When fast-fashion online retailer Shein invited six influencers to tour one of its factories in Guangzhou, China, in late June, online backlash against both the brand and its influencer partners was swift. As videos of the creators exploring the sleek, high-tech factory began flooding TikTok and Instagram, thousands of people began condemning the group of influencers for their glib dismissal of the allegations of poor working conditions and forced labor that have been repeatedly leveled against Shein.
Shein is one of several brands that have faced criticism in recent months for influencer trips, raising questions about the value of these trips in a brand’s creator strategy. But several influencer marketing experts agree that influencer trips can still play a unique role in drawing large amounts of consumer attention and in strengthening relationships with creators. Brands just need to be prepared to address potential controversy that may arise on social media as the internet’s attention swivels to them.
Influencer trips aren’t a new phenomenon—cosmetics brand Tarte has hosted over a dozen trips since 2015, and fashion brands such as Revolve also leaned into these experience-based influencer partnerships in the same timeframe—but these trips seem to have become a magnet for social media controversy over the past year.
For Shein, intense scrutiny around its influencer trip stemmed from its goal of having creators help counter allegations against the brand regarding working conditions, as it attempts to further expand into the U.S. This led a number of people to compare the trip to a propaganda tactic, and creators on the trip faced criticism for glossing over these alleged labor abuses in their social posts.
One creator on the trip, Destene Sudduth, received a flood of critical comments after saying, “I expected this facility to be so filled with people just slaving away…[but] they weren’t even sweating,” while another, Dani Carbonari, was attacked for a now-deleted video in which she called herself an “investigative journalist.”