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Shein's IPO could raise billions. Here's what to know about the secretive Chinese-founded retailer.

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Talking Points: Are Temu and Shein's fashion deals too good to be true? (part 1) 05:27

Shein, the fast-fashion giant that's built a following through social media influencers touting a seemingly endless variety of new designs, has filed confidentially for an IPO in the U.S., according to the New York Times and Reuters.

Confidential filings are permitted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but if the IPO moves forward, the filing — which would include details about the company's financial operations, executives and more — would eventually become a public document.

That would allow everyone from potential investors to customers to take a peek inside a company that's kept much of its operations under wraps. Despite its tight lips, Shein has sparked plenty of controversy inside the U.S., ranging from lawsuits over alleged copyright violations to questions from lawmakers about whether the fast-fashion company relies on forced labor in China.

"An IPO is significant both because of the potential scale of the deal and because it represents a formalization of Shein's business," Neil Saunders, a retal analyst and managing director at GlobalData, told CBS MoneyWatch. 

He added, "Shein has provoked a lot of interest but not all that much is known about the company; an IPO will shine a spotlight on the business model and financials."

Shein declined to comment to CBS MoneyWatch on the reported IPO filing, which was filed for a reported 2024 stock sale.

Here's what to know about Shein and its IPO. 

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What is Shein?

Shein was founded in China in 2012 by four co-founders, according to its website, although the closely-held e-commerce company shifted its headquarters to Singapore in 2022. 

Shein (pronounced "she-in") has become one of the biggest online-only retailers by selling its clothing and other items at extremely low prices while keeping tabs on clothing trends. The company says it became the "most searched fashion brand in the world' by 2022.

It's also relied on aggressive marketing of its clothing to young shoppers on TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms, with customers unboxing and touting their purchases through the hashtag #SheinHaul.

"Shein is a very disruptive force in fashion and has seen its sales grow rapidly as it has become more popular with consumers around the world, including in the U.S.," Saunders noted.

Who owns Shein?

One of its co-founders, Chris Xu, continues to run the company and is a major stakeholder, yet little is known about him. 

Xu, whose Chinese name is Xu Yangtian and who was described in one lawsuit as "a mysterious tech genius," is reportedly worth $21 billion due to his 33% stake in the business, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. 

Born in China in 1983, Xu studied international trade at Qingdao University and worked at an online marketing company after college, Bloomberg said. 

The three other co-founders of Shein — Miao Miao, Gu Xiaoqing and Ren Xiaoqing — are also billionaires due to Shein's soaring popularity, Bloomberg reported. Miao, Gu and Ren all have stakes of about 8%, valuing them at about $5 billion each, the publication said.

When will Shein's IPO happen?

The IPO could happen sometime in 2024, Reuters reported

What is Shein's projected stock price?

That won't be known until the IPO is closer at hand and its underwriters — Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — set the stock price, based partly on demand from investors as well as the company's financials, such as its profitability and growth prospects.

But Shein is filing for an IPO at a time when demand for public offerings has been muted, Saunders noted. 

"A big question is what kind of IPO price Shein can command," he said. "A lot of recent IPOs have been something of a disappointment due to a lack of investor confidence and more scrutiny over profitability and multiples."

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How much could Shein be valued at in an IPO?

The company's valuation could be as much as $90 billion in a U.S. initial stock sale, according to Bloomberg News. 

That would make Shein more about three times as valuable as retail giant H&M, which has a market capitalization of about $27 billion, according to financial data provider FactSet. 

Could Shein's controversies impact its IPO?

There could be some "political rumblings" as the IPO progresses given that some lawmakers have asked the SEC to audit Shein before allowing it to sell stock to the public, Saunders noted. 

"Quite whether the SEC deems this necessary or appropriate remains to be seen," he noted. "As part of its filing, Shein will need to discuss its supply chain and how the business works, so this will place more scrutiny on the ethical dimensions of the company."

What will investors learn from its IPO filing?

Once the registration filing is made public, investors will be able to find out more about the company's operations, including its sales growth, profitability and its management structure, among other topics. 

"Investors will want to understand how profitable Shein is," Saunders said. "This is especially important as online fashion can be a tricky sector to make money from."

He added, "Shein has been very fast-growing so one of the key questions is how it maintains this pace."

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