The head of a British online influencer agency has announced she will no longer be working with the Chinese firm Shein, the biggest fashion retailer in the world, following revelations about “horrendous” labour abuses in the company’s supply chain.
Georgia Portogallo, who recruits teenagers to promote brands on social media, told her followers that she and her agency “have decided we will no longer be working with Shein, no longer getting our clients any collaborations with Shein, until their working conditions change”.
Ms Portogallo made her decision after learning of how workers in two Chinese factories making clothes for Shein are paid as little as 3p per garment and often work for 18 hours a day, with no weekends and only one day off per month, producing the kinds of items that sell for as little as £1.49 in the UK.
The findings are the result of the first undercover investigation into the fast-fashion company, conducted for the Channel 4 documentary Untold: Inside the Shein Machine and initially revealed by i in an exclusive report.
Pressure may grow on other influencers to cut ties with Shein after thousands of people shared the findings on Twitter and expressed outrage at how the workers are treated.
Ms Portogallo, who appears in the documentary to explain how young people are attracted into promoting Shein on their social media accounts with the lure of free clothes, has 297,000 followers on TikTok and 214,000 followers on Instagram.
In a TikTok video released after the Untold show began streaming on All4 on Monday, she told her followers that the “amazing documentary” had “really opened my eyes up as to what the factories are like”.
She explained: “After watching this documentary, I now know – 100 per cent it’s confirmed to me – that their staff are underpaid, they work too many long hours, they don’t get days off. The whole working conditions are horrendous.”
Inside The Shein Machine. I urge everyone to watch it #fyp #insidethesheinmachine
She added: “I urge everybody to go and watch the documentary because it will really open up your eyes – and hopefully, fingers crossed, make a change.”
i contacted Ms Portogallo who did not wish to add anything beyond her video statement.
In comments shared shortly before the Untold documentary made by Zandland Films was released, Shein said: “We take claims like this very seriously and are going to immediately look into this report. Shein works continuously with our suppliers to ensure we have safe and regulated working conditions for their factory workers. If our findings prove to be otherwise we will take swift action to make sure this is upheld.”
Fast-fashion companies rely heavily on celebrities and influencers to market their products via social media to their target audience, who are primarily aged in their teens and twenties.
Big names are often involved, such as the popstars Katy Perry and Rita Ora who have both helped to promote Shein in the past. This can be done through design collaborations and online events.
However, these brands also use armies of “micro influencers”, who might only have around 8,000 followers on TikTok or Instagram but have the attraction to brands and customers alike of appearing to be more authentic. In addition to the lure of “#sheinhauls” of free clothes, these people dream of potential fame and fortune, by building a profile that could lead to future modelling careers.
Ms Portogallo runs an agency that links these people with retailers and helps run photoshoots and filming sessions. As well as Shein, Ms Portogallo works with Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing and Isawitfirst, but says her business extends beyond fast fashion.