How a SHEIN Tag Ended up on a $180 Outfit

The truth about garment supply chains, and why men love counterfeits.

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Another Shein Scandal

Earlier this month, a girl named Emma claimed in a TikTok video that the $180 pink outfit she bought from a brand called Jaded London had a SHEIN tag on the inside that she hadn’t previously noticed. The video has over 400,000 likes on TikTok and went viral on X, too. People are losing their minds in the comments. “I need an update cuz this genuinely makes no sense,” one person wrote. Jaded London was quick to blame the oversight on SHEIN itself: “All ‘similar’ designs featured on Shein and sites alike are copies of our existing designs, not the other way around. We are looking into how this has possibly happened as we speak,” the brand wrote in the comments.

I reached out to two sources who work in the e-commerce and fast fashion industries to figure out what might have happened here. They explained that this “scandal” is likely much more mundane than it looks. My friend Steven Chang runs an e-commerce business in China focused on apparel and accessories. He said that brands like Jaded London will often go to wholesale markets in Chinese garment manufacturing epicenters like Shenzhen and Hangzhou in search of apparel items that have already been produced. Each design is called a “SKU,” or stock keeping unit—a term that refers to the unique numerical code retailers assign to each product (it’s often listed on the hang tag). At these markets, brands can buy up existing SKUs from manufacturers to sell under their own labels. Minor adjustments are sometimes made before the items go to market, such as changing out the buttons.

Buying SKUs that have already been made is cheaper and faster for brands than producing all of their own designs from scratch. The downside to this approach, however, is that they have to work with what’s already produced, they might not be able to restock, and in the worst case, their customers might realize that the exact same item is available from other stores. Steven said that when larger brands purchase SKUs in this manner, they often “go after full exclusivity,” meaning they aim to buy up all of the stock available. That reduces the chances of anyone else being able to sell the same item, “covering their tracks in a sense.”

Here’s one theory outlining how the SHEIN tag could have ended up inside Emma’s Jaded London outfit. A factory may have produced the same design to sell on SHEIN, but didn’t end up moving very many units. While SHEIN clothes often have the brand’s own tags inside them, the company functions as something closer to an Amazon-like network of factories than a traditional clothing retailer.

@emmasilverman4 / TikTok

Just like Amazon merchants, SHEIN factories are often responsible for figuring out what to do with the rest of their pink two-piece sets and other products after they don’t sell. In this case, one of them might have brought the leftover stock to a wholesale market, where the SKU was spotted by a representative for Jaded London who decided to buy it. Jaded London then added its own tags, took high-quality photos, and imported the items to be sold to consumers in the UK and US. Along the way, an unlucky quality control person missed a SHEIN tag that hadn’t been removed.

To many consumers, this story probably sounds shocking. But Steven and the other source I spoke to were somewhat baffled that anyone would find it distressing. The reality is that, in most industries, the same or very similar products are sold under different brand names all the time. The reason an identical outfit is $30 on SHEIN versus $180 on Jaded London has little to do with the quality or workmanship involved. You’re often paying for the brand story, customer service, and the time and effort associated with curation. SHEIN sells tens of thousands of different SKUs in every style imaginable, while Jaded London promises its customers that all of its clothes will have the same aesthetic and vibe (the brand also likely does produce many of its own original designs).

The problem is that now people have access to things like reverse-image search, and they're becoming much more aware of the wholesale industry and concepts like white-labeling. Many shoppers are very, very mad when they find out they may have paid more for something available for cheaper elsewhere. “How are you so calm I’d be raging,” one person commented on Emma’s video.

Men love counterfeit fashion

I wrote a story for WIRED recently about social media influencers in the US and UK who are earning commission by promoting illegal fashion knockoffs imported from China. While I found that plenty of women were engaging in these schemes, I noticed the community seemed to be mostly made up of young men obsessed with sneakers and streetwear from brands like Nike and Rick Owens. 

They were so desperate to wear these labels that they were willing to go through the somewhat elaborate process of buying counterfeit versions from Chinese e-commerce sites like Alibaba’s Taobao, which is technically only available in China and requires a middleman to access. It turns out that—despite all the discourse about fake Hermes Birkins and Chanel flap handbags—men are much more likely to buy counterfeit products than women. This didn’t make it into the final version of the article, but I think it’s worth discussing.

r/Pandabuy / Reddit

A 2021 survey of 2,000 people in the UK found that 70% of knockoff consumers were male, making them “twice as likely as females” to purchase counterfeits overall. Another survey released last year of shoppers in 17 countries similarly found that the average counterfeit buyer is often young and male. These statistics are perhaps not all that surprising when you consider that teenage boys and men in their early 20s are usually more willing to engage in risky behavior than other demographic groups.

But at the same time, buying counterfeits is often portrayed as a sport dominated by materialistic, shallow women preoccupied with keeping up appearances. It’s a narrative that can feel sexist, and it isn’t really rooted in fact. Streetwear hypebeasts and sneaker heads are buying more fakes than the fashion girlies!

  • TikTok’s troubles just got worse: The FTC could sue them, too (Politico) The US Federal Trade Commission has been investigating TikTok over its privacy and data security practices, and may bring a lawsuit or settlement in the coming weeks. “The commission is weighing allegations that TikTok, and its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance, deceived its users by denying that individuals in China had access to their data, and also violated a children’s privacy law,” Politico reported.

  • Amazon’s New Focus: Fending Off Rivals Temu and Shein (Wall Street Journal) I couldn’t tell for a long time whether or not SHEIN and Temu really posed much of a threat to Amazon, but it’s becoming clear the e-commerce giant is in fact worried about them. Amazon has now made the Chinese shopping apps the focal point of internal meetings about its retail business instead of Target and Walmart, The Wall Street Journal reported. The paper noted that Temu had 51.4 million US monthly active users in January, while SHEIN had 26 million. Amazon had 67 million, down from 69.6 million million in September of 2022 when Temu launched.

  • Does France’s anti-fast fashion bill have legs? (Vogue Business) The lower house of French Parliament unanimously passed a bill that would fine retailers that sell “a high volume of garments” up to 10 euros ($10.82) per item by 2030. It would also ban fast fashion companies from advertising in the country. Some critics argue the regulations are designed more to protect France’s domestic fashion houses than address the environmental impact of the garment industry. Experts told Vogue Business that the way the bill defines “fast fashion” is also vague, and could potentially be trivial for retailers to circumvent.

  • The Vicuñas and the $9,000 Sweater (Bloomberg) A really beautiful and rare feature about how luxury clothing is actually made. Wild vicuñas, a type of camelid that live in the southern Andes, produce the the finest and most expensive wool on Earth. The luxury fashion house Loro Piana sells sweaters made from the material for thousands of dollars, and its prices keeps going up. But the rate paid to the remote villagers who harvest the wool in Peru has fallen 36% in the past decade.