By Olivia Madrid
Fast-fashion has wriggled its way into the luxury business world, and not just by resale. Shein, the fast-fashion giant recognized for its affordable unbranded apparel produced in anonymous Chinese factories, has silently inched its way to the realm of selling high-end clothes and accessories, such as Stuart Weitzman heels, Coach purses, Lanvin sneakers and Paul Smith shirts.
The company opened its website and app to third-party sellers back in May, and since then Shein has experienced a surge in listings for luxury goods. For instance, a seller named Fashion Select Shop has listed over 24,000 items, ranging from $17 Carhartt socks to a bedazzled Maison Margiela handbag priced at $1,770 (a claimed 23 percent off retail).
Although the items generally seem new, questions arise about their authenticity and how they found their way onto Shein's platform. While the Singapore-based e-tailer has established partnerships with brands like Skechers and Hanes, no evidence suggests that luxury labels have authorized the sale of their goods on Shein's site or app.
Despite that, one luxury brand is shockingly beginning to collaborate with the fast fashion empire. Alice McCall, an Australian designer, had been hit heavily following the 2020 pandemic, with its physical stores scaling from 15 to just three and eventually shuttering all operations this past February. McCall claims in a conversation with Business of Fashion that she had visited Shein's factories and had found them to be on par with ones she had previously worked with through her brand.
This unprecedented news comes with backlash, as Shein has been known for overconsumption as well as providing opaque information about collaborations and labor conditions. Workers have been reportedly unpaid and unfairly overworked under Shein's oversight.
In McCall's collaboration with Shein, the collection will showcase the brand's distinctive romantic style, but at significantly more affordable prices. A dress from this collaboration will be priced at $120, in contrast to the $300 to $800 range for her retail and online shops. The press release that offered a sneak peek into the collaboration described it as a blend of "pop pastels, floral prints reminiscent of an English garden, a tribute to 70s Italian lingerie, lurex jacquard pieces inspired by art nouveau, sequined mini dresses, prints suitable for daywear, and off-the-shoulder mini dresses with a touch of Marie Antoinette flair."
Shein has been very open about broadening its horizons in an attempt to be more than just a cheap fashion clothing company. But their new business model will pose a huge challenge: luxury brands won’t want to sell alongside anonymous sellers.
Though these companies can’t really control where their products are being sold due to resale laws, they can control and sue over counterfeit items, known as “dupes”. Chanel has previously done this with Amazon and currently facing an ongoing lawsuit with the luxury resale e-store The RealReal.
Shein plans to vet false items being sold on its website with image-recognition technology and manual review. From there, merchants infringing on resale laws will be suspended or permanently banned from the site, and companies can request the removal of the item. The grey market, where unauthorized resale items are sold, has brought fast fashion companies who are open to third-party merchants to really crack down on this issue. But as for Shein's new brand model, the company will have to do a lot of work to do to attract more well-known brands.