What will Shein’s IPO mean for the retailer and for London?


Shein is kind of a big deal.

In 12 years, the Chinese fast-fashion behemoth has exploded in size and now reaches over 150 countries. Its $5 dresses and accessories have caught the attention of younger shoppers looking to get more for less. 

As it has grown, Shein has been in the crosshairs of American lawmakers. It initially planned to list its shares in the U.S., but it has since shifted its gaze to London, where it reportedly plans to float in the coming weeks. 

Although Shein has not officially announced a date, its eventual IPO would be London’s most high-profile in years.

What do we know about the IPO?

It is coming very soon and it’s probably going to happen in London.

Singapore-headquartered Shein is preparing to file a prospectus for its IPO that could value it at around £50 billion ($63.7 billion), Sky News reported Sunday. It could go public as early as this week. 

Shein was preparing to list in the U.S., but ran into problems over the company’s alleged use of cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, where ethnic minorities, including the Uyghurs, live. The company has argued that it has a zero-tolerance policy for forced labor.    

Its environmental practices have also been a cause for concern for countries that see them as unsustainable. 

The online retailer tried to swiftly move on by courting a London listing, but may find these issues continue to make life awkward, AJ Bell’s Russ Mould suggests. 

“Shein may find the glare of a public market listing uncomfortable given concerns about its governance, supply chain and business practices,” he said in a note Monday. 

people queuing up outside a Shein store
Shoppers queuing up at a Shein pop-up inside Forever 21 in Ontario, California.

Allen J. Schaben—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Why does it matter?

Shein’s float has been long coming, and could be one of the most significant ever in the retail sector. It would certainly be among London’s biggest IPOs in recent memory, following commodities company Glencore’s in 2011. 

In 2022, the company was valued at $100 billion, overtaking the combined size of H&M and Zara parent Inditex. 

That’s been driven by Gen Z’s strong appetite for low-cost clothing and Shein’s savvy use of social media to appeal to users—whether in the U.S., U.K., or elsewhere.

“Shein has succeeded in tapping into the rising popularity of online-only fashion retailers among young British women and it is now a key competitor in the world of young fast fashion in the U.K.,” Tamara Sender Ceron, the associate director of fashion and retail at market intelligence firm Mintel said in a 2022 report

What would Shein’s IPO mean for London?

If Shein lists in London, it could not come at a better time for the U.K. markets. Over recent years, a number of companies have either delisted from the London Stock Exchange or chosen to list elsewhere, in large part over concerns about being undervalued. Arm, the British chip company, is a particularly striking example of a major IPO that could have ideally been London’s, but wasn’t. 

Keen to avoid this happening again, officials from the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party—widely expected to win the country’s general election next month—recently held talks with Shein’s executive chairman Donald Tang in the hopes of nudging the company to list there, The Times of London reported. 

Given its size, the company’s IPO would bring London a much-needed vote of confidence, but that doesn’t mean Shein would no longer be scrutinized, with Britain’s lawmakers recently also calling for the company to be probed. 

Of course, London is calling but Shein isn’t guaranteed to answer. “The question for U.K. traders is will this [Shein filing its prospectus] lift the spirits of the FTSE 100, after the index fell 0.77% last week. If this does happen this week, then it would take London a step closer to being Shein’s IPO destination,” Kathleen Brooks, research director at XTB, said in a note. 

As for Shein itself, whether you’re a fan of the fast fashion firm or not, there’s no disputing that its listing will be a major event in retail. If its IPO goes smoothly, it could help the company gain more credibility among investors, regulators and buyers, not to mention further growth capital. 

Whether that will be enough to fend off the bad press and let its low-cost fashion do the talking remains to be seen. 

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