SHEIN's online shopping app. Image Source: Shutterstock.
In fact, because SHEIN operates solely as an export business, with the majority of its customers in Europe, America, Australia, and the Middle East, many Chinese consumers have also never heard of the brand or its founder. Almost all public information about Xu comes from a few articles and reports circulating around Chinese media.
SHEIN, which did not respond for a request for comment, is now worth more than $15B. The following information has been reported by Chinese news media outlets.
The SEO Master That Saw An Opportunity
Chris Xu was born in 1984 in the Chinese province of Shandong. He graduated from Qingdao University of Science and Technology in 2007 and moved to Nanjing to work for an integrated marketing consulting company, Nanjing Aodao Information Technology Co, in 2008, where he specialized in SEO.
After learning about the commercial value of selling Chinese goods to international markets at a markup, he left the company and began working on building an online retail store for cheap items with two co-founders.
During that time, Xu discovered that wedding dresses were one of the most highly-sought products from international markets. According to QQ news, once Xu realized that the only thing stopping international customers from buying products was currency conversion, he 'vanished' with his entire SEO team.
Using the money earned from selling wedding dresses, he began focusing on building SheInside, now known as SHEIN.
From Small Online Retailer to Global Online Shopping Brand
Like many Chinese online retailers at the time, SHEIN sourced clothing ordered in post-purchase bulk from wholesalers in Guangzhou. Realizing this operating model could not keep up with the rising demand, Xu began looking for external investors and eventually started building his own supply chain, which consisted of both designers and manufacturers.
Xu grew his company from around 50 employees in 2013 to over 800 in 2016, and then in 2018, began looking into hiring global talent. As of 2021, LatePost estimates the company now has over 10,000 employees.
Sina Finance reported that in 2014, SHEIN achieved significant growth in sales with the help of online influencers who received free clothing in exchange for social media promotion. Much of SHEIN's success is also credited to how it utilized Google trends finder to predict future styles and fads, such as its accurate prediction of lace's popularity in the U.S. during the summer of 2018.
Not having physical stores also played in favor of the retailing giant, as the global pandemic further increased its sales. In a recent survey by investment firm Piper Sandler, SHEIN ranks second, after Amazon, as Gen Z's favourite e-commerce site, coming ahead of notable brands such as Zara and Urban Outfitters.
Plagued by Controversy
SHEIN has not been clear of controversies either. Last year, the company was under scrutiny for selling Swastika Necklaces on its website and misidentifying Muslim prayer mats as 'Greek carpets.' Although the company later issued an apology on their social media page, explaining that the necklace was meant to be a Buddhist swastika, many people were outraged and called on others to not shop at the brand.
The lack of supply chain transparency has also proved to be an issue for many consumers. As the company's products are being sold at extremely low prices, nonprofits such as the Emma Watson-backed good on you have accused the company of poor labor conditions and putting zero effort into reducing its environmental impact.
Despite all the controversies, Luxe.co reports that SHEIN managed to secure 15 billion dollars in a Series E funding last August, and there are rumors that the company has plans to go public. Although SHEIN is now a global company, its management team has largely remained the same since its founding. Xu and his team have emerged as industry leaders, and as SHEIN grows, Xu will continue to remain a mysterious figure to many.
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