SHEIN’s recent manipulative influencer trip is one of the worst rebranding attempts we’ve ever seen

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Updated Jun 27, 2023 at 11:57 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

A group of prominent influencers is facing widespread criticism after posting extensive positive reviews about one of SHEIN’s factories during a recent sponsored trip to Guangzhou, China—the city where SHEIN is headquartered and where many of its suppliers are located. Despite the clothing giant’s long history of labour rights violations, it seems as though creators are still lining up to sample a slice of fast fashion live in action.

 

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This recent influencer trip sheds light on SHEIN’s attempt to rebrand itself, and raises concerns about the visit being nothing more than a manipulative marketing ploy to deceive consumers into believing that the company has changed its ways. Yeah, right.

One of the most popular influencers who went on the trip is model and confidence activist Dani Carbonari. In a post and video tour shared on social media, Carbonari expressed excitement and admiration for the working conditions she witnessed. Her glowing review depicted a clean and well-lit factory, creating an impression of favourable practices.

Carbonari wrote: “I’m so grateful for @doraisclassic who answered all of my million questions and taught me so much about her country and Shein. I feel more confident than ever with my partnership with @shein_us. There are so many companies not taking half the initiative Shein is. They are aware of every single rumor and instead of staying quiet they are fighting with all of their power to not only show us the truth but continue to improve and be the best they can possibly be.”

 

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A number of netizens online felt that Carbonari failed to address SHEIN’s well-documented history of poor working conditions and labour rights violations. Despite the seriousness of these issues, her review appeared dismissive and undermined the concerns of workers who have experienced exploitation within the company’s supply chain.

Carbonari was not the only influencer taken on the SHEIN-sponsored trip. Other creators also posted similar content, using language that mirrored each other’s sentiments. This coordinated effort raises questions about the authenticity of their reviews and suggests a calculated attempt by SHEIN to control the narrative surrounding its practices.

 

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SHEIN’s blatant disregard for working conditions has been extensively documented. A 2021 investigation by watchdog group Public Eye revealed unsafe working conditions in 17 SHEIN supplier factories. Employees reported working up to 75 hours per week with only one day off each month, in violation of labour laws. SHEIN was also exposed for falsely claiming safe labour practices on its website and faced criticism for exploiting workers in its factories, paying them as little as $0.02 per item produced.

SHEIN has also been implicated in environmental issues, particularly in regard to the fast fashion industry’s unsustainable production practices and how they contribute to pollution and waste. Furthermore, a 2022 Bloomberg report revealed that SHEIN sourced cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, where human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic minority have been extensively documented. The use of cotton from this region raised further ethical concerns.

Following this case, Iman Amrani, the host of Channel 4’s documentary Inside the SHEIN Machine: Untold, publicly called out Carbonari for defending SHEIN’s practices. Amrani highlighted that the undercover investigation provided concrete evidence of labour law violations and criticised Carbonari for allowing herself to be used as a defence for these practices. This documentary, along with other reports, presents a more reliable view of SHEIN’s practices.

SHEIN’s influencer trip may have been an attempt to rebrand itself and distance itself from its tainted reputation, but the public response indicates that consumers are no longer easily swayed by elaborate marketing ploys. While the trip may have momentarily diverted attention from the company’s labour and environmental issues, it ultimately serves as a stark reminder of the need for genuine accountability in the fashion industry. Consumers and influencers alike must remain vigilant in supporting brands that prioritise ethics, sustainability, and worker welfare to bring about meaningful change in the industry.

While it is important to acknowledge the role of influencers in promoting ethical practices, the issue surrounding SHEIN’s labour abuses goes deeper than individual endorsements. Influencers themselves have become merchandise, reduced to digital personas driving online purchases. However, to truly combat the problem, we must shift our focus to the real villains behind the brand: the owners and capitalist forces that enable their continual flouting of laws.

By raising awareness about these monopolistic practices, lobbying for stronger regulations, and supporting alternative ethically-driven brands, we can strive towards meaningful change in the fashion industry.

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