Japanese fast fashion brand Shein has made quite an impression in the short time it’s been operating in the U.S. The retailer has been called out for its insensitivity to minorities. It’s an equal opportunity offender, selling Islamic prayer rugs to be used as decorative mats, and creating a necklace in the shape of a swastika.
No stranger to controversy, Shein has also been accused of stealing designs from small independent labels and minting low-quality copies for a fraction of the price.
It was surprising then, when Shein announced its ambition to become a global leader in rescuing the fashion industry’s deadstock through circular technology in partnership with Queen of Raw.
Shein is leveraging Queen of Raw’s science-based software, Materia MXMX, to support a commitment to full circularity by 2050, part of its evoluShein” roadmap. Materia MX specializes in solving supply chains’ excess inventory issues for the world’s Fortune 500 companies.
Through repurposing other brands’ excess inventory, Shein will avoid consuming new textile resources, creating a blueprint for alternative business models that leverage circularity to mitigate textile waste and reduce the use of new raw materials.
Caitrin Watson, Shein’s director of sustainability, told me that her role in joining the company was built around sustainable product development. “We’re looking deeper at products and preferred materials,” she said. “Most brands are doing guesswork when putting in orders for material. Designers and brands get stuck with a lot of overstock fabric. How much is it costing the industry? The entire supply chain goes to waste if the material doesn’t have a life as an apparel product.”
Shein uses algorithms to produce what customers want, Watson said. “We do small batch production,” she explained. “We have many stockkeepingunits, but only make very few units per sku. We’re very targeted and actually only produce as many as needed.”
Asked about the criticism of Shein’s business practices, Watson said, “This is completely new. Every kind of company should be working to be as sustainable as possible. The fact is Shein is listening to customers. Shein is a 10-year-old late-stage start-up company. We’re really taking the next step and looking long term in the future.”
“The sustainable strategy just launched recently, in a very public way,” Watson said. “We’re using better materials and taking care of people in the supply chain. This partnership is part of our larger sustainability journey. We don’t shy away from the fact that we’re new to the sustainability journey. We’re accelerating sustainable innovation.”
Stephanie Benedetto, CEO of Queen of Raw, said, “I always respected the work Caitrin does. Queen of Raw is about being able to accelerate the sustainability efforts of one of the world’s largest fashion retailers. Shein gets access to deadstock, and we’re able to help them measure and report on their good work.”
Shein has an opportunity to be a really active buying partner. In order to make the hookup work, designers and brands have to know that there’s somebody willing to buy the material. “It’s good for the environment,” Benedetto said. “I’m excited to see the success so far.”
Queen of Raw’s impact measuring algorithms, were developed with the support of Solve Innovation Future at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Solve has diverted 1 million yards of fabric from excess inventory, which would set Shein on the trajectory of becoming one of the global leaders in repurposing deadstock materials, helping conserve water and preventing the creation of carbon dioxide equivalents that would have been generated through conventional production methods.
“It’s always better to use waste material,” Benedetto said. “There’s a lot of reasons product becomes deadstock. If a brand is selling to a third party retailer like NordstromJWN, sometimes the orders don’t come through and the brand may not be able to get out of the fabric order.
“We quietly launched a couple of styles as part of our regular collection,” Benedetto said. “We got five-star reviews. There was a small sentence saying, ‘This was made from rescued deadstock.’, We will be launching another collection later this month. It will be our preferred products collection.
Because Shein sells online only and operates no physical retail stores, it can be very flexible, Watson said. “Making fabric is not an exact science. Waste is built into the way companies produce fashion.”
Automating Shein’s supply chain workflow through the software enables the verification of unused materials that meet both Shein’s sourcing requirements and Materia MX’s deadstock standard. These materials are then made available to Shein designers to incorporate into products sold on the Shein platform.
The Materia MX platform also allows Shein to track and report the data in line with science-based standards. Shein’s newly established sustainability roadmap, evoluShein has a framework comprised of three key pillars – equitable empowerment, collective resilience, and waste-less innovation – and builds on and further guides the company on its sustainability journey by addressing the most critical social and environmental challenges facing the fashion industry today.
This includes programs addressing topics such as responsible sourcing, decarbonization, resource efficiency, building circular systems and accelerating sustainable solutions. evoluShein sets out a new level of ambition and accountability for the company and will help drive ongoing efforts to evolve Shein’s business for the future while creating a baseline to measure progress, the retailer said.
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