Euphoria and disenchantment at Shein's arrival in Barcelona

The Chinese online fashion giant, which is worth more than Inditex and H&M combined, opens a temporary store in Portal de l'Àngel

3 min

BarcelonaCayetana and her mother, Susana, have been queuing since half past five in the morning. They are not waiting for the star of the latest Netflix series or their favourite music band. They have been standing for hours in a line of dozens of people at Portal de l'Àngel because their online store of choice is finally opening a physical shop. It will be there for the next ten days. Shein, the Chinese fast fashion giant, landed this Thursday in Barcelona with a pop-up store that will be open until July 10 and that has generated great expectations after the the same strategy drew huge crowds a few weeks ago in Madrid.

"We must have placed orders of between €100+ or €200," admits Susana, who has sacrificed a few hours of sleep because her daughter wanted to live the 'experience' of the opening. As a reward for being among the first in the queue, some workers –the company has expressly asked staff not to speak to the media– hand out merchandising bags with a hair bands, earrings, a scarf and a sleep mask. The average age of these loyal customers is rather low, but increases if their parents and grandparents, who have come with them, are taken into account. Shein promised exclusive discounts to those who go to the store.

Queues at Shein's pop-up store in Portal de l'Àngel.

#Sheinhaul, #shein_haul, #sheintryonhaul, #shienhaul, #sheinhaulsummer, #sheinhaulplussize.... Any of these hashtags in multiple combinations of words and even with a few typos, the result of haste, are on billions of Tiktok videos centred around Shein's catalogue. Often, it is a young girl who opens a large package in front of her cell phone camera, and then picks out a huge number of clothes which she then tries on and shows her followers.

Had it not been for this kind of viral content (the company also pays influencers or gives them clothes in exchange for producing these videos), Elena would not have known that Shein was opening a shop in Barcelona. "I like it very much, now I buy everything there. He can tell you that," she replies, pointing to Àlex, her partner, who also came at six in the morning to wait four hours until they opened. "Every week she places an order for something," he says.

Halfway between brick and mortar and online

Far from the madness experienced at Shein's Madrid premiere, the first customers enter calmly and in order, while two sales assistants put a plastic flower necklace around their necks. The inside is decorated with pastel colors, summer motifs and small orange trees (also made of plastic). The speakers play reggaeton and there is a corner for taking photos for Instagram and recording tiktoks equipped with a light ring.

What's new is that, for the first time, consumers can touch the clothes they will buy from Shein before paying. What many of them didn't know, however, is that they won't be able to take the clothes with them. The firm has devised a hybrid system whereby they can try on items and order them on the spot through the app, but they will still have to wait a few days for the order to be delivered. If they want an extra 10% discount they will have to pay through Klarna, the Swedish payment platform that has just laid off 10% of its staff.

"It's been a bit of a disappointment. Besides, there aren't many things in her size," laments Susana, after strolling around the store for a while with Cayetana. Elena also responds with an air of disappointment, after rummaging through dresses and skirts for a quarter of an hour: "If I had known, I wouldn't have got up so early".

Behind the Shein phenomenon there are also uncomfortable debates, such as the environmental impact of hyper-consumerism and the working conditions in the garment workshops of countries in the global south, a scourge that haunts many other fast fashion brands. For María José, Amaranta and Ainara, aged 15 and 16, this reflection has come to them through Mònica, one of their secondary school teachers. "She recommends that we shop on the high street and that we don't need so many clothes, but... we haven't paid much attention to her," they admit with a laugh.

Shein's affordable prices, where a T-shirt can cost less than €3, reveal a social class component that does not escape its buyers either. "We know that the quality is low, but if it lasts us a couple of seasons that's something.... In these times when everything is going up in price, we have to go for the cheapest," says Jennifer, who hopes to find a swimsuit for the summer.