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  • Rachel Gallagher

Inside the Shein Machine: How Sharing the Truth Makes a Difference

Lately I’ve been going on a bit of a deep dive into fast fashion’s biggest (and scariest) brand – Shein. A few days ago, I stumbled across a documentary episode titled, Inside the Shein Machine, by journalist Iman Amrani. In the entire 47-minute episode, we explore social media influencers and their relationship to Shein, hear from marketing experts about the ways in which Shein convinces us to buy, how small designers have had their designs copied by Shein, as well as factory working conditions.

It's an information-packed episode, covering so many elements of the murky world of Shein. But what’s particularly interesting, at least to me, is when we’re taken undercover into two of Shein’s supplier factories. Amrani links up with an undercover garment worker, ‘Mei’, who approaches these Shein supplier factories for employment. Taking hidden cameras into these factories for the first time, Mei gives us an unprecedented view into what it’s like for garment workers on a day-to-day basis in these highly questionable factories.

Without spoiling it for you – and I highly recommend going to watch this documentary for yourself – we see the enormous piles of garments that are fashioned by these garment workers in one day alone, hear about the 17–18-hour work shifts that these workers undertake where they often begin their work at 8am and complete at 2am of the next morning. It’s just a small sample of what these garment workers do, and it’s quite shocking.

A garment worker in one of the Shein supplier factories in China, featured in Inside the Shein Machine

Mei is told by one of her colleagues that if she were to make a mistake on a garment, the factory will dock her around 100 Yuan which is approximately 20AUD/12GBP/14USD, for each mistake. One mistake alone will cost Mei roughly three quarters of her daily wage. Seeing what Mei underwent during her short time in the factories was enlightening, as well as concerning for the violations of international workers’ rights which cover safe and healthy working environments (you can read more about this on the International Labour Organization’s website; see the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work). It's interesting to think that if working conditions were like this in Australia (where I live), the public outcry that would follow. The very same customers that buy from Shein, if they were working in such conditions, would swiftly take to social media and likely the traditional media as well, in protest and condemnation of their employers.

So, why do we keep supporting Shein and their questionable ways of doing things? Is it because we, as customers, don’t see what’s happening in the day-to-day of where our clothes come from? Are the garment workers in these factories so far removed from our everyday life that their experiences seem irrelevant? Do we put more emphasis on what’s in our wardrobe over the human dignity of others? This is why documentaries like Inside the Shein Machine, hold much more importance than just something to watch for entertainment. Inside the Shein Machine connects us to the lived experiences of others, where sharing the truth about what goes on behind the scenes can make an impact on an individual level, to hopefully initiate change. It puts the humanity back into what we wear.

One of my followers messaged me a few days before I came across Inside the Shein Machine, asking for more information and insights to understand why fast fashion – and Shein in particular – is so concerning and unjust for people and the planet. They weren’t the first to ask this, and they surely won’t be the last. I sent them the documentary to watch. It just goes to show that if one person is curious enough to investigate where their clothes really come from, that a shared conversation can ignite a powerful ripple effect of awareness, to create a community that values transparency and making informed decisions about our clothes.


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