An Influencer Trip to Mask Shein’s Misdeeds Backfires

The fast fashion giant has taken its latest misstep in the form of a botched influencer trip to China.

Shein's Guangzhou fulfillment facility. Credit: Shein via YouTube.

Reading between the lines of Shein’s botched influencer trip, the fast fashion giant seems to be trying to give its unsavory reputation a glow-up. The company, which produces 6,000 new garments every day and sells many for under $10, was tasked with proving they don’t use forced labor before the SEC would entertain talks of an IPO. (Don’t mind the lead-laced clothing and dangerous workplace conditions of its partner production facilities.) Shein’s strategies around maximizing profit seem at odds with doing anything meaningful to right its many wrongs.

Perhaps that was the thinking behind a recent influencer trip to Shein facilities in Guangzhou. There, some attendees set out to disprove the “misinformation” and “rumors” hampering the company’s reputation, meeting claims of factory worker happiness and corporate goodwill with an uncritical eye. One creator, positioning themselves as an “investigative journalist,” seemed unaware that real investigative journalists have risked their lives and wellbeing to go undercover and report on the conditions of factories where Shein garments are made. Presumably a maneuver to better the company’s reputation ahead of its rumored 2023 IPO, could the resulting blowback tank the brand’s ever-expanding ambitions?

Empty equipment in Shein's "sample production facility" in Guangzhou. Credit: @DaniDMC

Reactions to the widely-panned trip and the—at best—naive content produced by its participants have ranged from incredulous to amused. Diet Prada even rounded up the best reactions to the trip. One highlight came from Susan Bailey’s Twitter thread of reasons to suspect the “sample production facility” the group toured was merely a PR prop. Not to mention that, by Shein’s own admission, the company has little reason to produce its own samples since it primarily places orders from external suppliers. Perhaps most eyebrow-raising were the influencers’ recollections of definitely not-staged conversations with factory employees about their satisfaction with 8 AM to 6 PM workdays, “competitive” pay, and midday naps, despite evidence to the contrary.

Bailey, a self-described “career changer from fashion to fintech,” summed up her frame-by-frame critique with a mic-drop of a closer: “I don’t know any manufacturer that can afford to cut one garment at a time, not even in China where wages are low. You’re Shein, not Alexander McQueen.”

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