Monday, June 17, 2024

Shein and Klarna: A Bright Pink Fast Fashion Match Made In Hell?

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Are buy now, pay later platforms like Klarna taking us even further away from sustainability in fashion? It turns out, the answer is likely yes and no. Let’s dive in. 

A bright pink bus, filled with Barbie-esque clothing, recently arrived in Birmingham, U.K., to queues of eager bargain-hungry shoppers. The result of a collaboration between Shein, a fast-fashion giant, and Klarna, a buy now, pay later platform, the bus — which had the slogan “In Pink We Trust” — on the side, offered beauty treatments, makeup freebies, and, of course, a heck of a lot of clothes.

But while it looked pretty in pink from the outside, the bus is likely the emblem of a much more damaging partnership. Shein has been inundated with allegations concerning the exploitation of factory workers, and fast fashion, as a whole, is fuelling a textile waste crisis that is suffocating the planet. But with the help of Klarna, Shein, and other fast fashion brands like it, are growing stronger.

What is Klarna and how does it work?

Klarna, which is short for Klarna Bank AB, is a Swedish company that strives to make “online shopping simple,” according to its tagline. It’s basically a buy now, pay later service, which means that you can buy the products you want immediately, without paying the full cost right away. Instead, Klarna allows you to delay or split the cost of your purchase over several payments, making the bill much more manageable.

Greenpeace tested Shein's clothing for phthalates
Shein is accelerating its fast fashion footprint | Courtesy

Characterised by its bright pink logo, Klarna has partnered with several brands in the fashion space, but you can also use it for many other types of purchases, including toys, sports gear, electronics, and homeware, too.

Is Klarna perpetuating the textile waste crisis?

Klarna’s mission is rooted in making it easier for more consumers to access the products they want now, without having to wait to save up for them. It means that, if you really want that fast fashion haul tomorrow, you can make that happen by splitting the payments into manageable chunks.

But while the company claims to care about sustainability and circularity, there is a clear consequence of making rash cheap clothing purchases easier than ever before: waste. 

As well as Shein, Klarna has partnerships with several major fast fashion brands, including River Island, Boohoo, Asos, Missguided, and Pretty Little Thing, all of which upload thousands of new styles to their websites every single day. Most are made with synthetic fibers, like polyester, and will not biodegrade when they are eventually thrown in the trash — which happens more than you might think. 

forever 21 ad
Forever 21 is a leading fast fashion offender | Courtesy

In fact, around 92 million tonnes of garments end up in landfills every year (which is the same as one garbage truck of clothes arriving at a landfill site every second). Ultimately, for many of its 150 million active users, Klarna makes it all too easy to contribute to the trash pile. It doesn’t just encourage consumers to buy first and pay later, but also to buy first and think about the consequences later, too.

As Grace Gausden, iNews money editor and former Klarna user, wrote for iNews last year, the platform enables financial spontaneity in a whole new way. And this isn’t just potentially contributing to the ever-growing fashion waste mountain, but also individual debt, too.

“In the past year, I’ve used it on £1,446 of items I may well not have bought had it not been invented,” writes Gausden. “As we’re all feeling the strain of inflation, my use of buy now pay later increasingly bugged me. It enabled my financial spontaneity and allowed me to spend beyond my means. In short, it made my bad financial habits worse at a time when they needed to get better.”

Can Klarna be used for good?

When it’s used to fuel excessive fast fashion habits, Klarna is a major concern. But the platform has many brand partnerships, and some of them, like Plant Faced, Tala, and Stella McCartney, are actually widely considered to be part of the sustainable fashion movement. And historically, sustainable fashion brands are more expensive for consumers, due to the higher quality of materials (and the price of a more ethical supply chain). Using Klarna makes these brands more accessible to the masses. 

Taking things one step further, back in June 2023, Klarna also introduced new tools, like a CO2 emissions tracker for each product, for example, that would enable consumers “to make more informed purchasing decisions.” 

Kourtney Kardashian for Boohoo
Kourtney Kardashian for Boohoo | Courtesy

“We recognize the power of Klarna’s growing network of 150 million consumers, which comes with a responsibility to leverage our platform for good,” said Sara Davidson, Klarna’s Sustainability Marketing and Communications Lead. “Our aim is to empower individuals to align their purchases with their values, catalyzing progress for a brighter future for our planet.”

Arguably, there is no bright future that includes the growth of Shein, which Klarna is helping to facilitate. To many, the ultra-fast fashion corporation is synonymous with exploitation, destruction, and waste. It’s hard to reconcile Klarna’s sustainability promises with this partnership. But, that said, if you’re looking to shop from more ethical brands, it might help give you a leg up. Just make sure you use it with caution, and always within your means. 

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