Chinese platform Temu has taken the US by storm with its low-cost bargains and a vast array of products. The company topped US app download rankings in early April, making it the second Chinese-made shopping app, after Gen Z favorite Shein, to make a splash in the US market in recent years. Temu is a superstore that sells everything from makeup to homeware and electronics, and its success has caused some leading US fashion companies to worry about their exposure to China. However, the company’s rapid rise has come as platforms with links to China face growing scrutiny, and the future of youth-favorite TikTok appears increasingly uncertain.
According to Sensor Tower data, some of the most popular platforms downloaded in the US currently have Chinese roots, including TikTok, video-editor CapCut, and fashion upstart Shein. Since its launch in September 2020, Temu has had 33 million US downloads, with user numbers surging in February after the company aired its commercial spots during the Super Bowl, the most-watched TV event in the US.
Temu is primarily sourced from China, which allows the company to tap into the country’s strengths in producing apparel with greater variety and flexibility. Furthermore, the company qualifies for US waivers on import duties for lower value shipments. However, Temu and Shein’s ascent has been accompanied by scrutiny over the potential fast fashion waste they generate. In 2020, Shein apologized for products like a swastika necklace, while in 2021, non-governmental group Public Eye found that some workers behind Shein’s breakneck production toil for 11 to 13 hours a day.
Both Shein and Temu may have to grapple with similar scrutiny to that faced by TikTok, whose future remains uncertain amid allegations that its data haul amounts to a national security threat. Georgia Institute of Technology professor Milton Mueller downplayed the danger of shared data, arguing that “the nationality of the company is a very crude and nationalistic criterion” in assessing security threats. Meanwhile, the vast majority of US consumers shrug off security concerns, but some, like Wolfe, use virtual private networks and make payments through PayPal for added layers of security.
In the face of growing US-China tensions, Shein and Temu are thriving, primarily because they source their products from China and rely on the country’s strengths in producing apparel with greater variety and flexibility. Shein, in particular, has utilized data collected from its apps and other social media channels to gain insights into consumers’ shopping habits and lifestyles, enabling the company to offer in-demand items. However, the ascent of Chinese apps has been accompanied by scrutiny over potential fast fashion waste and labor conditions.