Is SHEKOU Ethical or Sustainable? + Alternative Brands

SHEKOU is a trendy, low-cost brand based in New Zealand. They state that their mission is to “make sustainable clothing affordable.”

While they claim to be an ethical brand, they’re ultimately greenwashing. Here’s why, plus some actually sustainable brands to consider instead.

Deep Dive into SHEKOU’s Ethics and Sustainability

Environmental Measures

SHEKOU’s goal is to use only organic or recycled materials by 2025. This is a very common target for fashion brands, but what matters is how they stack up now.

100% of SHEKOU’s swimwear is made from REPREVE®, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. While synthetics shed microplastics, it’s hard to avoid synthetics for swimwear, so this is a better option.

Their sustainability page goes on to talk about organic cotton, organic linen, and TENCEL, all of which are great fabrics, but they don’t say what percentage of their clothing is currently made of these materials. If you check their new arrivals, you’ll notice that the vast majority are still made with virgin polyseter or conventional cotton.

SHEKOU does have a pre-order system, meaning that some products are only made once they’re purchased, which reduces inventory and waste. They also say they use a special software to optimize fabric cutting to reduce waste, and they repurpose any larger offcuts into accessories. Additionally, they use digital printing, which reduces water and dye usage.

Their packaging is also more conscious, with their mailers being 100% recycled polyester. Unfortunately, filmy plastics aren’t easily recycled at home, so recycled paper is a better alternative.

SHEKOU also says their packaging is 100% biodegradable and made from plants, however, “biodegradable” is a term often used to greenwash, since it doesn’t mean the material will break down into organic matter. Home compostable packaging would be the better option.

Finally, SHEKOU is missing other pillars of sustainability, including:

  • Timelessness: SHEKOU’s pieces are your classic hyper-trendy, TikTok-viral styles. That, combined with their low prices mean that people are unlikely to wear their items for long.
  • Circularity: while they sell some vintage and say they don’t let returns go to waste, they currently don’t have an end-of-life plan for their products, though they do have plans to start a take-back program. If they do, we’d need transparency on what’s happening to those products.
An example of the kind of clothing on SHEKOU’s site

Labor Ethics

SHEKOU states that they “work closely with a small factory in Jiangsu, China.” They share images of their workers on their website and say that they continuously monitor their well-being and pay them living wages.

That sounds great, but it’s hard to believe that their workers are being paid fairly when their prices are so low—many pieces are less than $15! It’s also unclear how often SHEKOU audits their factory and whether there’s a code of conduct. Their wording is just vague when it comes to their labor ethics.

They also push this misinformed idea of sustainability, stating “We believe that sustainable fashion doesn’t have to come at a huge cost to you or the planet.  We want sustainability to be the norm, and not an out-of-reach luxury.”

This misconstrues the true definition of sustainable fashion, which is not about buying from expensive ethical brands. True sustainability is making your clothes last and buying less, which poor people have been doing all this time. You can’t buy sustainability, and it’s not a luxury. For many people, they have to live sustainably out of necessity.

part of SHEKOU’s sustainability page

Social Responsibility

SHEKOU gives back to some social causes. They donate 1% of bikini sales to Coral Gardeners and they share coral adoption certificates on their site, but they’re unreadable.

They’ve also donated to Breast Cancer Foundation and One Tree Planted, but it’s unclear what percentage of their profits they’ve donated. SHEKOU does have receipts for 1,070 USD donations to One Tree Planted, but this seems relatively small for such a popular brand.

Inclusivity

For most pieces, SHEKOU’s sizing runs from XXXS to 2X for their feminine styles and S to 2X for masculine styles. Their size chart is unconventional, however, with the women’s 2X being a US size 12 when it’s usually around a size 18! Needless to say, that makes their clothing not very size-inclusive at all.

Their models are also mainly fair-skinned and thin, not showing much diversity.

Animal Welfare

SHEKOU doesn’t use any animal products in their clothing and they state that they are 100% vegan. This is a good step, but their use of synthetics isn’t great for animal (or human) welfare.

Unfortunately, it’s quite common for brands to say they’re vegan and then use a ton of synthetics. House of Sunny is another trendy brand that markets themselves as sustainable and vegan, only to use fabrics that shed microplastics.

The Bottom Line

SHEKOU is a fast fashion brand. While they use some better materials, particularly in their swimwear, they’re vague about their other fabrics and still use a lot of virgin synthetics.

Their labor conditions are also a question mark—the “I made your clothes” photos are a popular way to show worker transparency, but they don’t tell us much without a code of conduct and specific information about audits.

And at its very core, a brand can’t be sustainable if they’re constantly pushing trends like SHEKOU does.

Ethical Alternatives to SHEKOU

This section contains affiliate links, meaning that I may earn a small commission on any purchases through those links, at no extra cost to you.

If you’re disappointed about SHEKOU’s greenwashing and wondering where to shop instead, I first encourage you to rewear what you already have or upcycle it.

Since SHEKOU has a lot of trendy pieces (especially Y2K-style), thrifting is also a good option. In fact, because SHEKOU’s pieces are often microtrends, you’ll probably find the specific piece you want on secondhand apps if you wait just a couple months.

Here are my favorite online thrifting platforms:

  • eBay
  • Etsy (often small creators, but beware of dropshippers)
  • Poshmark (get $10 off your first purchase with my referral link)
  • ThredUP (get $10 off your first purchase with my referral link)
  • Mercari (get $10 off your first purchase with my referral link)
  • Depop

Otherwise, here are some more sustainable brands with a similar aesthetic, but still offer more timeless pieces. These will be more expensive than SHEKOU, but keep in mind that slow fashion is all about buying less and only buying what you’ll wear for years, which should save you money in the long run.

Dazey LA—colorful clothing and fun prints made from organic and recyled materials. Workers are paid a living wage. Use code IMPERFECTIDEALIST for 10% off

For Days—organic cotton streetwear with a closed loop model; you can send old clothes of their brand and any brand back for recycling. (masculine and feminine options)

Loud Bodies (up to 10X)—beautiful dresses made from natural materials in a small atelier in Romania

Whimsy + Row—feminine and modern clothing made with natural materials in small batches by workers who are paid fair wages

Armedangels—edgy clothing made from low-impact materials by workers who are paid a living wage (masculine and feminine options)

See my sustainable brand directory for more recs and learn how I evaluate the ethics and sustainability of fashion brands so you can spot greenwashing.

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