Written by Naomi May
Shein, the Amazon of the fashion world, stands accused of copying fellow fast fashion retailer Zara. Here’s everything you need to know.
Take a scroll through TikTok and yes, you might encounter Barbie bags and jelly shoes, you might even see hacks that will help you to shrink your Uggs, but the chances are you will also battle through a virtual swamp of fast fashion.
From influencers on the app posting clips of their #Sheinhauls (which has racked up more than 5 billion views) to content creators showing how many pieces you can buy for under a certain amount from the retailer and its legion of competitors, there’s no shortage of cheap and discardabable wares on TikTok.
But now the battle of fast fashion has taken a darker turn, as Chinese website Shein – which was recently valued at $100 billion – faces accusations of copying designs from one of its leading competitors, Zara.
The hashtags #zaravsshein and #zaradupe have had 38.3m and 39.8m views respectively on the app, which sees users model almost identical pieces from both retailers, while an Instagram account named @Zaravsshein has similarly been established. The pieces in question include pink sateen slip dresses, cropped abstract shirts and cobalt blue slingback heels.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Shein has faced controversy. The hashtag #sheinstolemydesign has amassed more than 6.4 million views on TikTok, after the brand faced legal action from Levi Strauss, which was remedied with an out-of-court settlement, and Dr Martens, which is an ongoing case. Instagram fashion watchdog Diet Prada similarly highlighted allegations by designer Bailey Prado that Shein had copied more than 40 of her designs. In a similar vein, Zara has also faced accusations of copyright infringement from independent designers including Brother Vellies.
But there’s something darker about the prospect of Shein directly copying its alleged main fast fashion rival and what it signifies about how not even fast fashion retailers are safe from the ferocity of the ultra-fast fashion juggernaut. Its capacity to usurp the popularity of Zara, one of the purveyors of fast fashion in the west, perhaps lies in its ubiquity on social media and its popularity among Gen Z consumers.
Shein was launched in Nanjing in 2008 and is based in China, although it ships to 220 countries, with the US serving as its largest consumer market. The retailer, which overtook Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app in the US last year, drops between 700 to 1,000 new items a day on the site, according to its CEO. The business now employs more than 7,000 people.
While Zara has yet to comment on the allegations of plagiarism that are flooding TikTok, some observers would say it hardly has much of a leg to stand on given its own track record with imitating designs (Dr Martens won a legal battle against Zara’s parent company Inditex in 2021 following accusations of copyright infringement).
The Instagram account @zaravsshein’s biography reads: “Find Zara clothes at Shein for twice as cheap!!!! Every day new clothes!!” No hand in the game of fast fashion is innocent, but in this horrible battle of fast fashion vs ultra-fast fashion, a term Shein itself coined, who really wins?
Stylist reached out to Shein and Zara for comment, however, at the time of publication had not received a response.
Images: courtesy of TikTok
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