How Shein beat Amazon at its own game – and reinvented fast fashion – The Guardian

How Shein beat Amazon at its own game – and reinvented fast fashion – The Guardian

Last year, Julia King, a 20-year-old art student and influencer from Texas, noticed that a particular kind of sweater vest was taking over the internet. Celebrities including Bella Hadid had been photographed wearing shrunken, argyle-patterned styles, channelling classic 1990s movies like Clueless during a wave of millennium-era nostalgia. Soon, King found the perfect example in a secondhand shop: a child-sized pink-and-red knitted vest that fit tightly and cropped on an adult. Using herself as a model, King paired it with jeans and a Dior bag, snapped a picture, and listed it for $22 on Depop, an eBay-like resellers’ app favoured by gen Z.

The vest sold instantly, and she quickly forgot about it. But a month or so later, King received a message from one of her Instagram followers. They alerted her to the fact that an obscure, now defunct Chinese shopping site called Preguy was using her photo to sell its own cheap reproduction of the thrift-store vest. “Seeing the pictures of me up on some random fast-fashion website I’d never heard of before made me really upset,” King said.

Replicas of the vest soon began popping up on countless other clothing sites and e-commerce marketplaces, including Amazon, AliExpress, Walmart and Shein. Over time, the image of King’s torso would be altered, warping her body shape; at one point, another person’s manicured hand was awkwardly Photoshopped on to it.

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Eventually, retailers began using their own product photos, but that didn’t make the experience any less surreal. Unknown brands with names such as GadgetVLot and Weania marketed their versions of the vest with jumbled strings of keywords: “Autumn Preppy Style Streetwear Clothes,” “Plaid Cotton Knitted Vest Elastic V-neck Sweater Crop.”

A vest that had started as a one-off vintage find was now available for anyone to buy, and often for an even lower price. As with many fashion trends, it had been plucked from social media and dropped into the frenzied machine of the global e-commerce market. It was multiplying, almost of its own accord, in the factories of China’s swelling ultra-fast-fashion industry.

Over the past decade, thousands of Chinese clothing manufacturers have begun selling directly to international consumers online, bypassing retailers that traditionally sourced their products from the country. Equipped with English-language social media profiles, Amazon seller accounts, and access to nimble garment supply chains, they have fuelled the acceleration of trends and flooded closets everywhere with a wave of impossibly cheap clothes.

Rest of World, a non-profit, tech-focused journalism outlet based in New York, spent six months investigating this new ecosystem, speaking with manufacturers, collecting social media and product data, making test buys and interviewing shoppers and industry experts in China and the US. The results of that reporting reveal how Chinese apparel makers have evolved to cater to the desires of internet-native consumers – and transformed their consumption habits in the process. Capitalising on this …….


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