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Temu: Cheap but at what cost?

Navily Zhen

Selling a washing machine for $38.17, an “Apple Watch” for $11.07, and the “Adidas + Yeezy Foam Runner” for $9.98, Temu is an online shopping site that has gained immense popularity due to its ridiculously low prices. Like Shein and AliExpress, Temu allows Chinese vendors to sell their products to US consumers and ship them directly.

Just 8 weeks after its launch in September, Temu ranked 5th on the list of most downloaded free shopping apps on the Apple App Store behind Amazon, Shein, Walmart, and Nike. As of March 2023, Temu has gained over 24 million downloads. Due to its cheap prices and similarities to the popular fast fashion brand, Shein, Temu has garnered similar concerns over its environmental impact and possibilities of unethical labor practices.

Temu creates the false reality that they are committed to environmental sustainability. Its website claims to offset carbon emissions for every order and encourages customers to combine small orders to reduce waste in excess packaging. However, overconsumption and unregulated labor usage are two main issues when it comes to shopping on Temu.

In 2022, two lab tests found that garments shipped to the United States by Shein were made with Xinjiang cotton, a massive forced labor industry tied to the genocide of Uyghur people in China. In June 2022, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act banned anything made in Xinjiang from entering the United States unless proven that the goods are not made with forced labor. In January 2023 alone, 282 shipments were held “for further examination based on the suspected use of forced labor.” Staff claims to be working 18 hours a day while making the equivalent of “pennies on each item.”

The low prices of commonly bought goods are attractive to consumers, especially after seeing influencers on TikTok promoting the website. 75% of 18-24-year-olds believe influencers can be held somewhat accountable for the rise in disposable fashion. This makes sense considering the increasing amount of ads promoting Temu through popular retail locations such as Starbucks and Sephora, stating that Temu has “partnered” with these brands to provide discounts when downloading the app, which is a false advertisement. Influencers and social media have increased overconsumption of fast fashion with environmental consequences.

Although websites like Temu, AliExpress, and Shein are more accessible to lower-income individuals, the unethical practices of these large corporations continue to fuel the cycle of microtrends that result in massive waste production. The fast fashion industry requires 93 billion cubic meters of water and is responsible for around 20% of industrial water pollution. Carbon emissions are also estimated to increase by 50% by 2030. This waste usually ends up in landfills or is transported to and dumped in developing countries that do not have adequate infrastructure to deal with this waste. It is not lower-income individuals and developing nations responsible, but rather the wealthier population and developed nations who consume on such large scales. This can be seen particularly by the influencers who make over $500 hauls on sites like Temu.

As Temu rises in popularity and becomes a competitor to Amazon, it is important to discuss the environmental impact of overconsuming lowly priced goods and question whether it is sourced ethically.


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  2. Conrad, J. (2022, October 26). How Retail App Temu Lures US Shoppers With Mind-Bending Prices. Wired.

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  7. Zenz, A. (2023, May 16). How Beijing Forces Uyghurs to Pick Cotton. Foreign Policy.


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