H&M vs. Shein: A battle of fast vs. faster fashion

What Happened: H&M has launched a lawsuit against Chinese e-commerce monolith Shein. The copyright infringement claim, initially filed in Hong Kong in 2021 against Shein’s parent company Zoetop Business Group, as well as Shein Group, alleges that Shein copied H&M’s designs several times. 

There is a “striking resemblance between the products, showing they must have been copied,” H&M’s filed injunction reads. 

“It is correct that we have an ongoing copyright infringement lawsuit toward Shein filed in Hong Kong,” H&M shared with WWD in a statement. “We believe that Shein in multiple cases has infringed on our designs and have therefore filed this lawsuit. As it is still an ongoing case, we choose not to comment further.”

Shein informed Jing Daily that it does not comment on pending litigation.

The Jing Take: Allegations of copyright infringement are just the tip of the iceberg for Shein. In recent years, the Chinese fast-fashion e-tailer has faced claims of creating a “looming environmental disaster,unethical labor and factory conditions, inviting influencers on fake factory tours, on top of of being cited as “the biggest national security threat you’ve never heard of” by critics in the US.  

Recommended ReadingWhat can fashion learn from the Shein PR debacle?By Sadie Bargeron

But this latest lawsuit launched by H&M against the Chinese e-commerce giant, according to some of fashion’s most staunch critics, is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. 

“But wait — since when did H&M care about infringing on someone else’s IP? As a fast fashion retailer, their offering has naturally ranged from ‘designer-inspired’ to full blown knockoffs,” US-based Instagram fashion critic Diet Prada posted on Wednesday. 


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A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada)

On Chinese social media, netizens commented that the case was tricky, given that H&M has also been accused of copying the work of others. 

“It’s hard to say,” said user @不吃搅团 on Xiaohongshu. “A fast fashion brand is accusing another fast fashion brand of plagiarism. Other luxury labels that have been genuinely copied may have nothing to say.”

Those “other labels” include Asian-American designer Chet Lo, who in 2022, stated that a “certain fast fashion company” had copied his signature spiky designs

H&M (left) has been accused of copying designer Chet Lo’s spiky knitwear designs (right). Photo: H&M, Chet Lo Fall/Winter 2022

“As a small brand and queer POC independent designer, I have worked incredibly hard to produce something that was based off [of] my heritage,” Lo stated at the time. “I have always based my designs around my own personal experiences and I feel that it can be seen in my work.” 

Previously, H&M was lauded for collaborating with and celebrating the work of up-and-coming Chinese designers. In 2021, H&M joined forces with the local duo Pronounce to release a premium streetwear collection known as Blank Staples; and in 2019, the Swedish fast fashion retailer featured Chinese designer Angel Chen for a limited four-piece collection released in Asia and Canada.

Ultimately, critics say that fast fashion giant H&M may struggle to compete with China’s even faster players. Given that Shein launches up to 6,000 new items per day, the Swedish e-tailer, and other high street brands, may have a hard time keeping up. 

As the Instagram account Diet Prada puts it: “Are H&M’s concerns about protecting IP genuine, or are they just salty that they’re lagging behind?”

Additional research by Huiyan Chen.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.


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