SHEIN, an online retailer of fashion, beauty and lifestyle products, is advancing its adoption of digital thermal transfer printing with the goal of accelerating printing efficiencies and reducing the environmental impact of textile manufacturing in its supply chain. SHEIN has reached a new milestone in its multi-year strategic plan to transition a significant amount of its printed products away from traditional screen printing in favor of less water-intensive printing methods. Since the start of this initiative in December 2018, SHEIN has converted over 50% of its directly sourced prints to use digital thermal transfer printing. This technique lends itself to SHEIN’s small-batch production process, helping to cut down on inventory waste and conserve resources from the start.
While more expensive than traditional screen printing, digital printing methods offer a range of benefits, among them reduction of water and energy consumption. Digital thermal transfer is a printing technology in which dyes are printed onto thermal transfer paper before being transferred into the fabric to form a pattern. While conventional screen printing uses 0.49 tons of water to produce 100 meters of fabric, SHEIN’s digital thermal transfer printing technology is completely dry, improving operational efficiency and reducing each garment’s water footprint. Over the course of the past four years, the implementation of this model has enabled SHEIN to save 590,000 tons of water, equivalent to roughly 1.18 billion 500-mL (equivalent to a standard 16.9 fl oz bottle) bottles of water. In a voluntary audit conducted by Bureau Veritas (BV) – a world leader in testing, inspection and certification services – the report confirmed SHEIN’s digital thermal transfer printing is a zero-water waste printing process. In addition, it uses Oeko-tex certified inks which are free from hazardous substances.
Since its founding, SHEIN’s agile supply chain model has allowed the company to stay on top of and quickly produce small orders on demand. The adoption of this new printing technology supplements the company’s small batch model, enabling more textile designs and patterns to be printed efficiently, making it an ideal option for producing a variety of items before deciding whether to raise output or cease production based on market feedback.
Digital textile printing also cuts down on fabric waste by improving print quality. The technology can detect any flaws or blemishes created from complex designs or creating patterns, and remove them before transferring the patterns to the fabric. The quality of printing is enhanced, resulting in an increased percentage of high quality finished clothes, in turn reducing overproduction and resource waste at the source.
“With our investments towards scaling the adoption of digital transfer printing technology to more than 50% of our supply chain, SHEIN creates value for its entire value chain from end-to-end. We enable our suppliers to optimize manufacturing practices and at the same time reduce their risk of overproduction and environmental footprint, while offering quality products and variety to our customers. Digital textile printing is taking hold as an efficient and sustainable technology that will continue to support our scope 3 impact-reduction goals as we further expand its use within our supply chain in coming years” says Adam Whinston, Global Head of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) at SHEIN.
As part of its efforts toward improved textile manufacturing, earlier this year SHEIN shared its 2021 GHG Emissions Inventory and Plans to Reduce Carbon Emissions by 2030, a renewed commitment to its Supplier Community Empowerment Program, an initiative that aims to advance supplier partners and their communities at different stages of their development, the establishment of a SHEIN Spotlight Program to empower families within the communities of suppliers it sources from.