Shein’s expansion in Ireland with the creation of 30 jobs at a new EMEA headquarters might be welcomed by some as a boost for the country, but it should be weighed up against the company’s wider impact on society, the environment and the workers’ rights of those involved in the fashion industry worldwide.
The Chinese online retail giant clearly means business – opening a new pop-up shop in Cork this month too. But its business model – fast fashion – exploits cheap labour and our natural resources, with the goal being to sell as many items as possible. This isn’t just about Shein – there are hundreds of online and traditional retailers engaged in this practice too, and most people agree that a system where clothes are being bought to only be used a handful of times before being disposed of, is not a sustainable one.
This year also marks the 10 year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where more than 1,000 workers – mostly women – were killed as their factory and workplace collapsed. The number of brands linked to the building showed off something that is often missing from the debate about fast fashion – it’s not just cheaper clothing brands that are a part of the fast fashion industry, but brands at all price ranges. This cannot be an attack on the consumer, who may naturally have to put their need for affordable clothing first – the responsibility lies clearly with clothing brands and manufacturers here.
Some change is coming however, whether fast fashion brands like it or not. A focus on creating a circular economy is now present in draft legislation, with the EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles and stronger due diligence requirements on the value chains of manufacturers due to come into fruition in the coming months and years.
Before these laws are in place though, the power really does lie with consumers – who I think for the most part are understanding the issues and ahead of lawmakers. Charity shops and clothes swaps are increasingly more popular with all ages and genders – I’ve even started one in my Cork office once a month.
For now, we share our message;
Slow fashion is the new black.
And everyone can enjoy a pre-loved bargain.