The $100 billion valuation of fast fashion giant Shein reveals a consumer base that values trend over virtue

It’s easy to pin hope on the youth of tomorrow, to expect that they will correct the errors of their predecessors—easier, at least, than believing they will continue to engage in the same destructive behaviors that have become the cultural norms of decades past. Gen Z inherited a world in flames and, in turn, was quickly caricatured as over-enthusiastic revisionists and arbiters of change. Despite their (sometimes condescending) do-gooder persona, today’s youth is, as a whole, not as environmentally conscious as their reputation suggests.

The fashion retailer Shein was valued at $100 billion in a recent funding round, placing the fast fashion brand at equal financial stature with both SpaceX and General Electric. Its appeal mostly lies in its pricing, with pieces ranging from around $8 to $30—nearly half as much as its already reasonably priced competitors like H&M and Zara. According to its site, Shein drops a thousand new products each day. Its inexpensive merchandise and quick rates of production make it suited to the TikTok generation that steamrolls through trends at near-nuclear speeds, and is at the earliest stages of earning in their careers.

Though from a practical perspective, fashion is one of the simplest means of leading a more earth-friendly lifestyle, it’s often an exemption to the moral codes of consumers. Shopping second-hand has obvious benefits in pricing, but poses the problem of work if one wants to maintain their identity in style. A solution to the pains of bin digging is stores with curated vintage and second-hand goods, or designers who use recycled materials in their processes—however, that often comes with a fiscal price. Retailers like Shein enable their customers to easily experiment with fashion without running through their paycheck. That monetary benefit proves enough to make an otherwise conscious generation look the other way when it comes to the retailer’s modes of production.

The brand has partnered with digital age celebrities like Lil Nas X and Hailey Beiber, alongside an army of fashion bloggers and social media platforms to target the internet generation’s sensibilities, all of which has proved immensely successful. On TikTok, #Shein has nearly 29 billion views on videos mostly featuring clothing hauls in which users flaunt their purchases.

The evils of fast fashion are no secret, and Shein embodies each of them. Their practices put consumers, workers, and the planet at risk. Shein’s dominance illustrates the power that younger generations hold over markets—a power which hopefully, ultimately, can be redirected toward the principles associated with the supposed moral values it claims.