Carmen León (50 years old) is the first in the queue of the ephemeral store that this Thursday has premiered Shein in Madrid, on Sandoval street. It hasn’t opened until 2:00 p.m., but Leon has been at the door since 8:00 a.m. Behind her there are thousands of people, especially women, so many that it takes five minutes to walk to the end of the queue. “I knew it was going to fill up. It’s just that everything is good, nice and cheap, so perfect,” says León, who buys “a lot” online from the Chinese textile giant. This temporary store, which will close on Sunday, is a campaign of marketing to continue feeding the business on-linea strategy that the firm has already executed in other cities, such as in Barcelona in 2019.
“I even buy panties at Shein,” adds León, a comment that provokes laughter from two friends who are right behind her. “Dresses, accessories, bags… Everything. Everything is cheaper than in other stores,” say Jade and Laila, 18-year-old sisters. “We had class, but we have made an exception. We really like it.”
Despite not having a stable physical store, Shein was valued during a recent financing round at 100,000 million dollars (92,000 million euros), more than the sum of the market capitalizations of the Spanish Inditex (62,000 million euros). and the Swedish H&M (18,500 million euros). She has achieved this milestone in just 10 years of life. The huge number of discounts from the textile company on-linewhich offers clothes much cheaper than its competitors, mainly to women, attracts millions of female buyers (only in the USthe apps of Shein has seven million active users per month).
Two of them are Lidia Ayer and Naomi Olivas (18 years old), who wait at the end of the queue and face hours to get to the store. “We have found out about TikTok. They have promoted it a lot”, they explain. Along the same lines, before the doors opened, content creators from this social network have come to the store, such as soyrivers (one million followers), susanamolinabicho (322,000) or maii_rg (324,000). “I imagined that we were going to be many. It’s that if you bring all of us on TikTok together, imagine it, ”says Olivas.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
Shein’s wheel turns at full speed in 150 countries thanks to supply chain management and a commitment to automation and artificial intelligence, Mark Greeven, professor of Innovation at the IMB business school in Lausanne, recently commented in this newspaper. . The company has taken to the limit the logistics process that Inditex popularized in the 1990s, which allows it to offer new items every week (rather than seasonally) and in fashion.
“They have a lot of variety, much more than other clothing stores. I think half of my wardrobe is from Shein,” says 21-year-old Marta Fuertes. Her friend, Sara Trueba (22), replies: “Well, or 70%. It is that Zara has gone up a lot. The price is much lower and the quality is not bad either.” The company has reduced the time it takes between the design of a new piece and its production to just five or seven days, so that it is able to put on sale a large number of products weekly at prices between 40% and 60% lower than the competition.
Those low prices are appreciated in the bag of José Velarde, 23 years old. He waits in line to pay for more than a dozen clothes, while his girlfriend continues to walk around the store. “I have taken an 11 euro shirt for myself. For her, look: this top five euros, which is very good for a festival; two bags, one of 3.75 and another of 7.75; other top five euros; this dress of six…”. When she shows the green dress, another young woman in the queue sees it. “Where did you get it? I’m going for him.” In the Web and the apps, the engines of the company, the dynamics are the same: three euros discount on your first order; free shipping for purchases from nine euros; 20% discount for purchases over 115 euros; a dress for 5.49 euros; a pendant for 20 cents…
Behind this feast of discounts, as on so many other occasions with much cheaper products than the competition, they hide lousy working conditions, as reported by the Swiss human rights organization Public Eye. In a 2021 report, it revealed that several companies that supply products practically exclusively for Shein impose shifts of up to 75 hours per week on workers. It is a common scenario in Chinese production chains, but illegal. The maximum working day is 40 hours, as recently confirmed by the justice of the Asian giant in a ruling that declared illegal require 12-hour shifts six days a week.
The company has also been criticized for its quality and sustainability standards, as well as the innumerable plagiarism complaints. “I have heard that some workers do not have very good conditions, but the prices are very low,” says Paula Álvarez (31 years old), with three dresses hanging from her arm. “It seems very bad to me, no company should work like this… But I understand that many people also buy from Shein. It’s very cheap, and you don’t know how other brands produce it either,” adds Irene Pérez, 25.
Shein’s very low prices are not the only selling point of the brand: it also stands out for the variety of sizes, while other textile chains barely produce large sizes. In a recent interview in EL PAÍS, the actress and communicator Mara Jiménez illustrated Shein’s day and night in the public forum: “We fat women give our lives for Shein. It saves our lives. you find clothes sexy, comfortable, practical, everything. I would like to wear more sustainable clothing, without labor exploitation and Spanish, but there is none for me. It has given an opportunity to diverse people.” María Pérez, 19 years old and protected from the sun with an umbrella in the middle of her queue, has the same perception: “In other stores the sizes are a lie, they are dwarfs. I buy a lot at Shein because it is the only one where you can always find large sizes”. All the clothes that she wears while she attends to this newspaper are from Shein, clothes that have arrived in her closet without stores or clerks. Delivery guys only.