In the constantly changing world of social media, where individuals can fall from stardom as quickly as they rose, social media influencers will do anything to get to the top, knowing almost no boundaries. The real task for these influencers is doing everything in their power they can to stay at the top. However, with “cancel-culture” on the rise, these influencers seem to have trouble navigating their way, making it harder for these individuals to stay out from under the microscope when it comes to one of the most popular topics in media: fashion. Fast fashion brands are being viewed more and more negatively and continue to be slammed as news continues to surface on the internet. However, influencers seem to be unable to learn their lesson, and continue to support these brands, teetering on their spot at the top. With social media, it is almost impossible to turn a blind eye to the controversies between style influencers and fast fashion.

One of the most popular searches on Tik Tok are “clothing hauls” from style influencers. Viewers are dying to see what the latest trends and style inspirations are so they can go order their own “hauls”. These clothing hauls are when influencers order a mass amount of clothing items at once, some up to even hundreds of items, and show their followers every single item they bought. These influencers encourage their viewers to hop on the online sites and buy it for themselves. To be relatable and influence a common population, these clothing hauls need to be affordable. The way to do this- fast fashion. Shein is one of the most popular fast fashion sites. This is because of its thousands of extremely low-priced options. Consumers are able to buy a shirt for as low as 5 dollars or maybe even less. Many question why in the world people wouldn’t buy from this online site to save loads of money. But, as the truth behind these fast fashion brands come to light, viewers are beginning to look down on these influencers and “cancel”, or no longer support, these influencers, running their names through the mud.

Fast fashion brands, like Shein, have faced hundreds of times in the spotlight because of the controversy over how their thousands and thousands of items are so cheap. Many wonder how they are able to manufacture so much for so little. It brings to question the conditions and economic factors of the production. It also brings to question how this site came to be and seemingly became so well-known overnight. Kate Miller, a university student that has an interest in fashion, says, “Before putting in the research and educating myself, I was always so confused how I was able to buy a top from Shein for, like, three bucks. Tik Tok introduced Shein to me in what seemed like overnight. It seemed like an amazing thing at the time. Not going to lie, I loved it- but that was before diving deeper into the facts.”

Shein, first known as SheInside, was founded by billionaire Chris Xu. She created this site in

2008, originally made for selling wedding dresses. In 2015, it became what we know today as Shein. This is when the brand began catering to fast-fashion styles. During the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 though, Shein really took off. With people stuck inside and not being able to shop in person, people looked for a different outlet of shopping with the instant gratification provided by technology. As Shein became more popular and Tik Tok grew, the two platforms seemed to work together to raise the popularity and use of Shein. In quarantine, consumers could scroll through Tik Tok to find what the popular styles and items were and turn to Shein to provide them with the items for extremely cheap prices. Mallory Russell, a previous consumer of fast fashion, said, “Unfortunately, I did fall victim to the fast fashion of Shein during Covid. Looking at it from a surface level, it is extremely enticing. Especially sitting in quarantine. I was looking for things to do. Buying more and more new things from Shein was the easiest way to fill my time. Obviously, now knowing what I know, I have learned a lesson and do my part to contribute to slow fashion.”

Shein has come to use technology to keep up with trends and produce at an even faster rate. The use of technology allows Shein to fulfill the wants and needs of consumers at an extremely fast rate. The brand has turned to using Artificial Intelligence to keep track of trends and create new pieces. The use of AI has allowed Shein to scan the internet for rising trends and uses it to create online-only models of clothing. They add these items of clothing to the manufacturing process and pump out thousands more items to fulfill so many orders. These new pieces that are introduced by AI take only just a few days to produce. Because of this, Shein lists over half a million products at once on their site. The likelihood of being able to do this in buildings with quality working conditions is very slim. Rachel Basinksi, a university student that wants to pursue fashion, says, “There’s absolutely no way that the people making these hundreds of thousands of items, in just days, have fair working conditions. I can’t even comprehend the work that it must take by these individuals for a platform as big as Shein.”

Rachel’s guess is correct. An undercover worker at Shein secretly filmed what she found in production. In one of the factories, this undercover worker, from the U.K. Channel 4, found that workers made less than $600 a month, while they typically make up to 500 pieces of clothing a day. Even worse, their first month’s pay is usually kept from them. In a different factory, it was found that workers were only making 4 cents per item they made. If a mistake was made on an item, their pay was deducted. In the factories visited, almost every employee was working around 18 hours a day. Some could be seen using their breaks to wash their hair in the sink. The working conditions of these employees are inhumane, yet consumers continue to purchase from this site. Olivia Wilson, who has been doing her best to become more educated in this area, was left speechless after hearing this information. She said, “I just can’t even think about the workers in these situations. Knowing that there are girls my age being in these working environments…it makes me feel so guilty from ever purchasing from fast fashion sites. It makes me want to work even more at getting more into sustainable fashion.”

After the working conditions of Shein employees began to come to light, Shein knew it needed to dig itself out of a hole. This year, Shein tried saving its name by inviting some influencers on a brand trip to China to visit factories and company buildings. Their goal was to try and paint on a false look that their employee’s working conditions were nothing short of acceptable. Shein’s goal was to work with the influencers to build their reputation back up. However, it backfired, leaving the influencers that attended the trip in scrutiny under the public’s eye, receiving large amounts of backlash. Influencers that went to Guangzhou, China for this brand trip included Dani Carbonari, Destene Sudduth, Aujene, Fernanda Campuzano, Kenya Freeman, and Marina Saavedra. During this brand trip, these influencers posted many Tik Toks promoting the brand and their trip. They went around and spoke to workers at the factories. These Tik Tok influencers claimed that the employees they spoke to worked from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and they worked “like normal”. These influencers said that most things at these factors were robotic and the employees were enjoying their work. The Tik Toks these influencers posted were showing that the factories were just like any other normal factories. However, these claims were seen to be suspicious because most companies and brands do not allow influencers into their manufacturing floors. Many people speculate that a facade was painted for these influencers. Kate Tsironis, a university student, is very speculative of these influencer statements. She asks, “It’s one of the biggest fast fashion brands. How would it be possible that they are not exploiting employees? It doesn’t make sense.”

Kate brings up a valid concern. It seems impossible to believe what these influencers are telling their viewers. They are sent on an all-inclusive trip to promote this brand, of course they wouldn’t shed light upon the truth behind fast fashion. After the posts from these influencers, viewers became upset, and saw right through what they were trying to portray. These influencers received intense backlash and were looked down on for these posts. Followers were disappointed in these individuals with large platforms for promoting something that supports fast fashion. Since then, many of these influencers have taken down these posts supporting Shein. Olivia Wilson, who aspires to be an influencer, says, “I don’t understand how they thought these posts were a good idea. Influencers need to educate themselves on topics before supporting them. One Google search could have prevented them from falling off their platform.”

Influencers have the ability to promote whatever they want. Their followers look up to them and trust them. It is important they take the time to educate themselves on what they are supporting. Following this incident, many are enraged to hear news that another fast fashion brand may be selling Shein in stores.

Fast fashion brand Forever 21 has formed a deal to partner with Shein and begin selling their clothes in Forever 21 stores. Clothing from Forever 21 will also begin to be sold on Shein’s online site. Although there is not much news on this yet, this could have a negative impact and deepen the problem of fast fashion. This will lead to fast fashion being even more in demand, leaving the employees for these brands scrambling to make up the work. Mallory Russell says, “I can’t imagine what impact this may have. With two fast fashion brands working together, there can be no positive outcome for this. People need to be aware where the products they buy are coming from.”

Influencers need to take the time to know who they are promoting. They need to know there are impressionable viewers looking up to them. Olivia Wilson says, “Influencers need to be aware that the harmless free vacation they think they’re taking can wipe away their platform in a matter of days.”

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