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Greenpeace warns of Shein clothes containing ‘hazardous chemicals’

Strongly criticized for its significant environmental impact, the ultra-fast-fashion brand Shein is the subject of a new report highlighting the presence of “hazardous chemicals” in some of its items.

Some products even break EU regulatory limits “by 100% or more,” alerts Greenpeace, which is behind this investigation.

The non-governmental organization for environmental protection, Greenpeace, has added fuel to the flames of the fast-fashion debate, at a time when the industry is increasingly being singled out for its propensity to drive overconsumption and generate mountains of waste.

A new report from Greenpeace Germany, based on tests carried out on over 40 items sold by Shein, warns of the presence of “hazardous chemicals” in some of the clothes and accessories sold by the Chinese online retail giant.

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Exactly 47 products — including clothing and accessories for adults and children — were purchased at the company’s e-store in several countries, including Germany and Austria, as well as in a pop-up store in Munich, before being analyzed in an independent laboratory.

According to the NGO, seven products (15%) “contained hazardous chemicals that break EU regulatory limits,” as defined by the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation.

Furthermore, no less than 15 products (32%) contained “hazardous chemicals at levels of concern,” adds Greenpeace Germany.”The EU must enforce its laws to protect the environment and consumers for online retailers as well, as tighten REACH significantly.

Chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic when worn in Germany or elsewhere are even more so dangerous for the workers in Shein’s factories in China.

Dangerous chemicals must be banned by law from all textile production,” stated Viola Wohlgemuth, a resource protection expert at Greenpeace, via Fashion United. In detail, the report states that phthalate levels above 100,000 mg/kg were found in boots and shoes, whereas they should not exceed 1,000 mg/kg, according to the limits set by REACH.

Greenpeace specifies that exceptional levels of phthalates, up to 685,000 mg/kg, were found in black snow boots, measured at 685 times higher than the limits set by the European regulation. Shein only sells its clothes online, directly to consumers.

Based on the concept of fast fashion, the Chinese brand’s business model goes even further by producing in greater quantities and at cheaper prices, with some 6,000 new items per day. Targeting 15-25-year-olds with items averaging around €10, or even less, Shein has boomed with the advent of TikTok, with sales of around $16 billion in 2021, compared to $10 billion in 2020, according to Bloomberg.

This model is now widely criticized for its impact on the environment, as well as for the working conditions imposed on company employees.

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