Elizabeth Wiredu
Jul 2, 2023

'No brand can escape supply chain scrutiny'—Comms lessons from Shein influencers row

Following revelations that it had violated labour laws, Chinese fashion e-retailer Shein invited influencers to visit its facility. What could possibly go wrong?

'No brand can escape supply chain scrutiny'—Comms lessons from Shein influencers row

The company invited the six US influencers to Guangzhou, China, for an official brand trip, promising them an exclusive insight into the process of designing, manufacturing, and shipping their garments. 

On TikTok, influencers' posted a video of Shein's factory, which appeared well-maintained, and employees appeared to be happy and working with automated robots that handled the products.

However, viewers expressed scepticism regarding the authenticity of the influencers' posts, with many alleging that they appeared to have used a similar 'script' for their content.

Shein's reputation has been hit by various controversies. In 2022, Channel 4 aired a documentary called 'Inside the Shein Machine: Untold', which shed light on the working conditions of two Chinese factories that supply clothing to Shein. 

The documentary revealed that workers have no fixed working hours and are only given one day off a month. Some workers were found to be working for 18 hours a day.

The new tour was meant to polish Shein’s image after investigations revealed unsafe and unsustainable working conditions in some of its factories.

PRWeek spoke to comms experts about what went wrong and what lessons can be learned.

“Put simply, Shein tried to run before they could walk,” said Leanne Bertolone, practice director and head of 'tinfluence' at Tin Man. 

"Successful influencer marketing will always come down to authenticity, trust and meaningful relationships between the brand and the creator." 

Suzanne Haysler, director of consumer at The PHA Group, said: “Influencer engagement campaigns and trips, in particular, must be considered carefully for any brand, to ensure that influencers are the right channel to communicate your brand messages."

Haysler added: “If Shein wants to authentically combat the claims against them, they should consider a more long-term, authentic campaign that honestly looks at the criticism posed against them and their impact as a brand. 

"If the intention was to convince consumers that the alleged ‘misinformation’ written about the company was a false narrative – namely around unethical working conditions and unsustainable processes – this was ill-advised."

Authentic

On a similar note, Florence Welke, senior PR strategist at Lush, said: “The key for press trips is transparency from brands. If companies offer factory tours to press and influencers, that’s great. But it needs to be authentic – giving true insight to the reality of the day-to-day business and the opportunity to talk to workers directly. 

“Brands aren’t perfect – but we need accountability, especially in times when environmental actions and impact matter most.”

“No brand can escape supply chain scrutiny - even those in China,” said Jon McLeod, partner at DRD Partnership. “Where the Internet is free, influencers may attract criticism if they are considered to have crossed a line.

"This may be made worse if the line between editorial and advertorial is blurred.”

Bertolone noted: “If you’re a brand facing issues and you think borrowing some credibility from creators will work – think again. This certainly wasn’t the fast fix that the fast fashion giant was after.

“The power of strategic influencer marketing can be game-changing for brands. When used as a ‘quick fix’ or a shortcut to build substance – as is the case for Shein – it will always fall flat.” 

Similarly, Haysler stated: "By using influencers to tackle this view of the brand, they have further exacerbated the issue, especially as the influencers invited only visited one out of 6,000 factories.

“In this day and age, consumers can see through attempts from brands to gloss over certain issues, and it’s clear that audiences feel the trip represents a staged version of factory conditions versus reality, whether that is true or not.” 

Source:
PRWeek

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