Shein has arrived in Brazil with force and is giving a strong shock to the fashion market, and not only to the producers of low-priced garments; in 2022 alone, the Chinese platform had a turnover of around 8 billion reais in Brazil (+300% compared to 2021), according to estimates by the BTG Pactual bank. According to the ABIT (Associação Brasileira da Industria Textil), the 2022 turnover of the entire sector was approximately 153 billion reais.
For those who don’t know Shein yet, it is a fashion brand born in China (today with headquarters in Singapore), which sells its garments exclusively through its e-commerce platform.
Shein is the main protagonist of what is considered the third revolution in the fashion sector: after the launch of pret-a-porter (late 40s) and “fast fashion” (90s, with Zara and H&M), it is Shein’s low-priced, no-stock “fast fashion” has arrived.
The graph below, although updated only to 2021, shows the dizzying growth of Shein in the world:
(Source: Euromonitor International, Apparel and Footwear Edition 2022)
The strategy consists in the practically continuous launch of new garments, produced in very low volumes and made available on the platform. As orders for a particular product increase, Shein increases production; if a product has few orders, it enters the promotion or is withdrawn. Only 6% of Shein garments remain in stock after 90 days. It's all “on demand,” with the use of technology dramatically shortening the supply chain and minimizing the cost and risk of high stockpiling.
Shein’s on-demand manufacturing model helps reduce inventory turns to around 40 days, less than half the time of brick-and-mortar retailers like H&M and Zara, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group report on fashion supply chains.
Furthermore, the Shein application is very friendly and the prices, already low, include shipping costs (above a minimum value, however low) and those of any returns.
Shein’s strategy in Brazil
Shein started operations in the Brazilian market in 2019, offering a wide selection of clothing, footwear and accessories at competitive prices. Using an aggressive digital marketing strategy and leveraging social media platforms, Shein has captured the attention of a young and trend-conscious audience. The company has relied on Brazilian influencers and collaborations with local celebrities to increase its visibility and reach a wider audience.
Shein’s strategy proved effective, as it responded to the needs of Brazilian consumers looking for trendy clothing at affordable prices.
To get an idea of the success, in 2021 Shein’s app was the most downloaded among those of the fashion industry in Brazil, with 23.8 million downloads.
Evidently this is not good news for entrepreneurs competing in the fashion market in Brazil, especially for those operating in the same price range as Shein.
And in fact the lobby of the Brazilian fashion industry has taken action, putting pressure on the government for what it considers unfair competition and asking for an increase in import taxes on Shein products.
In April 2023, Lula announced his intention to cancel the tax exemption on international purchases under $50, with the aim of collecting additional taxes of around 8 billion reais a year. The reaction of the web was immediate and prompted the government to shelve the proposal.
A direct negotiation therefore began, conducted by the Minister of Economy, Fernando Haddad, which led to the announcement that Shein intends, within four years, to produce 85% of the products it sells on the platform in Brazil.
To make this project feasible, the company entered into an agreement with the Coteminas company, owned by Josué Gomes da Silva, president of Fiesp (the Confindustria of the State of São Paulo). Coteminas will make available the work of the 2,000 supplier companies that produce for it.
Shein, for his part, has announced plans to invest 750 million reais in Brazil, creating up to 100,000 new jobs.
What if it’s a bluff?
According to Shein’s competitors, these announcements only serve to calm the market and take pressure off the government.
Even Zara, when it arrived in Brazil in 1999, had very ambitious plans: today it produces on Brazilian soil less than 10% of what is sold in its stores.
Shein’s future prospects in Brazil
The question is, when manufacturing in Brazil, will Shein still be able to sell products for less than 50 reais without charging shipping and return costs?
If he succeeds, experts and entrepreneurs in the fashion sector will want to know what the secret is, given that the tax burden on clothes produced and sold in the country is around 40%.
If successful, Shein could create major problems for fashion retail in Brazil, mainly in the segment of companies that sell products with similar quality and prices.
However, if the market goes in this direction, it makes no sense for manufacturers and retailers to oppose it. Either you adapt or you risk closing.
One of the immediate effects of Shein’s arrival could be the emptying of the commercial areas that supply shopkeepers throughout the country, such as the neighborhoods of Brás and Bom Retiro: a shopkeeper from the hinterland of Bahia, who used to come to São Paulo three or four times a year to shop, he will be able to restock with a single click, without leaving the house.
A thermometer of the impact of Shein in Brazil is the great success of the opening of the temporary shop opened in Sao Paulo in November 2022. Opened for only 5 days in the Vila Olimpia shopping in Sao Paulo, the shop was literally stormed, with long queues and several fights between customers to grab the items for sale.
But it is the explosion of online shopping that gives Shein the real competitive edge. A survey conducted by Varejo 360 in 2022 shows that consumers in the state of São Paulo are increasingly shopping online.
Out of 100 people consulted, 61 reported shopping online and 63 said they preferred to make digital purchases through marketplaces. Another 35, from websites.
The opportunity to save money is the main reason people give when they choose to buy online, and this is precisely the great appeal of Shein.
Which are the most threatened fashion companies?
Right now Shein has the potential to occupy spaces from financially troubled chains operating in the same price range, such as Lojas Marisa and Pernambucanas.
But networks like Riachuelo and Renner could also suffer from Shein’s competition.
The challenge for manufacturers and retailers is to know how to respond to Shein, anticipating trends, gathering information and customer wishes and having communication and sales channels that offer a shopping experience at least equal to that of the Chinese platform.
Having a well-configured website for smartphones is also essential, because if digital channels don’t offer a good experience, there is a risk of losing sales to Shein, which offers a world-class experience.
Shein has often been accused of copying products from competing companies. The company defends itself by saying that it has developed analysis tools in its systems to try to identify any situations of plagiarism. However, it is not easy to eliminate the problem, also because there are more than a thousand stylists who design for Shein and thousands of garments are launched every day. In any case, products in which plagiarism is evident are immediately removed from the system.
Another important point concerns sustainability. Shein, like the other fast fashion brands, is accused of promoting a consumption model that is not very responsible towards the environment, placing on the market many products of poor quality and with little useful life. Even if “on demand” production reduces stocks and waste, the fact that the younger generations are increasingly attentive to environmental issues can become a problem for the company in the medium/long term.
Regarding the use of “slave” or otherwise underpaid labor, Shein defends himself by stating that he has no suppliers in Xinjiang (a Chinese region where forced labor proliferates) and that all companies in his production chain must adhere to a strict code of conduct , drawn up in line with the core conventions of the International Labor Organisation.
The company also states on its website that its suppliers are only permitted to source cotton from the United States, India, Brazil, Australia and other approved regions, such as Bangladesh, Tanzania and Pakistan, adding that cotton from the United States, India, Brazil and Australia accounts for approximately 95% of all cotton used for Shein brand products.
To remain relevant in the Brazilian market, Shein will need to address these challenges and demonstrate a concrete commitment to sustainability and worker well-being. At the same time, local brands will need to adapt to new market dynamics and continue to innovate to compete effectively with Shein's presence. The future of the Brazilian fashion industry will be influenced by the ability to balance the demand for accessible and trendy fashion with social and environmental responsibility.