If you had to design the perfect, profitable fast fashion brand, it would look something like Shein. Huge, overwhelming and commanding enough popularity to deflect endless scandals and accusations of poor ethics, it’s taken over TikTok and even bumped off Amazon as the most-downloaded e-commerce app in the United States in May 2021.
But now it has a rival. Fellow Chinese online retailer Cider describes itself as “a taste, a state of mind, a celebration”. Functionally, it works exactly like Shein, listing small batches of hundreds of items per week and removing products within days if they fail to generate sufficient interest. It recently received a $22 million investment from American venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, demand on Google reached an all-time high in May, and TikTok is home to hauls with over 60 million views.
It’s these hauls that really pushed Cider into the limelight. Just like the infamous #sheinhaul – which has become so synonymous with hauls that it’s now just a generic haul hashtag – #shopcider has become home to OTT amounts of clothing, purchased for its low cost and high aesthetic and reviewed just as much for entertainment as it is fashionable value.
Unsurprisingly, TikTok is Cider’s target audience, and it shows. You can shop by mood on the website, giving you the option to filter according to whether you’re feeling “cute”, “sophisticated”, “hot”, “cool” or “cosy”. Relying on the app’s love for aesthetic personalities has been key to Shein’s success, and Cider has replicated the blueprint perfectly.
Yet its image is completely different. Beyond the TikTok bubble, Shein is saddled with all the usual negative connotations of a fast fashion brand, from unsustainable, exploitative practices to cultural appropriation. Cider has had its fair share of scandals too – it was previously accused of copying designs from Megan Ellaby’s brand Saturday, as well as reselling products purchased from AliExpress.
For the most part, however, it has managed to sidestep the shadier elements of Shein’s reputation by presenting itself as a small business. From the casual, non-stock image style of its imagery to separating its stock into smaller, curated sections on the website, at first glance it is more comparable to independent brands like Minga or Jaded London. This was a calculated move on Cider’s end. Talking to Business of Fashion earlier this year about its investment in the brand, Connie Chan, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, explained that its unique magic comes down to the fact it “looks like a direct-to-consumer brand on the outside but operates like Shein on the inside.”
Much has been made of Gen Z’s passion for sustainability, but this has never quite gelled with their love for OTT hauls. But when it comes to Cider, it makes sense – without the loud, excessive exterior of similar retailers, shoppers are buying into the image of supporting a smaller, more conscious brand that seemingly aligns with their ethical ideals. Shein should watch out – this is lightning fast fashion in disguise.
By Chloe James, fashion and beauty editor for CORQ.