"They weren’t even sweating” - influencers criticised following Shein factory trip

Before the storm: A model walks the runway during the Shein's 'Endless Summer Show' in Paris earlier this month
Before the storm: A model walks the runway during the Shein's 'Endless Summer Show' in Paris earlier this month Copyright Kristy Sparow/2023 Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue
Share this article
Share this articleClose Button

A group of influencers have faced criticism after posting videos from a paid trip to a factory in China owned by the much maligned fast fashion retailer.

Fast fashion retail company Shein is in hot water again after taking a group of influencers on a paid trip to a factory of theirs in Guangzhou, China.


The controversial company, which has been accused of labour abuse and has, in the past, admitted to breaching rules around working hours, gave the group of six US fashion influencers a tour of its so-called ‘Innovation Factory’.

Jade Gao/AFP
Shein's packaging on show at a garment factory in Guangzhou, 2022Jade Gao/AFP

In a video released by Shein on TikTok, the visitors were shown a clean, bright factory with happy looking staff working alongside automated bots which supposedly process and package orders to be sent out from the multi-million dollar outfit.

The video from Shein and others from the individual influencers' accounts faced criticism by commentators claiming they were presenting a whitewashed version of the company's questionable labour practices. 

While a number of positive videos from the influencers appear to have been deleted following widespread backlash, some remain with the internet stars ignoring critical comments.

@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

Destene Sudduth, who boasts 4.1 million followers on her TikTok account, has left up a number of videos, including one where she apparently learns the workers only spend eight hours a day at the factory and have short commutes. In one comment, which has been heavily attacked in the video’s comments, she attempts to prove that the workers are not in sweatshop conditions, saying, “they weren’t even sweating”.

Other influencers on the trip - Dani Carbonari, Aujene, Fernanda Stephany Campuzano, Kenya Freeman and Marina Saavedra - also shared similarly positive posts on social media about their visit, but comments on the posts and Twitter have claimed the group have been following a script for their content, using all-too-similar language.

Online commentators have also pointed out that the group only visited one factory out of some 6,000 owned by the company and that the influencers only lightly touch on allegations made against Shein on their labour and environmental policies.

Last year, UK TV station Channel 4 sent an undercover worker into two Shein factories in Guangzhou and found that workers receive a base salary of just 4,000 yuan per month (€503) for up to 18-hour-long days and are expected to produce 500 pieces of clothing per day with just one day off a month.

Shein later admitted they had conducted an independent investigation which found that their employees were working longer than was legally permitted, claiming that at one of their factories, some staff were working up to 13-and-a-half hour days with two to three days off a month and at another site, people worked up to 12-and-a-half hour days with no fixed days off.

At the time, Shein released a statement saying, “while these [hours] are significantly less than claimed in the documentary, they are still higher than local regulations permit” and vowed to invest $15m (€13.7m) to improve these work environments.

Jade Gao / AFP
Another side to Shein: workers make clothes at a garment factory that supplies the fast fashion brand, 2022Jade Gao / AFP

The company, which releases a staggering amount of new pieces on a daily basis — estimated to be between 700 and 1,000 individual items — has long been accused of mistreating its workers and causing untold damage to the environment, by fuelling a need among some consumers to buy endless clothing which is often only worn once and then rejected, with much of it ending up in landfill sites.


Shein is by far the most mentioned clothing brand on TikTok with the app playing host to millions of ‘hauls’ from Gen Z creators.

Many of these young consumers have praised the brand since the influencer trip for its apparent ethical treatment of workers, others have poured scorn onto the tour, calling it a stunt, with some going so far as to say the factory was ‘fake’ — pointing out a lack of fire escapes and extinguishers and workers cutting individual garments, a practice which is typically only undertaken in haute couture environments as opposed to brands which frequently charge mere pennies for clothing.

After watching the videos of the influencers posing for photos with grinning workers and interacting with automated machines which send off the packages of cheap clothes to their new homes, one Twitter user commented, “The funniest part of the Shein debacle to me is the influencers acting like they went undercover to investigate. You were invited, of course, it’s PR”.

@shein_us Our influencers and designers had an incredible experience connecting with the brilliant minds at one of our main manufacturers at SHEIN ?✨ Go behind the scenes with our team in Guangzhou, China and stay tuned for more from our #SHEINOnTheRoad series! ? #SHEIN101♬ original sound - SHEINUS

Another added, “Shein is sending the influencer girlies to China to some (PR) ‘innovation’ factory where it looks pristine and super clean and the workers are having fun while sewing and the company saying they pay a ‘competitive’ wage lol”.

Speaking to The Independent, Shein refused these claims, saying they are “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”, adding, “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”.

Share this article

You might also like