How Fast-Fashion Giant Shein Used Big Tech to Change the Way We Shop


Stock photo of a young woman opening the box with an online purchase. Getty Images

Depending on where you surfed online last year, you may have seen ads from a company called Shein, with slogans like “Make every day your Shein day!” and offers to win 250 outfits with just one click. Maybe you saw a Short degree celebrities promoting the brand or social media influencers showing their “Shein traits” by opening giant boxes of cheap tops, bikinis, jeans and leggings. On TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Shein seems to be everywhere.

Founded in China in 2012, Shein recently came to dominate the explosion of the ultra-fast fashion industry, a business model that shifts social media trends into physical products at record speed. From 2019 to 2020, the company’s revenues increased $ 10 billion – a 250% increase.. In May 2021, Shein became the most popular shopping app in the United States, beating defending champion Amazon. And then, in June, Shein had nearly as many US sales as H&M and Zara combined. But how?

In this week’s episode of VICE news reports, host Arielle Duhaime-Ross spoke to reporters Louise Matsakis and Meaghan Tobin, who investigated Shein for the online magazine Rest of the world. Matsakis and Tobin explored how Shein is reinventing fast fashion and, in the meantime, transforming the consumption habits of a generation.

“Shein is this large market that connects thousands of Chinese garment factories, all of which sell to consumers overseas. So it’s a bit like a giant Amazon, especially for the clothes, ”explains Matsakis. “Ultra-fast fashion doesn’t pay attention to what’s on the runway. They are paying attention to what’s going on on social media and can tear things up much more quickly. Instead of maybe a hundred articles a week, we’re talking about thousands of new articles a day. “

And the secret sauce? Big data.

“Think of it as an app that can tell suppliers, ‘Your camouflage print leggings that lift the buttocks are selling very well, but your purple tops aren’t,'” says Matsakis. “It can tell suppliers in real time how their items are selling.”

Shein operates less as a traditional apparel company and more as a tech startup, with powerful internal management software and agile advertising and social media apparatus layered on top. In June 2021, a report estimated Shein was worth more than $ 47 billion, making it one of China’s most valuable private startups. Other companies are looking and trying to replicate this model, including some of China’s largest tech companies.

VICE news reports takes you to Shein and her ultra-fast fashion machine to understand how it works and what its impacts could be, for consumers, workers and the planet.

Listen wherever you find your podcasts: Google podcasts, Spotify, Apple


This episode was reported by Louise Matsakis, Meaghan Tobin and Wency Chen and produced by Sophie Kazis.

VICE News Reports is hosted by Arielle Duhaime Rossand produced by Sophie Kazis, Jen Kinney and Sayre Quevedo. Our senior producers are Ashley Cleek, Adizah Eghan and Sam Greenspan. Our associate producers are Steph Brown, Sam Eagan and Adreanna Rodriguez. Sound design and musical composition by Steve Bone, Pran Bandi, Natasha Jacobs and Kyle Murdock.

Our executive producer and vice president of Vice Audio is Kate Osborn. Janet Lee is Senior Production Manager for VICE Audio.


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