While influencer brand trips can seem like a throwback to the infamous 2016 beauty influencer days, they’re definitely making a comeback on social media — including all of the messy drama that comes along with them. Following the notorious Tarte Dubai trip that took place in January 2023, and the Turks and Caicos vacation this past April, a new influencer trip has taken over social media… and not in a good way.
On June 20, influencer Dani Carbonari posted a series of stories and videos to her social media documenting her experience on a brand trip with the controversial fast-fashion site Shein. In an Instagram Reel, Carbonari filmed herself touring Shein’s factory floor while talking to employees and learning about the general processes regarding Shein’s design and fulfillment processes.
“it’s hard for me to even put into words how this trip has impacted me,” Carbonari wrote. “Not only getting to see with my own two eyes what the entire process of @sheinofficial clothing looks like from beginning to end but also getting to experience China surrounded by people born & raised there completely expanded my mind and just further confirmed how important travel & perspective is.”
Carbonari went on to critique the U.S.’s relationship with China, writing, “You have to remember our country is filled with so much prejudice – we want to believe we’re the best and no one else can be better. But what if we’re just different and no one is better than another? We can accept our differences and be intrigued by the individuality of it all.”
After posting these videos, Carbonari received immediate backlash — but why? Here’s everything you need to know about the Shein brand trip controversy.
Wait, so WTF happened?
This brand trip wasn’t like the others. On typical brand trips, influencers can be seen partying with themed outfits and going on crazy excursions. But the Shein brand trip looked more like a factory tour promoting Shein, rather than those typical influencers trips we find ourselves stalking in the middle of the night.
Creators Aujené, Destene Sudduth, and Kenya Freeman were flown out alongside Carbonari on an all-expenses-paid trip to Guangzhou, China to tour one of Shein’s 6,000 (yes, 6,000) factories. And instead of posting GRWMs and videos of them on, like, dirtbikes and whatnot, the creators neglected to mention Shein’s problematic history — and made the historically controversial brand look like a small, family-owned business. Her Campus reached out to each of the creators’ teams, but did not hear back at the time of publication.
Carbonari wrote about the trip, “There are so many companies not taking half the initiative shein is. They are aware of every single rumor and instead of staying quiet they are fighting with all of their power to not only show us the truth but continue to improve and be the best they can possibly be.”
Additionally, Aujené weighed in on Shein’s reputation of unfair working wages and factory violations — claiming that she talked to employes who refuted these claims. “When asking a few of the workers & employees about these topics everyone we came across was content with their salary and the idea of child labor was something they looked at me crazy for y’all,” she wrote in an Instagram caption. “A lot of the people are just trying to make an honest living and said their kids and the children they know are just like our kids in the states. They aren’t trying to work in factories their tryna be on Tiktok and IG.”
The comments on this video, and Carbonari’s, have also been disabled.
ICYMI, Shein isn’t exactly the most sustainable brand — and that’s an understatement.
It’s no secret that Shein has been a subject of controversy for as long as it’s been around. Between accusations of unfair labor practices, alleged labor rights violations, and fast fashion’s consequences on the environment, Shein has had its fair share of contention… and even a few lawsuits along the way.
In the 2022 Fashion Transparency Index, an annual report that compiles data from 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands to analyze their social and environmental efforts, Shein scored a 0-10%. Additionally, in Untold: Inside the Shein Machine, an investigative series released on the U.K.’s Channel 4 in October 2022, it was reported that Shein factory workers were being paid as little as four cents per clothing item during up to 18-hour shifts.
However, in Carbonari’s video (and the other invited influencers’ as well), none of these disputes were mentioned, much to the internet’s dismay. And while Carbonari deleted her video about the Shein facilities, the internet has been quick to make their opinions known under her recent posts.
“please speak out on this issue instead of covering things up, take accountability. this doesn’t just affect you, so own up and say something,” one user wrote under the comments of a Sephora-branded video. And under a photo of the creator, another user wrote, “How do you call yourself an ‘activist’ while accepting brand deals/money from a corporation that is ruining peoples lives and the environment?”
Carbonari did, however, briefly respond to the conversely in a now-deleted TikTok where she said, “I know exactly who the f*** I am, I know exactly what the f*** I’m doing.”
Carbonari went on to add, “I was not paid for any trip or to say anything,” she continued. “I was taken on a trip — once-in-a-lifetime chance — you would’ve done the exact same thing. I have so much more awareness of what’s going on behind the scenes than you ever could because you don’t see what’s going on.”