Two fast fashion brands linked to many controversies, Shein and Forever 21, have joined forces to improve their sales. Shoppers can now find the brands’ items in the other’s stores and websites. It is not clear whether this could lead the companies to more or less labor allegations.
Shein, a Chinese fast fashion online retailer, has recently struck a deal with Forever 21. The latter filed for bankruptcy in 2019 following years of financial struggle, which forced it to close some stores all around the world. Shein, on the other hand, started as an exclusively online store that has been expanding to open physical stores. The companies agreed to sell items of both brands on both platforms, so Forever 21 clothing will be available on Shein’s site and vice versa.
Forever 21 was funded in 1989 in California. The company saw a lot of success initially, expanding to up to 500 stores during the early 2000s. By 2016, the company had 800 stores operating across the world and was valued at US$4.4 billion. However, in 2018, the company started facing strong competition from other fast fashion brands like H&M and, more recently, Shein.
In October 2019, Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy and started to close stores all over the world. The 800 stores became about 540, both physical and online. The brand is no longer available in Japan, Portugal or England.
Chinese fast fashion store Shein was founded in 2008, experiencing a boom in the late 2010s with the help of social media. The company sells clothes for sometimes less than a dollar with varying quality. In 2022, it produced US$2 billion in revenue despite constant controversies. Its manufacturing is mainly done by small and medium-sized manufacturers in China, but Shein is looking to expand both its factories and reach. In Mexico, Shein has some physical stores where people can pick up orders or shop directly.
Forever 21’s controversies include allegations of fat-shaming, sexist connotations and selling jewelry with toxic metal cadmium. It received over 50 lawsuits regarding copyright infringement from Diane von Furstenburg, Gwen Stefani, Anna Sui and Trovata in 2007. Singer Ariana Grande also sued the company in 2019 for allegedly using her likeness and lyrics.
Shein has also been involved in copyright lawsuits and environmental controversies due to its rapid releases, low quality and poor working conditions. Most recently, the Swiss monitoring entity Public Eye reported Shein had established makeshift factories within residential structures. Activist organizations and journalists revealed that Shein's inexpensive items were being produced under hazardous conditions in workshops devoid of safety measures, while workers alleged they operated without contracts or adherence to minimum wage standards.
The alliance of these two fast-fashion brands working together could allow them to further their reach. But it could also aid in worsening manufacturing practices and their environmental impact.