Is Shein’s $50 Million Fund To Tackle Clothing Waste A Good Thing, Or Just Greenwashing?

Despite the controversy over Shein’s involvement, it’s clear what a difference the $15 million grant will make for the Kantamanto community. “We’ve been in conversations with other folks in this space about trying to find funding for the girls we work with,” Ricketts says. “Adam [Whinston, global head of ESG at Shein] was the first person I’ve talked to from any brand who’s said, ‘Okay, I hear you. We’re acknowledging the fact that our clothing may be ending up in Kantamanto. You’re saying what would be helpful is that we distribute money – essentially, we’re paying a fee for waste.”

Whether Shein will actually go on to tackle the root cause of the issue remains to be seen. “Shein’s small batch production model results in less waste to begin with, a model which would yield an immediate drop in global textile production of 20 per cent, if adopted by the rest of the industry,” Whinston says via email. Given that Shein adds around 300,000 new styles to its website in the US every day, that’s still an extraordinary amount of clothes that are being produced.

Whinston also claims that more consumer education is needed to keep clothes in circulation for longer, despite long-standing criticism around the durability of fast fashion. “There is much we can do to educate and provide channels for consumers to give their clothing a longer life,” he continues. “I look forward to upcoming announcements that will demonstrate the holistic and aggressive approach we’ve set out to address this important issue.”

Despite the scepticism around how serious Shein is about tackling fashion’s waste problem, its new fund raises wider questions over who should pay for the devastating impact of the industry – which hits countries in the Global South the hardest. “We don’t yet have the legal framework to hold people accountable,” Ricketts says. “If Shein is willing to say that they do play a role in this and give money to clean it up – I don’t know who else should pay.”

Until fast fashion brands actually address the issue of overproduction in the first place, brands taking financial responsibility for the waste they’re creating is arguably the next best option. “I hope that other brands will be inspired to make similar commitments,” Ricketts concludes. “Let’s empower [local communities] as much as we can.”