• Sourcing Journal

AliExpress, Shein Caught Selling Toxic-Chemical Clothing


Buyer beware: Customers who purchase clothing from ultra-fast-fashion e-tailers such as AliExpress, Shein and Zaful could be exposing themselves to potentially toxic chemicals, a new investigation has found.


In a recent analysis of 38 children’s, adult’s and maternity items, commissioned by CBC’s “Marketplace,” scientists found that one in five contained elevated levels of lead, phthalates and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS.


A jacket for toddlers purchased from Chinese startup Shein contained nearly 20 times the amount of lead that Health Canada says is safe for children, the Canadian watchdog program said. A red purse, also from TikTok’s buzziest brand, registered five times more than the agency’s threshold. Lead contamination is a long-recognized hazard, resulting in potential cardiovascular, kidney, nervous system and reproductive problems. Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible.


One women’s raincoat, purchased for less than $13 from AliExpress, an eBay-like platform owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, harbored levels of PFAS far higher than the “trace amounts” that Health Canada allows. PFAS are a controversial class of “forever chemicals” that provide many types of outerwear with stain and water resistance. Linked to a raft of health concerns, including liver and kidney damage, reproductive abnormalities and a higher risk of certain cancers, they can also accumulate in humans and wildlife, travel through soil and groundwater, and concentrate in indoor air if they’re airborne.


A clear plastic tote from Zaful, another Chinese e-tailer, contained enough phthalates that the scientists asked Health Canada to review the product. The agency restricts certain phthalates in children’s toys to no more than 1,000 parts per million each. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that have been connected to reproductive issues, including infertility, and some types of cancers.


“People should be shocked—this is hazardous waste,” said Miriam Diamond, an environmental chemist and University of Toronto professor who oversaw the testing. “I’m alarmed because we’re buying what looks cute and fashionable on this incredibly short fashion cycle. What we’re doing today is to look [for] very short-lived enjoyment out of some articles of clothing that cost so much in terms of our…future health and environmental health. That cost is not worth it.”


Nathaniel Sponsler, group director of Apparel and Footwear International RSL Management, better known as AFIRM Group, a multistakeholder organization that works to reduce toxic chemicals in the industry, said he wasn’t surprised by CBC‘s findings.