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Influencer Drew Afualo faces backlash after announcing partnership with fast-fashion brand Shein

TikToker has defended partnership on basis ‘not everyone can afford to shop sustainably’

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Monday 11 April 2022 17:04 BST
TikTok influencer defends Shein partnership
TikTok influencer defends Shein partnership (TikTok / @drewafualo)

A TikTok influencer who uses her platform to call out sexism and misogyny is facing backlash after announcing a partnership with fast-fashion retailer Shein.

Drew Afualo, who goes by the username @drewafualo, has accumulated a large following of supportive fans on the platform, where she has more than 6.9m followers, for her videos calling out misogynistic behaviour and comments on the app.

However, fans and viewers recently expressed their disappointment with the 26-year-old social media personality after she announced last month that she had partnered with the online fast-fashion company, which was recently reported to be worth $100bn.

The Chinese e-commerce company, which was founded in 2008, is well-known on social media platforms as an inexpensive place to shop for the latest trends. However, in addition to contributing to the negative environmental impacts caused by the fast-fashion industry, and being accused of stealing designs, the company has also faced allegations of exploiting workers, with the BBC reporting in November 2021 that Swiss advocacy group Public Eye had found workers were working 75-hour weeks in factories near Shein headquarters in Guangzhou.

According to the report, in addition to clocking three shifts a day, the individuals working in the factories supplying Shein also reported having just one day off a month. The BBC noted that the hours violate local labour laws, which “set out a maximum working day of eight hours, as well as a 40-hour working week”.

In a statement to the BBC, a spokesperson for Shein said: “Upon learning of the report, we immediately requested a copy and when we receive and review the report, we will initiate an investigation. We have a strict supplier Code of Conduct which includes stringent health and safety policies and is in compliance with local laws. If non-compliance is identified we will take immediate action.”

In Afualo’s recent video, she told viewers that she would be doing a “try-on haul” after partnering with Shein for a program called SheinX, which claims to promote independent designers. “The SheinX incubator program allows indie designers to create their own collection within Shein,” Afualo said. “So designers can focus on their creativity, create these wonderful, beautiful pieces, and Shein handles all of the manufacturing and shipping and all of that fun stuff, as well as promoting the collection on their site, app, etc.”

Afualo then proceeded to try on some of the items she’d received from the new collections, including multiple pairs of patterned pants, a dress, and various two-piece outfits. The TikToker concluded the video encouraging her followers to use her Shein code to receive a discount on their own orders from Shein’s website. “And then we can match babe,” she added.

Afualo also shared her discount code in her caption, which she noted would save her followers 15 per cent off items from the entire site.

The video, which has since been viewed more than 1.2m times, has sparked a debate in the comments, where many viewers have criticised Afualo for partnering with the fast-fashion retailer. However, Afualo has since defended the partnership, with the TikToker alleging that “not everyone can afford to shop sustainably” and that the company offers a larger selection of plus-sizes options.

“Love you girl but advertising fast fashion is not it,” one person commented,” to which Afualo replied: “Not everyone can afford to shop sustainably and they do not cater to bigger women. Sustainable fashion is a privilege.”

In response to another comment that read: “Not Shein…” Afualo reiterated her claim that sustainable fashion isn’t affordable to all.

“If you can afford to shop sustainably, good for you. Not everyone is in that boat and same [for] plus-size/fat women. We deserve to dress cute too,” she wrote.

In a follow-up comment left under the video, Afualo, after again stating that shopping sustainably is “not a privilege afforded to all,” then told her followers to “never assume that I purely shop fast-fashion”.

“Y’all aren’t with me every second of the day and should check the privilege first. Thanks,” she wrote.

Despite her defence, many viewers still criticised the TikToker for the partnership, as one person noted that “there’s a difference between knowing that access to ethical clothing is a privilege, and using that as an excuse to promote unethical clothing”.

“I get that not everyone can afford ethically made clothing but it’s the hauls! So much clothing and because it’s made so cheap people dispose of it,” another person pointed out, while someone else asked Afualo why she was using her “amazing platform to promote fast-fashion”.

Alice March, a TikToker who frequently uses her platform to condemn fast-fashion, also expressed her disappointment over the partnership in a video of her own, in which she acknowledged that, while she didn’t want to criticise Afualo as she is “frontline fighting for women,” she was “really disappointed to see that she is promoting a company like Shein”.

After calling out the quality of the Shein clothing worn by Afualo in the video, March also noted that the fellow TikToker has spoken previously about how much money she has made on TikTok, which she said suggests that she can afford to shop sustainably.

“You’ve literally spoken about how much money you make from this app,” March said. “So yeah, it is a privilege to shop sustainably, but for you, you can shop sustainably, so I don’t understand that point.”

March also addressed Afualo’s claim that Shein better caters to a range of body types, with the TikToker telling viewers that she is a similar size and yet still “manages to shop literally completely sustainably”.

March said that the problem isn’t Afualo “shopping fast-fashion,” but rather that she is “a front-face to supporting women and speaking against men” and yet chooses to promote a company that March notes has faced allegations of exploiting women in other countries. “Promoting any fast-fashion brand goes directly against what your TikToks are about,” she added.

The Independent has contacted Afualo and Shein for comment.

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