Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to announce weekly safety test results of goods purchased direct from overseas after it claims to have found harmful substances in children’s leather products purchased from Singapore-headquartered Shein.

The government is reported to have said the children’s shoes sold on Shein were found to contain phthalate additives at levels 428 times higher than domestic safety standards.

A Seoul city official explained: “Unlike officially imported products, overseas direct purchase products enter the country without separate safety inspections, creating a de facto safety blind spot. We cannot stand idly by while citizens’ health is at risk, so we have been announcing the results of our inspections conducted with professional institutions every week.”

Gherzi Textil Organisation partner Robert P. Antoshak told Just Style exclusively: “This is nothing new, unfortunately.”

He continued: “The disturbing announcement from South Korea about tainted clothing is another example of Shein disregarding manufacturing norms and its customers’ health.”

Antoshak highlighted that similar claims have been made about Shein products sold in Canada, Europe and the US over the past few years. He believes it “underscores the widespread use of dangerous chemicals and additives in many of Shein’s products”.

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GlobalData retail analyst Neil Saunders added: “The fact that the toxicity in products extends to those aimed at children will be particularly worrying to consumers.”

He suggests the allegations could cause some consumers to pause before buying from Shein again.

“Although, that said, we have seen these kinds of allegations before and they have not derailed Shein’s strong growth, so how great the impact will be is debatable,” he added.

A Shein spokesperson told Just Style it takes product safety very seriously, and stated: “Our suppliers are required to comply with the controls and standards we have put in place, and we work closely with international third-party testing agencies such as Intertek, SGS, BV and TUV, to regularly carry out testing to ensure suppliers’ compliance to our product safety standards.”

Shein explained that in the past year, it has conducted more than 400,000 chemical safety tests with these agencies.

“Upon learning of any claim against our products, we immediately remove the product(s) from our site as a matter of caution whilst conducting our investigations. If non-compliance is verified, we will not hesitate to take appropriate follow-up action with the supplier of said product. Shein is dedicated to always providing consumers with safe and reliable products,” the spokesperson added.

South Korea government officials started testing the safety of children’s products purchased from online fast fashion brands such as Shein, AliExpress and Temu in April. Reports suggest that to date it has tested 93 products over seven rounds and has found harmful substances in 43% of them.

In 2022 a Greenpeace report accused Shein of selling goods containing hazardous chemicals. The campaign group alleged that some of Shein’s products broke EU regulatory limits with the company telling Just Style at the time that it takes product safety “very seriously”.

Shein has also faced scrutiny over its supply chain in recent years, particularly in the US, with lawmakers seeking a probe into its alleged “forced labour practices” given its direct to consumer online model means it is not subjected to the inspections required under the country’s Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFPLA).

Saunders pointed out a larger problem for Shein moving forward is that, as a private company, it can gloss over these issues, however “when it becomes a public company that’s much harder to do as these kinds of allegations can have an impact on share prices”.

University of Delaware professor of fashion and apparel studies Dr Sheng Lu agreed, adding: “Any issues regarding the quality of its products or negative news about its business operations may trigger unexpected ripple effects and create new uncertainties for its IPO prospects.

Earlier this month (May 2024), UK politicians called for Shein’s London public listing request to be put on hold so further checks and assessments on its business can be carried out.