TikTok has become an instrumental platform for the e-commerce industry over the last few months. Aside from more recently enabling the sale of items on the platform, the voice of TikTok users greatly impacts businesses. Shein is one brand that rose via TikTok and is seemingly dying via it.
Shein’s Rise and Fall
Shein has been known globally for a very wide variety of clothing items that go for extremely affordable prices. The China-based company which began as a site for women to buy wedding dresses has quickly become one of the most popular sites, especially among young women.
Since 2020, the internet has been abuzz with clothing haul videos dubbed “Shein Hauls”. In these videos, countless micro-celebrities, fashion bloggers, and reality show contestants show off their Shein deliveries, in partnership with Shein.
These videos, which have made rounds on Instagram, YouTube, and mostly TikTok, are the company’s primary marketing strategy and have undoubtedly made the platform more popular and even drove sales to billions.
According to TIME, the company was able to generate $100 billion in gross sales ($30 billion net sales) in 2022 from $10 billion net in 2020. With this, Shein has exceeded the annual revenue generated by companies such as Zara and H$M that came before it.
However, even with the increased popularity and sales, Shein has also been the center of backlash for the negative effect it has had on the environment. But more controversial have been the working conditions in the over 6000 factories that have the Shein label in China.
According to a 2021 Public Eye report, Shein workers in Guangzhou were working 75-hour work weeks with one day off a month. Additionally, the report revealed they were being paid meager wages and worked in workshops lacking safety protocols like windows and emergency exits.
These allegations have over the years attracted a lot of negative publicity as advocacy groups protested these standards that violate workers’ rights. As a result, the brand’s popularity has also suffered and instead, other brands such as Fashion Nova and Oh Polly have begun to rise.
As the company looks forward to its IPO later in the year, clearing its name and brand is definitely a priority. Unfortunately, its attempt to win the public concerning these allegations has worsened the situation.
A Failed Attempt
In a bid to clear its name, Shein took 6 influencers on a tour to Guangzhou as well as to their headquarters in Singapore. Based on the videos and comments made by these influencers, Shein showed them a different work environment from the one reported by journalists.
“I expected the facility to be so filled with people just slaving away, but I was actually pleasantly surprised that most of these things were robotic,” said Destene, a TikTok creator with more than 4 million followers. “Honestly, everyone was just working like normal, like chill, sitting down, they weren’t even sweating.”
They only invited people with zero critical thinking, eating this propaganda up! pic.twitter.com/LS1Lgh2ISh
— Kim (@TheKimbino) June 25, 2023
Another influencer, Dani DMC, said in a now-deleted video that “I think my biggest takeaway from this trip was to be an independent thinker, get the facts, and see it with your own two eyes.”
“There’s a narrative fed to us in the U.S. and I’m one that always likes to be open-minded and seek the truth. So I’m grateful for that about myself, and I hope the same for you guys.”
However, other internet users have not bought the curated narrative and have instead called the influencers out for agreeing to be used for such a campaign. “It feels like they used you for damage control and it’s disturbing,” one commenter wrote on Destene’s video.
In response, Shein emailed TechCrunch saying “Shein is committed to transparency and this trip reflects one way in which we are listening to feedback…Their social media videos and commentary are authentic, and we respect and stand by each influencer’s perspective and voice on their experience.”
Unlike Shein, Dani could no longer stand by her testament. In a video on Instagram, she admitted that she agreed to the trip because being a plus-size influencer, such opportunities are difficult to come by.
Shein is now left to reverse the effects that this trip has had on its brands.
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