Ethical and Sustainable Alternatives to Shein

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Ethical Alternatives to Shein

On a recent trip to Goodwill, I was horrified to discover that almost their entire “boutique” section was full of Shein. While Shein is undeniably popular, it is anything but boutique. A history of labor abuses and a business model that encourages mass overconsumption makes Shein an all-around bad choice. Thus, the need for ethical alternatives to Shein.

Shein (pronounced She-In) is the reigning queen of e-commerce. Founded in 2008, Shein originally purchased its hyper-trendy clothing from the markets in Guangzhou, China. The founder, Chris Xu, has no formal training in fashion. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, he has a background in SEO optimization.

Shein purchased Romwe in 2014, and acquired the team to start producing its own branded garments. After making significant supply chain improvements, Shein now adds thousands of new products to their site each week (1,000 per day!).

Shein is Fast Fashion

Fast Fashion: an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers (Source).

Shein’s business model focuses on identifying trends and micro-trends as soon as possible in order to capture a significant share of the market.

One articles states that the brand can produce a new garment, from design concept to finishing, in only 3 days! Once the item is produced, Shein works with influencers to market their products. Since fashion-conscious, Gen-Z consumers are their target market, TikTok has been a major source of revenue.

Of course, once consumers have actually made a purchase, these items are only weeks away from losing their cultural significance. While trend cycles used to occur in 5-10 year blocks, fast fashion has created a monster! Now, there are at least 52 trend cycles per year, with more popping up spontaneously.

This creates a cycle of throwaway fashion that is environmentally unsustainable. Producing even one garment involves a huge amount of resources, from growing cotton to weaving to manufacturing. Plus, since many of Shein’s products are made with polyester, they are shedding microfibers into our waterways and likely impacting human health.

We cannot afford for fashion to be single-use.

Is Shein Ethical?

In addition to encouraging an unsustainable, fast fashion model, Shein has come under fire for all sorts of other issues related to ethical design, labor, and customer interactions.

1 | Shein is known to steal from other designers, including from small businesses and BIPOC designers.

2 | Workers at Shein’s factories have reported working for 12 hours a day and 75 hours a week, often in crowded, residential buildings with poor safety regulations.

3 | Wages are lower in Shein’s factories than in comparable factories in China.

4 | Some Shein products contain offensive symbols and images associated with hate crimes.

5 | The Shein app has come under fire for intrusive data tracking.

It’s safe to say that Shein is neither sustainable nor ethical.

Ethical and Sustainable Alternatives to Shein

Fortunately, there are ethical alternatives. The very best one is shopping secondhand! Try Poshmark, Depop, Mercari, or Ebay online, or shop at local thrift and consignment stores.

But if that’s not your thing, the below brands offer similar, forward-thinking styles, but with ethics and sustainability in mind. They’re more expensive, but that’s a good thing. It forces us to slow our consumption for a more sustainable lifestyle.

This post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

model wears pink floral dress with yellow handkerchief in her hair - Ethical Alternatives to Shein

Tamga Designs

Featuring bold, feminine silhouettes and made with super sustainable Lenzing Ecovero fabric, which is drapey and lightweight. Each collection features beautiful new prints and color stories. Woman owned.

Sizes S-XXL

Shop Tamga Designs

model wears hot pink satin dress


Sexy and daring silhouettes with a clear point of view. Made with sustainable, recycled, and deadstock fabrics, Reformation carries dresses, blouses, skirts, denim, sweaters, and more.

Sizes XS-XL and 14-24

Shop Reformation

model wears green floral jumpsuit and stands in field with mountains behind them

Big Bud Press

Made in the US with organic cotton and US-woven cotton. Big Bud Press offers a range of t-shirts, jackets, pants, jumpsuits and more, all with their signature bright colors and sense of fun. Unisex sizing.

Sizes P-6XL

Shop Big Bud Press

product shot of bikini top and reworked nike shorts

Frankie Collective

Featuring vintage and upcycled streetwear, Frankie Collective uses recycled and outdated garments to create something fresh and one-of-a-kind. They also sell vintage varsity sweatshirts.

Sizes vary by product.

Shop Frankie Collective

model wears yellow tank top and ripped baggy jeans with white sneakers - Ethical Alternatives to Shein

Target Fair Trade Certified

A growing number of Target’s clothing collection is fair trade certified and/or made in a certified factory. Shop in store or online for fashion-forward denim, tops, and more with ethics in mind.

Sizes 00-26

Shop Target Fair Trade

model wears patchwork red, yellow, and orange shorts from Tonle


Tonle is a zero waste fashion brand that uses deadstock and overstock fabric from the Cambodian garment industry, and then sews and weaves every last scrap into new products. Unisex sizing.

Sizes XS-3XL

Shop Tonle

Lucy and Yak

Focusing on organic and recycled materials, Lucy & Yak carry dungarees (overalls), pants, jackets, and t-shirts that put fun first. Limited edition prints and designer collaborations make this brand stand out.

Sizes XS-4XL

Shop Lucy and Yak

More Ethical Alternatives to Your Favorite Brands

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Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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  1. “They’re more expensive but that’s good, it forces us to slow our consumption.” I challenge you to REALLY think about this, and why it is classist. I reeeeaally want you to consider that people living paycheck to paycheck also need clothing, and deserve to feel good. And maybe that means thrifting, but sustainable and ethical clothing is really only accessible to people with money.

    1. Yes, all people need access to clothing, and it is COMPLETELY fine, and even good, for people to shop fast fashion for what they need, like, and will use. I shop from some fast fashion companies, too, often because clothing fits better and is more in line with my budget. That’s different than shopping hauls that lead to OVER-consumption, especially from a brand like Shein, where items are often so flimsy that they break down after a few uses.

      Over the course of ten years, I have written extensively on issues of access and privilege in the sustainable and ethical fashion world. But I will not abide arguments that suggest that the higher prices of traceable goods are inherently classist. Is it not worth considering that the people who make fast fashion garments are impoverished by global demand for cheap fashion? There are several injustices at play when it comes to the garment industry (on the producer and consumer side) and too often the argument that cheap equals accessible is used as a means to dismiss reform altogether. I am a strong believer in living wages and labor organizing precisely because I think that all people should be able to afford to live a good life, and I vote and advocate accordingly.

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