Swedish fashion behemoth Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) announced on Tuesday that it has filed a lawsuit against its fast-growing rival Shein in a Hong Kong court, for substantial copyright infringement.
Shein, which was established in China in 2008 and has quickly risen to the top of the global fast-fashion industry, is known for its affordable collections that appeal to predominantly young, tech-savvy consumers.
Zoetop Business Co., the Hong Kong-based entity that previously owned Shein, is among the defendants, as is Shein Group Ltd., according to a writ of summons issued in July 2021. Stockholm-based H&M has asked for unspecified damages and an injunction to stop Shein from further infringing on its copyright and trademarks.
“We have an ongoing copyright infringement lawsuit towards Shein filed in Hong Kong,” a H&M spokesperson said.
“We believe that Shein in multiple cases has infringed on our designs.”
Following a hearing before the Hong Kong High Court on June 21, information about the filing including images of numerous goods such as swimwear and sweaters that H&M claimed provided proof that Shein had copied its designs, was made available to the public. The next hearing is scheduled for July 31.
In the court document, H&M reportedly cite "the striking resemblance between the products showing they must have been copied" and the "sheer scale of (Shein's) unauthorised substantial reproduction of the copyright works."
Shein, which is currently based in Singapore, has declined to comment on ongoing legal matters.
In the fast-fashion industry, copyright infringement lawsuits are frequent, but they typically involve smaller, independent designers suing large shops, making H&M's claim against Shein uncommon.
Shein's sales in 2021 were far lower than those of H&M, but the company attracted the attention of businesses and designers in western markets like the US and Europe with its explosive growth of US$16 billion. This was powered by the quick introduction of new items and effective digital marketing methods on social media, namely using influencers on TikTok to propel the brand to a global household name for Gen-Z.
However their rapid rise has been dogged by ongoing controversy and lawsuits. Allegations of forced work and violations of human rights have been levied against it by critics, and this year alone, Shein has been the target of more than a dozen lawsuits in the US from plaintiffs claiming infringements on their intellectual property.
Additionally, several American solicitors have charged the fast-fashion retailer with a pattern of racketeering conduct, a strategy frequently employed to combat organised crime. They claim that Shein's business strategy depends on the theft of intellectual property, and the corporation normally compensates the designers with a little sum of money.
More to come as this story develops.