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The ‘Inside The Shein Machine’ Documentary Found Apparent Evidence Of Theft

Memes about Shein employing child workers and using cheap materials have been circulating for years, but it seems that these jokes might be based in truth according to a new documentary. Red flags have popped up from time to time, including when messages for help were supposedly found in clothing tags, but there’s never been such an extensive look into the fashion giant.

On Oct. 17, Channel 4, a UK-based television network, released Inside The Shein Machine, a documentary about the inner workings of the online fashion company, hosted by journalist Iman Amrani. The perspectives of workers and managers are seen throughout the 47-minute film, giving consumers an idea of just what goes behind their clothing. Inside The Shein Machine follows an undercover reporter who poses as a Shein worker at an undisclosed factory in Guangzhou, a Chinese province, and the findings are shocking. Shein contests the violations shown in the documentary. (Her Campus reached out to Shein for comment, but didn’t hear back by the time of publication.)

Shein employees allegedly experienced exploitative working conditions.

According to managers of the factory that the undercover reporter worked in, Shein employees have no set working hours. Channel 4 reports that employees were allegedly working up to 18 hours a day, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 2 a.m. the next day. Additionally, workers apparently only get one day off a month.

This violates Chinese labor laws, which state that employees can work no more than eight hours a day or 44 hours a week on average, and are entitled to at least one day off a week. Accordingly, this also violates Shein’s own Supplier Code of Conduct, which states that Shein will “comply with local laws and regulations.” If these allegations are true, Shein is blatantly disobeying labor laws, and if these violations are occurring at all of their factories, they could be in a heap of trouble.

The documentary claims some styles are stolen from small artists.

Given Shein’s unique position as a fast fashion giant, it seems to always be on top of the latest trends — but Inside the Shein Machine claims that this isn’t just because of some stylistic clairvoyance. In the past year or so, dozens of artists have posted online that their designs have been replicated and mass-produced by Shein, being sold on the website with little to no differentiation from the original design. 

According to the documentary, Shein “scrapes social media for emerging trends, turning them into designs which they commission in small batches from a network of thousands of factories.” Many are frustrated with what they perceive to be Shein’s indifference to their complaints. Shein said in a statement to Channel 4, “When legitimate complaints are raised by valid IP rights holders, Shein promptly addresses the situation.”

What are the next steps for consumers?

In the meantime, the most consumers can really do is avoid buying from Shein and similar fast fashion brands, such as Romwe and Cider. There does not seem to be any governmental efforts to determine their validity. Whether the claims are true or not, Shein’s business model is particularly difficult to imagine being sustainable, regardless of what the brand claims to do, which is protecting the environment and supporting small artists. Most of us are guilty of shopping from places such as Shein in the search of a great deal or to join in on a growing fad, but Inside The Shein Machine is doing its job of reminding us that all that glitters isn’t gold.

Inica Kotasthane

Columbia Barnard '26

Inica Kotasthane is a student at Barnard College in New York City. She's a big fan of writing (duh!), making zines, and curating her Spotify playlists. Prior to becoming President of the Columbia/Barnard Her Campus chapter, she was a National Writer for Her Campus. She is passionate about journalism and politics, and is especially interested in uplifting minority and queer voices in these areas.