Chinese e-commerce platform Shein, particularly popular with younger generations, is facing complaints from clothing brands claiming the fashion company has infringed on their intellectual property.
Shein was founded in 2008 and targets Generation Z with its online sales of cheap and trendy clothing. It does so successfully: last month, the Chinese platform knocked Amazon off the number one spot as the most downloaded shopping app in the United States. The company is now said to be worth more than 12 billion euros.
However, a number of brands now say Shein owes its success partly to “deliberate and calculated” trademark infringement. For example, AirWair International, manufacturer of the famous Dr. Martens boots, is taking Shein to court for “a clear intent to sell counterfeits”, the Financial Times reports.
In a complaint filed in California, AirWair accuses Shein and its sister site Romwe not only of making direct copies of its signature designs, but also of using photos of true Dr. Martens footwear to lure customers to the platform to buy counterfeit footwear. Shein has denied the allegations. A hearing will follow later this year.
“Inherent to business model”
Smaller brands too are complaining about the practices of the Chinese platform: especially on social media, artists and designers have pointed the finger at Shein. According to them, a pattern of intellectual property theft has emerged.
Shein’s popularity stems from the company’s unique business model: using data analysis, it converts emerging fashion trends into extremely cheap products at lightning speed, sometimes within a matter of days. The goods get made by a vast network of vendors based in China but sold only to the rest of the world.
The speed at which Shein works is said to encourage the abuses. “It happens again and again”, says Quinn Jones, co-founder of earring manufacturer Kikay and one of the victims of counterfeiting on the platform. “It is on Shein to do the due diligence, because until they stop running their business this way, they are just continually hurting small businesses, people trying to support themselves.”
In 2018, Shein was already sued once by Levi Strauss for copying the distinctive stitching pattern that the American denim manufacturer features on the back pockets of its jeans. Eventually, the case was settled amicably.