Is China’s Mysterious $15 Billion Fast Fashion Retailer Shein Ready For Stores

Over 30? Then you had better read on. Shein may not be a household name like e-commerce giants, Alibaba BABA -0.4%, Taobao, or JD.com, but as China’s newest retail Decacorn, its mystery-shrouded low profile is matched only by a single-minded ambition to become a global fast-fashion retailer.

Founded in 2008, Nanjing-based Shein is aimed squarely at Gen Z, luring young shoppers via Instagram and TikTok influencers and a barrage of discount codes for low-cost styles – with a dress costing just half that of a Zara equivalent, according to Societe Generale – uploading new products online in their hundreds every week.

Yet beyond its teen audience, ultra-publicity shy Shein remains largely unknown. But that anonymity could all be about to change after the Pearl River-based company became a surprise potential bidder for ailing U.K. fashion group Arcadia. While it failed in that attempt, the message is clear: Shein is ready to take on Main Street.

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The story really starts at the beginning of 2012, when notoriously hard-working founder and CEO Chris Xu (sometimes known as Yangtian Xu) – an American-born graduate of Washington University – gave up his wedding dress business to acquire the domain Sheinside.com. Initially selling women’s clothing, in 2015 he renamed the company Shein, focused on overseas markets, and began snapping up fashion rivals.

The U.S is now Shein’s largest market, while it also ships to 220 countries, with websites for Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and the U.S. Rapid growth has been propelled by a series of funding rounds, most recently completion of Series E financing in 2020, which gave Shein an eye-watering valuation exceeding $15 billion. Revenues are not disclosed but are locally estimated in excess of $10 billion annually and have continued to soar throughout the pandemic, while it currently counts a number of Asian and international VCs and private equity houses among its backers. MORE FOR YOUFashion’s Nightmare Before Christmas As Debenhams Joins U.K. CarnageAs GameStop Army Goes Global, U.K. Retail And Malls Among Most ShortedDr Martens Puts Best Boot Forward With Year’s First Big IPO

Shein: Fast Fashion, Made Ultra Fast

Remember that age/awareness divide? Well, in the week starting September 27, Shein was apparently the most downloaded shopping app globally on iPhone, according to analytics platform App Annie. It ranked in the top 10 in the U.S., Brazil, Australia, the U.K., and Saudi Arabia.

To service the U.S. market, products are sent from Shein’s warehouse in Foshan, Guangdong province, to a warehouse near Los Angeles, Ca., and fulfillment can take over ten days, glacial by Amazon Prime’s AMZN +0.5% next-day delivery standards. But its affordability has ensured a loyal customer base, lured by an ever-changing roster of women’s clothing and accessories added at an average of 2,000 SKUs every day.

Shein is obsessed with identifying hot searches and trends in different countries to predict the colors, fabrics, and styles that will be popular, with an even faster cycle than Zara owner Inditex. It then promotes heavily with Instagram- and Weibo-friendly imagery, for accessible and attainable fashions across all its social platforms.

However, Shein’s ascent has not been without its problems. In July it was roundly condemned for having a swastika pendant available (an error for which it profusely apologized), while paid-for posts from celebrities and fashion influencers have elevated the brand’s image as well as slowly rebutting its low–cost, low–quality rap. The label even managed to sequester stars like Katy Perry, Lil Nas X, and Rita Ora for its May 2020 #SHEINTogether global streaming event.

The Emergence Of A Global Fashion Player

All this remember for a company that didn’t even have its own supply chain before 2014, preferring to buy directly from Guangzhou’s Shisanhang Garment Wholesale Market. However, faced with soaring demand, Xu created an in-house design team and within two years had assembled an 800-strong army dedicated to designs and prototyping for ultra-fast production. It also garnered a reputation for timely payment, something of a rarity in China, and as a result when Shein moved its supply chain operations center from Guangzhou to Panyu in 2015, almost all of the factories it worked with relocated.

In the same year, Shein entered the Middle East and sales soared, with revenues in 2016 rising to $617 million and exceeding $1.5 billion the year after.

Shein and the hundreds of factories that work with the company have coalesced in a production cluster bearing close similarities to A Coruña in north-east Spain, where Inditex’s headquarters are surrounded by its upstream and downstream suppliers. It has four R&D facilities in Nanjing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou, plus six logistics centers in Foshan, Nansha, Belgium, India, and on the East and West Coasts of the U.S. It also has seven customer service centers, based out of Los Angeles, Liege, Manila, Yiwu, and Nanjing, and employs more than 10,000 people.

Future plans are thought to include the development of new businesses in mobile payments, supply chain finance, advertising, and, of course, opening brick-and-mortar stores. Whatever happens, it’s likely to do it ultra-fast.

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Mark Faithfull

Mark Faithfull

I am a global retail and real estate expert who looks behind the headlines to figure out what makes consumers tick. I work as editor-in-chief for MAPIC and editor for World Retail Congress, two of the biggest annual international retail business events.  I also organise, speak at, and chair conferences all over the world, with a focus on how people are changing and what that means for the retail, food & beverage, and leisure industries. And it’s complicated! Forget the tired mantra that online killed the store and remember instead that retail has always been dog-eat-dog: star names rise and fall fast, and only retailers that embrace the madness will survive. Don’t think it’s not important, your pension funds own those malls!

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Randomfacts by Shikhaa

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