Shein is a popular fast fashion brand known for its affordably priced apparel. Students at the University of Maryland are familiar with the site, but many of them are unaware of the toxic chemicals found in its clothing.
In 2021, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) investigated Shein and found elevated levels of lead, phthalates, and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in adult and children clothing sold by the brand.
Frequent exposure to these toxic substances can “elevate a person’s risks of serious health conditions, such as asthma and kidney damage,” according to an article published by Insider.
Shein was selling a toddlers jacket that contained almost 20 times the amount of lead that Canadian public health officials say is safe for children. A red purse from Shein also had five times the allowable limit, according to the CBC.
Caitie Kim, a freshman communications major, orders from Shein once every few months, and despite the “cheap quality,” she appreciates how inexpensive the products are.
Kim, like many other college students, frequently shops at Shein because she can purchase several items for a lower price.
However, after hearing of the elevated levels of toxic chemicals, Kim is now concerned for her health and feels as though her safety has been compromised.
“I would have never purchased from them if I knew about these issues,” says Kim.
The Chinese retail giant has responded to the CBC’s investigation and has removed the toddler’s jacket and purse from its purchasing applications. In an email to the CBC, Shein also claimed that they would discontinue working with relevant third-party suppliers involved in producing such products.
“We are committed to the health and safety of our customers and regularly test products, such as apparel, cosmetics, and children’s wear using standards set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Europe’s REACH, and other international regulatory agencies,” Shein said in a statement to fact-checking agency Snopes.
Snopes says that Shein appears to be taking steps to address the concerns, but they do not have enough information to confirm if Shein’s statements are true.
Brooke Sills, a senior international business major, says that she is not surprised by these claims.
“They are pricing their products so low that they are cutting production costs unethically to make revenue,” Sills says.
However, Sills would consider buying from them again if there are significant changes within the company.
“I would like Shein to develop safer production processes to ensure that chemicals are removed from their clothing” she says.
The scrutiny surrounding Shein has gone on for quite some time, but the chemicals found in their products are “fairly common” within the fashion industry, according to a source reported in Insider.
Items from Lululemon, Old Navy, L.L. Bean, and Columbia also contain PFAS and other toxic substances. Exposure to these chemicals is not only affecting consumers, but it also may directly harm people manufacturing the items.
“It saddens me that they put contaminated chemicals and products in their clothing, since it not only harms customers' health but the workers' health as well. It also makes a negative impact on the environment,” says junior supply chain management and marketing major, Krystal Taveras.
Taveras wants to see a change within the entire fast-fashion industry, but as a college student, she recognizes that she has to purchase clothes that are convenient and cost-effective.
Unfortunately, the short-lived styles of the 21st century have a severe impact on future health and environmental health. The affordable cost is not always worth it in the long run.