A FAST-fashion company is pumping out tonnes more pollution than its rivals as it cashes in on Britain’s obsession with cheap clothes, a Sun on Sunday investigation has found.
Shein, which is expected to take four million UK orders this Christmas, is creating a toxic carbon footprint by flying in cut-price jeans, T-shirts and dresses from its base in China.
While many of its rivals place orders months in advance and use ships to get their goods to ware-houses, Shein uses a never-ending conveyor belt of cargo jets to transport clothes as the orders come in.
Each 5,000-mile flight from China to London carries 38 tonnes of clothes and pumps out 175 tonnes of carbon emissions — the same as driving a car more than 560,000 MILES.
Last night, the £35billion business — which boasts celebrity ambassadors including Georgia “Toff” Toffolo and Khloe Kardashian as well as fans including singers Katy Perry and Rita Ora — was slammed by charities.
Annie Bocock, from sustainable development group Raleigh International, said: “The Sun on Sunday’s findings are highly concerning.”
And Jenny Bates, from Friends Of The Earth, added: “We need to stop accepting that profit-hungry fashion brands can endlessly produce more clothes because part of this destructive fast fashion is flying them around the world.
"This adds to the damage CO2 emissions do to the climate, nature and people.”
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In response to our findings, Shein told The Sun on Sunday: “We recognise the high carbon footprint of air cargo and will be working with industry peers to identify ways of reducing this impact.
“We are assessing the carbon footprint of our manufacturing base and will be working with our supply chain partners to set and achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
Rival brands BooHoo and Missguided mainly rely on road deliveries, ferried out from their British-based factories.
Asos uses a combination of roads and air.
Earlier this year it released its 2021 Carbon Report, which showed it had decreased total operational emissions by 13 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 — from 268,239 tonnes of CO2 down to 232,503.
Zara uses roads and air, too. On the website of Inditex, the company which owns the retailer, it states: “81 per cent of our global energy consumption comes from clean sources — we have committed to 100 per cent in 2022.”
It is estimated that two tonnes of clothing are now bought every 60 seconds in the UK — with the pandemic pushing home clothes shopping up by 46 per cent.
And this year Shein has become the industry king. In America, it overtook Amazon as the most downloaded app. And in the UK its web traffic doubled, dwarfing rivals such as Asos and Boohoo.
In January, Shein even put in a bid to buy Topshop. Yet little is known about the company.
Central to its success is the role of social media, celebrities and online influencers, including student “campus ambassadors”.
Shein has more than 250million followers across its social media channels.
And TikTok posts with the hashtag “Sheinhaul” — which customers post when their goods arrive — have 3.7billion views in total.
The company was founded in 2008 by CEO Chris Xu, also known as YangTian Xu.
He does not give interviews, so information about him is scarce. Some reports say he is Chinese, others that he is American. Shein’s website says its main markets are “Europe, America, Australia and the Middle East, along with other consumer markets”, but it does not state the location from which the clothes are distributed.
The Sun on Sunday bought clothes from its range, including those promoted by 2017 I’m A Celebrity winner Toff.
Our parcels arrived a week later, some delivered by Hermes, others by Royal Mail.
Underneath the postage labels we discovered other labels which clearly show they had been flown into Heathrow from China.
Shein is run from the Pearl River Delta in the Guangdong province in South China.
It sells no clothes in China but ships to 220 countries.
Those transactions are free of export taxes and almost all of its small packages fall below the import duty threshold in the US and Europe.
This helps the company set prices lower than rivals, with dresses starting from just £1.99.
The fashion industry creates 1.2billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and the World Bank estimates it accounts for ten per cent of the world’s annual carbon emissions.
That is more than global maritime shipping and international flights combined.
And the growth of fast fashion means this is projected to rise by more than 50 per cent by 2030.
Carbon emissions come from shipping, packaging, production and water pollution.
A study by SaveOnEnergy even highlighted how online sales were creating a toxic cloud due to the emissions created by electricity powering the computers.
A huge number of these clothes end up in landfill, too.
One in three young women in the UK class something worn once or twice as “old” and refuse to wear dresses in social media pictures more than once.
Lorna Fallon, retail director for charity Oxfam, said: “Fast fashion is a problem for the planet and its people. When garments are produced cheaply it often means low wages and poor working conditions for workers.”
At last month’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, signatories of the Fashion Industry Charter For Climate Action committed to cut emissions by half within the next decade.
Retailers including the H&M Group, Inditex VF Corp and Nike pledged to work towards net zero by 2050.
However, Shein, Boohoo, Asos and Fashion Nova were missing from the list.
A recent report by the app Good On You, which ranks ethical retailers, said: “Shein gets our lowest score of Very Poor for the planet.
Aside from using a couple of eco-friendly materials here and there, there is no evidence the brand is taking any meaningful action to reduce its substantial impact on the environment.
“Aside from using a couple of eco-friendly materials here and there, there is no evidence the brand is taking any meaningful action to reduce its substantial impact on the environment.”
Last month Swiss human rights group Public Eye claimed that some people in Shein’s supply chain worked up to 13 hours a day, seven days a week, with no overtime pay.
Researchers said they could not to see emergency exits in factories, alleged the entrances and stairs did not allow workers to leave the premises quickly and said upstairs windows were barred.
In response to those allegations, a Shein spokesman told The Sun on Sunday: “We have still not received the names and addresses of the facilities mentioned in the report.
“However, we take allegations of code of conduct violations in our supply chain seriously and we are undertaking an investigation of suppliers in the district mentioned in the Public Eye report to identify violations.
"We comply with all trade regulations in the regions in which we operate.”
What the celebs say
RITA ORA: Singer took part in last year’s Shein Together virtual music festival, streamed on the firm’s app.
But Rita, 31, posted last April to her 16 million Instagram followers: “Happy #EarthDay everyone!!! Such an important day more than ever right now to celebrate the planet and make sure we look after it!!”
She also signed up to the Pass On Plastic Campaign, backed by Sky and the World Wildlife Fund, calling for people to stop using single-use plastics – and designed a reusable bottle.
KHLOE KARDASHIAN: The reality star and model was signed as a Shein ambassador in September, to judge a fashion competition.
But Khloe, 37, loves to trumpet her eco credentials. She showed off her reusable water bottle to her 200 million Insta followers last June and criticised anyone not using similar.
It backfired with fans because of her jet-set life. Similarly, one follower posted of her Shein tie-in: Is this a joke?”
Another said: “Shein is one of the most unethical fast fashion brands.”
GEORGIA TOFFOLO: Former Made In Chesea reality star launched a clothing line with Shein this summer.
She told her 1.8million-strong Insta tribe: “My collection with @shein_gb has dropped. Tag me in your #SHEINXTOFF pics. I love how you style the pieces.”
Yet after winning I’m A Celeb in 2017, Georgia, 27, told how a high-light of her jungle stint was learning from campmate Stanley Johnson, dad of PM Boris, about saving the planet. She said: “He taught me all about environmental conservation.”
NICK JONAS: His band Jonas Brothers headlined the second annual Shein Together virtual festival in May – and gushed he likes “to align with companies that care about doing good in the world”.
But Nick, 29, reckons he does just great. In 2009, Jonas Brothers performed the song Send It On for charity campaign Disney’s Friends For Change – rallying fans to be more green.
Nick also joined Katy Perry at a Google Camp in 2019, with vocal green campaigners Leo DiCaprio and Stella McCartney.
HAILEY BIEBER, 25: Made a special appearance in May 2020 for Shein’s Together event.
The model is also an ambassador for sustainable fashion brands including Supergra and Pangaia.
But last summer Hailey and her pop-star husband Justin drove across the States in a huge gas-guzzling luxury camper van.
They churned up thousands of miles in their customised Prevost Coach RV, though they did make donations to charitable organisations along the way.
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