When an influencer supports Shein, criticism comes with the territory. As a company best known for violating labour laws and operating under an environmentally-unsustainable production model, this backlash should come as no surprise. But that hasn’t stopped creators from promoting the brand over the years— we all remember when Drew Afualo partnered with Shein in 2022 and ended up facing a hefty amount of criticism for it.
This week, TikTok users have once again questioned why influencers continue to support the company.
It all kicked off when creators started sharing their experiences from a recent Shein-sponsored trip to China. With the attendees speaking positively of their experience and the brand, many users believe that the trip was a (relatively transparent) attempt by Shein to address the damaging narrative around the company.
Over the course of four days, the creators visited a Shein factory in Guangzhou and the company’s “innovation centre”— all while speaking with several managers, employees, and factory workers. The attendees seemingly had a similar perception of the brand, with many impressed by Shein’s high-tech infrastructure and the employee’s working environment.
AuJené Butler, better known as @itsjustajlove, posted a series of vlogs during the trip and addressed the allegations around the brand in her captions.
“I spoke to many workers as well as other staff employees on many issues the company has been facing over the past few years. They have declined many of the allegations that have been put forth and are aiming to open up more to share their side,” she writes in the caption of her ‘Day 3’ vlog. “Going to the facility really surprised me. They get thousands and thousands of orders daily from people around the world, but mainly in the United States, and over the past few years, they were able to create a system with high technology and workers that meet the daily demand they need to fulfill.”
AuJené’s content has since been deleted.
However, the influencer accounts from the trip stand in stark contrast with the findings from multiple public investigations into the company’s policies and practices— many of which claimed that employees are both underpaid and overworked.
According to the Swiss advocacy group Public Eye, factory employees, mostly migrants, work up to 75 hours a week, often working multiple shifts daily. Another investigation by U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 found that employees in two different factories worked up to 18-hour days, with some only paid the equivalent of four cents for each clothing item.
This inconsistency is something that the internet has taken issue with. Users have questioned whether the creators on the trip actually saw legitimate and working Shein factories. @susancashmere, a Twitter user with a history in fashion manufacturing, even created a thread explaining why the influencers likely visited a “staged factory.”
“First tip off is the lack of safety signage everywhere. Where are the fire escape signs, the first aid signs, the fire extinguishers??? Fashion creates a lot of dust and dust is flammable” she begins. “Where are the garments on all these machines? Can they afford to have all this state of the art manufacturing equipment and no manufacturing? Fast fashion means these machines need to be FULL to pay for them”
That being said, many have gone on to criticise these influencers, claiming they have “zero critical thinking [skills].” Besides AuJené, Destene and Brandon, Fernanda Stephany Campuzan, Kenya Freeman, and Marina Saavedra have received backlash for supporting the brand and going on the trip. But out of all the creators involved, Dani Carbonari (a.k.a @itsdanidmc) has emerged as one of the more vocal attendees.
Dani took to TikTok in a now-deleted video and addressed the criticism around the Shein tour, doubling down on her positive messaging about the brand.
“I was not paid for any trip or, to say anything. I was taken on the trip, a once-in-a-lifetime chance. You would have done the exact same thing,” she says. “I have so much more awareness of what is going on behind the scenes than any of you ever could because you don’t see what is going on… If you think it is propaganda, that’s cool; again, you have never been to China, and you have never seen what is going on.”
As the attendees continue to defend Shein, internet culture enthusiasts have started questioning why they refuse to criticise the brand— especially considering the concerning stories about Shein’s labour practices that have been brought to light by reliable organisations over the years. Beyond potential contractual obligations with the company, many users have pointed to the lack of opportunities afforded to minority creators, making these groups more likely to support controversial brands like Shein.
As @OteghaUwagba writes on Twitter, “Not a defence of these influencers at all, but can’t help but notice the group is v diverse – plus size/Black etc. Makes me think these influencers are those who (as we know!) don’t get as many brand opportunities and are therefore more willing/grateful to work with whoever.”
Twitter user @chaedria had a similar take, sharing that “Shein chose women that they thought would be desperate enough for the perks. Notice there are no thin White women here; it’s a non-verbal messaging that this shit is beneath them, but they called in women that they don’t think are.”
All things considered, the Shein brand trip serves as a poignant reminder of how easy it is to get caught up in the creator economy— with many influencers quick to prioritise perks, free trips and opportunities to grow their platform while overlooking looming ethical and moral issues.