The online fast-fashion retailer Shein (pronounced like sheen rather than shine, like I mistakenly did the first few times) is known globally for being one of the best in connecting shoppers to affordable products. Millions of people, especially the younger generations, love Shein. People online use the tag #SheinHaul when making unpacking videos for their latest order, sometimes containing dozens of items. But for such a massive, successful company, Shein seems to fall short when creating designs for their products, which has led them to use the works of other artists without their express permission.
Vanessa Bowman is the most recent artist to voice their concerns over this practice. She is a British painter who mainly creates still lifes and landscapes inspired by her native Dorset on the southern English coast. Her works are absolutely charming, with a simplicity and a command of color that seems inspired by the well-known folk and naïve painters like Henri Rousseau or Grandma Moses. Her work is seen by thousands not only on her popular Instagram page, but in the pages of House & Garden magazine, on holiday cards sold by Prince Charles’s Highgrove Estate, and on the walls of London’s Bridgeman Library. Not long ago, she received an email from a fan in Canada letting her know that a sweater featuring an image of one of her works was available on Shein for £17. According to Bowman, Shein never reached out to her for permission, and it appears they made no effort to cover up their theft since they just copied and pasted Bowman’s unedited image onto their clothing. And Bowman is far from the only artist who has experienced this.
Many more artists have launched similar accusations at Shein. Another British artist, Elora Pautrat, first realized Shein was stealing her work in 2020. After the company apologized and gave her a settlement, they proceeded to steal her work an additional ten times to create stickers and posters. It seems that the Shein employees are completely unresponsive when artists contact them through the appropriate channels, with no action taken to remedy the situation until the company is called out publicly on social media. But at least Shein doesn’t discriminate, as they steal from independent artists as well as large corporations. Dr. Martens sued Shein last year for trademark infringement, while the company already settled with Levi Strauss for an undisclosed amount in 2018.
The Artists’ Union, which represents hundreds of British artists, has called for Shein to be “exposed, challenged and named and shamed”. But honestly, copyright infringement is not the only thing for which Shein needs to be shamed. Despite being incredibly popular with Generation Z, which tends to be more concerned with sustainability and transparency, Shein’s labor and environmental violations are well-documented. Factory workers producing Shein products typically work 75-hour weeks in brutal conditions. Their incredibly low prices result from their products being made from cheap materials, meaning they suffer wear and get thrown away at a greater rate. Their violations of intellectual property rights are only one of a string of problems with the company. The fact that they’ve been caught in the act time and time again is absolutely ridiculous. Hopefully, the Artists’ Union involving themselves will lead to effective change so Shein’s cycle of theft can be stopped permanently.