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Dani Carbonari
Courtesy of @danidmc

Shein hosts psyop factory tours for tone-deaf influencers

The fast fashion behemoth invited so-called confidence activists to visit a staged factory in China

One of the benefits of owning (or working for) a public-facing platform is that fashion brands will sometimes invite you on all-expenses-paid trips to far-flung destinations. Journalists and influencers don’t have to spend anything while being schlepped from in-store cocktails to handbag installations – but nothing is ever free. Part of the agreement is that you make a Faustian pact – that might as well be written in blood – to write glowing articles and espouse the brilliance of said brand’s activation on Instagram, which makes the journalistic aspect somewhat dubious. But when Shein sent a crew of so-called “confidence activists” to visit their so-called factories in China last week, something more nefarious was at hand.

Dani Carbonari, who has a combined following of more than 1.2 million, chronicled her sponsored trip to Shein’s Guangzhou outposts on TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube. “It has been one of the most life-changing trips of my life,” she said. “I was really excited and impressed to see the working conditions.” But, as experts have pointed out, Carbonari was taken to show-home renderings of Shein factories, where garments seem to be cut one piece at a time, leaving hundreds of machines unused. “I can spot a staged factory a mile off,” said Susan Bailey, a former production manager in knitwear with 20 years of experience in Chinese manufacturing. “Where are the garments on all these machines? Can they afford to have all this state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and no manufacturing?” 

“Bulk fashion production means cutting through several layers of fabric at a time to maximise efficiency,” she added. “Where are the fire escape signs, the first aid signs, and the fire extinguishers?” The videos taken during this press trip are at odds with the hidden-camera footage that surfaced in Iman Amrani’s 2022 documentary Inside the Shein Machine, where exhausted labourers work 18 hour-days, for 2-3p per garment, in factories without windows or emergency exits. “I was able to interview a woman that worked in the factory cutting department… and she was very surprised to hear about all the rumours that are being spread in the US,” Carbonari said, drawing a veil over the legitimate findings taken from independent investigations. But Shein is clearly well-versed in propaganda, having falsely claimed to have been internationally certified for safe labour practices as an exclusive Reuters report discovered.  

The other attendees – Destene Sudduth, Aujené, Fernanda Stephany Campuzano, Kenya Freeman, and Marina Saavedra – echoed Carbonari’s comments with strangely similar language. “Like many others, I’ve heard a lot of misinformation,” Saavedra claimed, while Sudduth said, “I expected this facility to be so filled with people just slaving away but I was actually pleasantly surprised.” While these influencers have actively misled their followers, they too have been misled by Shein, which showcased just one of the 6,000 factories under its control. If anything, the Shein psyop holiday is a cautionary tale for aspirant content creators: Carbonari et al are bleeding followers as a result of their ignorance and wilful deception. “I think my biggest takeaway from this trip is to be an independent thinker, get the facts and see it with your own two eyes,” she said. “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, so I’m grateful for that about myself.”