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SHEIN x Paris Fashion Week: A Step in the Wrong Direction?

Earlier this month, the fashion label SHEIN did nearly the impossible. The uber-fast-fashion brand, which sells items as cheap as $3.97, has held its own show on the runways of Paris Fashion Week 2023. The show, which followed the theme “Endless Summer,” took place on June 8 in the renowned Cambon Capucines Pavilion in Paris.

While the initial uproar caused by the brand’s announcement of their upcoming runway was quelled somewhat by a statement by the brand’s European director Cui He, which clarified that the show would display pieces created by the designers of the brand’s SHEIN X incubator (rather than by the label itself), there are still many good reasons to eschew the brand’s participation in one of the most important weeks dedicated to the art of fashion.

SHEIN, despite its popularity with Gen-Z, has often come under fire for its questionable production and labor practices. The price and overall quality of its clothing, along with the label’s seeming ability to churn out micro-trending pieces at a rate that could hardly be called sustainable (the brand reportedly produced 8,000 items per day), are symptoms of a model that produces clothing essentially made to be disposable. What’s more, in 2021, scientists at the University of Toronto found elevated levels of chemicals including lead, PFAS, and phthalates, in SHEIN items, and in 2022, the U.K.’s Channel 4 discovered that SHEIN factory workers make around $0.04 per item and work hours that grossly violate China’s labor laws.

SHEIN, however, appears set on rehabilitating its global image and staking its claim as a legitimate fashion label, at least superficially. In addition to creating an incubator for young fashion talent, a few weeks ago the label also invited a group of influencers to tour their “innovation center” full of smiling workers and clean, safe conditions (although many of the influencers’ voiceovers recounting how impressive and eye-opening the experience was, deviated very little from what sounded like a preset script). The incubator designers, while they are not permitted to discuss the manufacturing of their collections, will retain copyrights and royalties on the sale of their designs.

While we at Octonano are all for supporting young, up-and-coming artists and making the world of fashion more accessible to all, we are also passionate about quality craftsmanship, sustainable production, and treating workers with respect. We champion brands who place these same values at the forefront of their business, and we are hopeful that we will see a decline in business model’s such as SHEIN’s, and a rise in celebrating fashion brands with demonstrated commitment to a more ethical, circular industry.

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