The Chinese fast-fashion brand Shein has long been scrutinized for the poor quality of its affordable clothes, stealing designs from independent artists, the environmental harm it causes, and allegations of the forced labor involved with making those clothes; it even resulted in a recent congressional investigation. But Shein’s effort to push back on people’s beliefs around Shein’s practices in the form of a sponsored trip to a Shein factory in China with several fashion influencers is backfiring spectacularly after viewers highlighted those discrepancies even more—and calling out the influencers who took part in those videos.
Earlier this month, Shein started to post videos taken during a days-long event at its location in Guangzhou, China. According to what’s shown in the video, Shein’s officers are sleek and spacious, its work floors are clean, and the workers have the time to. Also in the video are several fashion influencers filming everything they can and wandering around the facilities on a guided tour.
@shein_official This is where the magic happens! 🪄 Join the crew as they tour SHEIN's supplier factory to see how our clothes are produced. Next on deck? An epic night cruise to catch the stunning Guangzhou skyline! 🌃 @Danidmc @Destene and Brandon @Itsjustajlove @furnandaofficial @kenyamollie @Marina Saavedra #SHEIN101 #SHEINOnTheRoad ♬ original sound – SHEIN
Dani, one of those influencers, shared one of those videos with over 297,600 followers on TikTok and 481,000 followers on Instagram. In the video, she said she was “impressed” by the working conditions, called herself an investigative journalist, and added that she spoke with one of the fabric cutters, who noted that she was confused by the “rumors” about Shein’s working conditions that were spread in the U.S. (Dani’s video doesn’t show any part of this conversation.)
“I think my biggest takeaway from this trip was to be an independent thinker, get the facts, and see it with your own two eyes,” Dani says. “There’s a narrative fed to us in the U.S., and I’m one that always likes to be open-minded and seek the truth. So I’m grateful for that about myself, and I hope the same for you guys.”
In one video, Destene and Brandon also told their over 4 million TikTok followers that the workers were confused about what’s been told about Shein and noted that they got to nap after lunch.
“I expected this facility to be so filled with people just slaving away, but I was actually pleasantly surprised that a lot of these things were robotic,” Destene. “And honestly, everybody was just working like normal. Like, chill, sitting down. They weren’t even sweating. We were the ones sweating walking through the whole facility.”
@itsdestene_ Replying to @Melanin 👸🏿 Codi👑 im thoroughly enjoying this experience and seeing things with my own eyes 🏾 @SHEINUS #SHEIN101 #SHEINOnTheRoad #desteneandbrandon ♬ original sound – Destene and Brandon
Dani and several other influencers have also appeared in several of Shein’s videos for days, in which they’re shown praising the company.
But many viewers aren’t buying the rosy picture that Shein and the fashion influencers are selling.
Commenters called the influencers out for a lack of media literacy and not understanding that it’s possible that they might have been shown the version of Shein that Shein wanted them to see. They also pointed out that just because a company offers you a partnership—or, at the very least, a paid trip to China—doesn’t mean it’s the smartest choice to make.
“They took her to the model unit equivalent of the sweatshops like this can’t be,” @thisisnefertiti commented.
Some shared clips from a Channel 4 documentary that drastically contrasted with what Shein shares in its videos. The documentary clips featured footage from inside of Shein factories that paint a much different picture: That Shein is violating China labor laws by having employees work for 18 hours a day for a very low salary.
One of Dani’s videos defending Shein, which was posted back in May, went viral over the weekend as critics used it to explain how Dani, as someone who has a professional relationship with Shein, wasn’t an unbiased source on everything Shein. Franchesca Ramsey’s video offered a “translation” of Dani’s video, including that Shein had essentially paid her to stick up for the brand.
@franchesca_leigh #duet with @Danidmc #sheinpartner how do you say fast fashion propaganda without saying propaganda? #shein #influencertrip #brandtrip #shein101 #danidmc #fyp #fypシ ♬ original sound – Danidmc
But as some pointed out, there may have been other reasons the influencers in the video were chosen to visit Shein’s factories and warehouses apart from their potential reach. Aja Barber, for example, pointed out that many of the influencers who went on the tour were marginalized (e.g. some were plus-sized influencers; some were Black) and could have potentially been targeted because they might not get the kind of partnerships that white or skinny influencers do or because having them front and center could make Shein look progressive.
The fallout from the Shein influencer videos only shows how effective they were. It’s less about Shein successfully convincing people that working conditions in Shein’s Chinese facilities are as pristine as they look in the videos. When the videos came out, and the inevitable backlash began, it wasn’t Shein—already used to criticisms—that received the bulk of the internet’s wrath. It was the marginalized influencers who took Shein’s money to help a company accused of forced labor practices and inhumane working conditions look good.