How Do You Convince People Your Sweatshop is Cool? Pay an Influencer To Tour It.

A SHEIN marketing campaign has been met with backlash online with some calling it "propaganda and lies".
Dani DMC SHEIN video​
Dani DMC SHEIN video 

A group of US-based influencers are under fire for their “glowing reviews” after a sponsored trip to a SHEIN factory in Guangzhou, China. 

SHEIN, a Chinese-owned fast-fashion brand, rose out of obscurity in 2008, gaining notoriety for selling on-trend but low quality garments at even lower prices to over 150 countries around the world. But despite its appeal amongst pennypinching Gen Zers, the company has periodically found itself facing accusations of labour abuse, vast environmental impact and workers stitching “help me” into the tags of garments.


After that kind of blowback, it’s understandable why SHEIN may have conjured up a marketing scheme to incise intense damage control. And, several weeks ago, the answer appeared: the company sent a gaggle of influencers on a paid trip to one of its “innovation factories” in Guangzhou, China. 

Among well-lit production lines, happy workers and clean conditions, the six online personas – including Dani Carbonari (@danidmc), AuJené Butler (@itsjustajlove), Marina Saavedra (@marinasaavedraa) and Destene Sudduth (itsdestene_)  – looked to put the nasty “rumours” and “misinformation” to rest.

Dani DMC — who describes herself as a “confidence activist” — released one now-deleted video on TikTok saying that she had seen with her, “own two eyes what the entire process of SHEIN clothing looks like from beginning to end.”

“I feel more confident than ever with my partnership with SHEIN,” she says. “There are so many companies not taking half the initiative SHEIN is.”

“They are aware of every single rumour 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.”


The biggest takeaway, DMC told her over 400,000 followers, was “to be an independent thinker.” 

“There’s a narrative fed to us in the US, and I’m one that always likes to be open-minded and seek the truth.”

Of course, much of this influencer content, featuring glowing reviews and walkthroughs, have faced a brutal backlash from people highlighting the contents' vast inconsistencies with investigations and reviews of the brand by independent sources.

Videos garnering hundreds of thousands of views on TikTok have labelled the trip as “propaganda” , involving “lies and misdirection”, especially in relation to its framing of SHEIN as abiding by international labour laws and worker welfare.

“On average, SHEIN workers are paid 3 pence per garment,” said John Pabon in one viral TikTok, a UN speaker and author of the book The Great Greenwashing: How Brands, Governments, and Influencers are Lying to You. He also lived and worked in China for 10 years developing worker betterment programs and transparency metrics for factories.

“While SHEIN did over 2000 audits of its suppliers… there is no record of these audits, there is no transparency of the process and there is nothing from SHEIN’s perspective of what they’re going to do to improve conditions.”


In 2022, British television’s Channel 4 launched an investigation, “Inside the SHEIN Machine: UNTOLD”, taking hidden cameras inside two of the thousands of factories owned by SHEIN and located in Guangzhou, China. Sending in an undercover worker, reporter Iman Amrani uncovered that employees received a base salary of 4,000 yuan per month ($825 AUD) to produce 500 pieces of clothing a day, often working up to 18 hours a day. Further accusations against the brand have circled rumours of lead-imbued clothing and theft of designs from small up-and-coming brands.

A few days after SHEIN’s influencer gaggle released their content, a US congressional report reignited the so-called “misinformation” spread about Uyghur workers in relation to the production of SHEIN clothing. The report is extensive and scathing, and throughout its pages it details SHEIN’s complicity in business practices surrounding forced labour.

On Monday, a spokesperson for SHEIN told NBC News that the company “is committed to transparency, and this trip reflects one way in which we are listening to feedback, providing an opportunity to show a group of influencers how SHEIN works through a visit to our innovation centre and enabling them to share their own insights with their followers.”


“Their social media videos and commentary are authentic, and we respect and stand by each influencer’s perspective and voice on their experience. We look forward to continuing to provide more transparency around our on-demand business model and operations.”

But if this marketing scheme tells us anything, it’s that SHEIN is feeling the pressure to change the framing of the brand. But despite their best efforts, it seems an influencer, a TikTok and a visit to one factory isn’t the successful smokescreen they’d hoped for.

Correction: Due to an error during editing, this story originally spelled the name of one of the influencer’s incorrectly. The correct spelling is Carbonari. We regret the error.

Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.

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