Shein, the Chinese ultra-fast-fashion retailer beloved by the TikTok generation (it received nearly as many #BamaRush mentions as Kendra Scott) announced this week that it was hosting a "Project Runway"-style design competition, which will be chronicled with a four-part series set to air later this month on the brand's app and Youtube channel. The company assembled 30 fashion designers from all over the world to battle it out for a grand prize of $100,000; the top five finalists will get the opportunity to fly to Los Angeles for a finale fashion show.
Of course, if you want a competition to generate buzz and legitimacy, you need a few marquee names to act as judges. To that end, designer Christian Siriano (no stranger to this type of competition), image architect Law Roach, Loveseen founder and former J.Crew president Jenna Lyons and InStyle style director Laurel Pantin have all signed on to participate as judges and mentors. As was surely part of their contract with the brand, most of the judges announced their participation on social media Wednesday, as well as their own promo codes for 20% off the e-commerce site. The response was... not all positive.
Many of the judges' fans and followers, as well as members of the fashion community, have expressed surprise and disappointment.
Despite Shein's massive popularity among Gen-Z shoppers, the company — which adds up to 1,000 new styles to its site per day, many of which cost under $10 — is often criticized by advocates for sustainability and fair labor practices. Like other retailers of its ilk, Shein is also frequently called out by designers for knock-offs. It hasn't exactly established a ton of goodwill among the fashion community.
After receiving an onslaught of critical comments on her Instagram post, Lyons disabled comments. Meanwhile, Siriano's team opted to go the individual deletion route, commenting on his own post, "We deleted negativity! Thank you."
On Roach's, the comments are still there, at least for now. A sampling:
"I really love you but so disappointed to seeing you working with Shein - are you not against their 1) exploitation of workers 2) contributions to waste and environmental damage 3) stealing from designers?" — @cardi.zee.
"Nope, not into this. When many of the small businesses I follow have their designs stolen and then get ignored, ghosted, and lied to, it makes me sad and angry. Really should not be supporting such a company." — @jennynashd.
In response, Law commented: "My Tribe please just watch this when it airs and you will see why I choose to do this!!! I promise you will be proud of me ❤️❤️❤️❤️."
Lyons updated her post with an explanation of a similar tone, writing: "The reason I participated - if you are interested - is because the ENTIRE PROCESS was designed to support young designers, and all of the contestants were incredibly talented, passionate, and deserving of a chance at winning 100k." She added that she would be taking comments down "in order to preserve the positivity for the designers involved."
For Kardashian, who has 175 million followers, there seems to be a more even mix of negative and positive comments, as there probably are with everything she posts. Pantin doesn't appear to have posted anything yet.
It's impossible to imagine these five didn't assess the risk of partnering up with a controversial company. We'll have to wait and see if the sentiment changes when the series begins to air this Sunday.
Homepage photo: Dia Dipasupil/WireImage