity has even outstripped Amazon in the US.
fast fashion is abound with questions over sustainability because with speed come consequences. reports suggest that fast fashion comprises almost 10% of total global emissions. it is responsible for drying water sources and is a pollutant. over 80% of its textiles make their way to huge garbage dumps every year. and washing these clothes releases microfibers which are the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. the speed at which these companies manufacture and distribute their products is hurting the environment.
when Shein returns, it will be the second time a banned company has found its way back into India. it has come back at a time when the economy seems to be slowly recovering and one metric economists have used to measure is increase in spending on fashion. talk about timing.