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Episode 206: The SHEIN-sodes, part 3: Influencers, Forced Labor, and Bad Glassdoor Reviews

This episode is part 3 in a short series about SHEIN: where it’s been, where it’s going, and how it is changing everything. If you haven’t listened to parts one and two yet, go do that before listening to this episode.

In this part of the series, we will be tackling the human impact of SHEIN:
  • Unpacking the meaning of “sustainability” using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a measuring stick for figuring out just how sustainable fast fashion is
  • How the early days of SHEIN  might indicate something about the priorities and values of SHEIN’s founder
  • What it’s like to work for SHEIN in the garment factories and here in the U.S.
  • That embarrassing SHEIN influencer trip and other bad faith marketing moves
  • SHEIN’s connection to forced labor and how that ties into the de minimis loophole 
  • How SHEIN becoming the standard for making and selling clothing will impact everyone, even people who have never bought anything from the brand
  • How WE can change SHEIN’s trajectory (yes, we really can)
 
Additional reading (lots of sources again this week):
 
UN Sustainable Development Goals
“Fast Fashion Report Cards Show What’s Really in Your Clothes,”  Phoebe Sedgman and Jennifer Creery, Bloomberg.
“New study links major fashion brands to Amazon deforestation,” Laura Pitcher, The Guardian.
“How fashion is distancing itself from deforestation,” Rachel Cernansky,  Vogue Business.
This is What Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace with Productivity
Living Wage Calculator
“Shein invited influencers on an all-expenses-paid trip. Here’s why people are livid,” Vanessa Romo, NPR.
“Shein exploited marginalized women for their influencer trip. It worked,” Elizabeth de Luna, Mashable.
Toiling Away for SHEIN, Public Eye.
“Untold: Inside the Shein Machine review,” Jack Seale, The Guardian.
“PR Platitudes and New Laws: Where is Shein heading?,” Public Eye.
“After a UK Documentary Revealed Abuses, Shein Says it Will Spend $15 Million Improving Labor Conditions,” Emma Burleigh, Observer.
“Interviews with factory employees refute Shein’s promises to make improvements,” Public Eye.
“Inside North Korea’s Forced Labor Program,” Ian Urbina, The New Yorker.
“Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: Inside Shein’s Sudden Rise,” Vauhini Vara, Wired.
“The Search for the Next Shein,” Chavie Lieber, Business of Fashion.

And HEY! BUY YOUR TICKETS TO THE CLOTHESHORSE JAMBOREE ASAP!

If you want to share your opinion/additional thoughts on the subjects we cover in each episode, feel free to email, whether it’s a typed out message or an audio recording:  [email protected]

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Transcript

When we talk about sustainability–regardless of the industry in question–we’re talking about two major categories of impact: the planet and its people.

 

And while the words “sustainable” and “sustainability” have been kinda ruined–or at least viewed with a lot more skepticism–after being used in approximately 9 gazillion greenwashing campaigns by brands like Nike, Zara, H+M, and yes, even SHEIN…they are still both words that have meaning. Obviously–as a person who writes epic instagram captions and sits down almost every week to write a 20+ page script for an episode of this podcast–well, obviously I do think words are super powerful. 

 

And “sustainable” itself is a powerful word.  It means essentially “something that can be maintained over the long term without causing harm or using up resources.” In 1987, the UN World Commission on Environment and Development  defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  And I love that, because it’s not just about protecting ourselves, it’s not just about thinking about the here and now, it’s about the future, about the people who are just being born, or will be born someday in the future.  It’s about billions of people that we will never meet, but that still matter to us.  Yes, we’re taking care of the planet and its people now, but we’re also caring for the future.

 

When I dig into so-called “sustainable” or “conscious” claims and products, I’m also viewing them through the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We used to talk about them a lot in the early days of Clotheshorse, but I think it’s time for a revisit.  I’m not going to go too deeply into them (but the UN has a great website that breaks them down into an easy-to-understand format, and I’ll share that in the show notes).

 

The UN Sustainable Development Goals were created in 2015. And while there are 17 individual goals, they can pretty easily be separated into two categories: planet or people.

 

Under the planet umbrella, we find access to clean energy for all.  And 

  • 12: Responsible Consumption and Production: Using resources wisely and sustainably.  I mean, it’s hard to see how fast fashion could ever be sustainable when we know that so many resources are wasted by the industry.  After all, about 30% of the clothes the industry creates every year are never, ever sold. And most head to the landfill or the incinerator. And furthermore, fast fashion is a business model that relies on the overconsumption of its customers to make the math, well MATH. So right away, fast fashion does not fit into the sustainable development goals.
  • 13: Climate Action: Taking urgent action to combat climate change. This includes strong regulations forcing companies to reduce their carbon emissions considerably. And that would include all of the fast fashion brands who are shipping all of their orders around the world via airplane.
  • 14: Life Below Water: Protecting oceans, seas, and marine life. This would include removing plastic pollution from the oceans. And we know that the synthetic fabrics of the fast fashion industry are a big contributor to the global plastic pollution crisis.  Some data has indicated that 35% of the microplastics in the ocean are directly derived from wearing and washing synthetic clothing. We know about 65% of clothing made every year is made of polyester and other synthetic fibers.  SHEIN specifically–after all, this IS part three in a series about SHEIN–uses more polyester than H+M and Zara. There’s a great Bloomberg report from last year that goes into the details here.  And the data around how much polyester, cotton, etc that each brand is using is actually publicly available on their websites.  SHEIN says it is using about 64% polyester and 19% “other,” (I’m guessing these are materials like nylon and pu–aka “vegan leather). Meanwhile about 24% of Zara’s fabric use (as of last year) was polyester and H+M’s polyester use was about 21%. None of these numbers are great–because both brands invented the fast fashion model of overconsumption and overproduction. And there is no fabric that allows us to overconsume and overproduce without repercussion.  But it is interesting to see how both brands have moved away from polyester as an ostensible move toward more “sustainability.”
  • 15: Life on Land: Protecting ecosystems, forests, and biodiversity. And believe it or not, this is also an area where fast fashion proves how unsustainable it is via its high volume use of man made cellulosic fabrics, aka rayon/viscose/lyocell and modal.  All of these are made from tree pulp (including pine, beech, eucalyptus, and bamboo).  There is a direct link between fast fashion’s ever-growing use of these fabrics and deforestation around the globe. Cutting down forests in order to make clothing is just not sustainable.  On top of that, in 2021, 100 different brands–including Nike, Zara, H+M and Adidas, were linked to Amazon deforestation in a report by Stand.earth. The supply chains of these brands included the largest Brazilian leather exporter, JBS. JBS is known to engage in widespread deforestation in order to create cattle grazing land. Those cattle are slaughtered for leather. And the demand for leather is so high, reports have speculated that more than 400 million cattle need to be slaughtered every year to meet the global demand for leather bags and shoes.  No matter where you stand on the issue of leather, you have to agree that cutting down forests in order to ultimately make and sell more bags and shoes (along with viscose clothing) is just nightmare fodder for those of us who are worrying about an ever-warming planet. And btw, JBS, once again Brazil’s largest leather exporter promises to reduce its deforestation by 2035….which is just way too long from now.  Like, what forests will be left by 2035?  And we’re cutting down epic numbers of trees to make clothing?

So yeah, from the planet side of sustainability, it’s really easy to see how fast fashion is just not sustainable at all. 

 

Now the rest of the UN Sustainable Development Goals are focused on people.  And once again, we can see a direct correlation to fast fashion (or more accurately, why fast fashion is not sustainable).  We find things like gender equality, quality education, access to clean water and sanitation, peace and justice, sustainable cities and communities and

    • 1. No poverty. 
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
    • 10. Reduced Inequality: Reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.
    •  
  • 2. Zero Hunger: this one not only addresses global hunger, but also implements sustainable farming practices as the norm, not the exception (as it often is now).

All of these  tie closely to an industry that is notorious for underpaying all of the people making, shipping, and selling its clothing.  For keeping both garment workers and retail workers in poverty.  Of course there is hunger associated with fast fashion, when people aren’t making a living wage.

  • 6. Good Health and Well-being: this is all about making sure everyone can live a healthy life, including access to good medical care. Once again, we know that just about everyone making, shipping, and selling those clothes does not have access to good, affordable health care, whether they live here in the US or Canada, or overseas.

 

Basically the Sustainable Development Goals are a roadmap to making life better for people on planet Earth now AND for generations down the road. And it’s all about intersectionality, recognizing that social justice and environmentalism overlap in about a million different ways….if we’re going to save this planet, we have to care for its people. And we have to recognize that climate change, plastic pollution, water pollution, etc…the most marginalized and poorest people on our planet will bear the brunt of these disasters.

 

And to me, that’s where we can say “planet + people” and say really, it’s ultimately just people.  We’re protecting people. Yes, this is about animals and plants, too, but we’re protecting people when we dismantle a system like fast fashion. An industry, a system that impacts every human on this planet, no matter where they live, how much money they have, or how much they care about clothing.

And while I will share lots of statistics about the environmental impact of fast fashion–and in this series in particular, SHEIN–I am really talking about the impact on people: you, me and everyone we know (and don’t know).

 

That’s where this gets kinda sticky.

Because it feels virtually impossible to have a nuanced, productive conversation about SHEIN anywhere on the internet.

On one hand, we have people who say “FUCK YOU IF YOU SHOP AT SHEIN.” Yeah, guys, I really do see when you share one of my posts in instagram stories and add that commentary (or something similar).  If you haven’t listened to my episodes about how to talk to others about fast fashion yet, well, spoiler alert: that approach does not work.  It just makes people either guilty, ashamed, or angry at you. And it doesn’t get anyone to rethink their relationship with SHEIN.

 

But on the other hand, we have people who are like “FUCK YOU FOR SAYING SOMETHING NEGATIVE ABOUT SHEIN.” Followed by all kinds of bad faith arguments like

“All companies are just as bad as SHEIN.” I would argue–as would lots of scientists and researchers working within the fast fashion/environmental space–that actually, SHEIN IS worse because it operates largely unchecked at a vast, every expanding and ever accelerating scale.

Or maybe the classics like:

“You’re classist for talking about SHEIN.”
“You’re fatphobic for talking about SHEIN.”

“You’re ableist for talking about SHEIN.”

 

The thing about all of these statements is, well, accepting those as truth is a problem. Saying something like “you’re right, it IS fatphobic to talk about SHEIN,” is legitimizing a few things that are just not true:

  • First, that no one should cast a critical eye on SHEIN because it is a system engaged in the public good.That SHEIN is making this world such a better place, that you would be a really selfish asshole to say something about its actual, real negative impact on our world.
  • And next: that SHEIN Is making great clothes in larger sizes.  I can agree that yes, SHEIN is doing a better job of offering options in a wider range of sizes because they are literally the only brand doing this in a major way. And you know what? It makes me super angry that the fashion industry continues to ignore this pretty major group of people.  Not because those people don’t want and need cute clothes, but because the industry can’t put its own fatphobic culture aside and you know, make clothes in more sizes. That doesn’t make SHEIN a hero. The sizing is all over the place.  One reddit comment said that SHEIN’s plus sizes run about two sizes too small.  Furthermore, these clothes are low quality and often synthetic/short lived fabrics. So I wouldn’t say that SHEIN is a system worth upholding because they are dressing larger people.  Like, everyone deserves better than this. I mean EVERYONE.
  • Lastly, it would mean saying (even without saying this explicitly) that the Global North’s need for lots of inexpensive clothing in a wider size range is far more important thant you know, the human rights of the humans making the clothing.  The humans dealing with the brunt of the environmental impact of climate change, plastic pollution, and water pollution.

 

And that’s where it’s time for all of us, no matter where we stand on the issue of fast fashion and SHEIN, to take a deep breath and consider the bigger picture here:

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll tell you again: I’ve been making Clotheshorse for almost 4 years now, more than 200 episodes, countless social media posts, conversations all over the internet…and I still have random acquaintances say “hey, I finally listened to an episode of Clotheshorse.  And it’s really well done.  You have an aptitude for this. So why aren’t you covering something more important than clothes?”

 

By now I just roll my eyes and move on from statements like that.  But in the beginning, it really bothered me.  Because I know that fast fashion is really just a case study in all of the overlapping issues our world faces right now:

  • Climate change
  • Plastic pollution
  • Water pollution
  • Overuse of fossil fuels
  • Anti-fat bias, gender inequality, racism…all the bad isms and phobias.
  • Mental health 
  • And of course, poverty, low wage jobs, hunger, lack of access to healthcare, good food, education, and so on.

 

And I want to give you an example of all of that playing out (if you don’t believe me): how fast fashion relies on us being poor AND keeps us poor:

 

  • First things first: many of us are struggling financially, feeling like we are this close to losing what we have, if we have anything at all.  And that’s thanks to a few things: rising costs in housing and food, student loan debt, here in the US unaffordable health care (where we literally worry about how one illness will bankrupt us) and stagnating wages.
  • In fact, those wages are a big piece of the puzzle.  Back in 2020, the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the minimum wage here in the US would be $21.50 if it had kept up with inflation since the 1970s.  We probably would be at more like $22 due to inflation over the last few years since that study was completed.  Yet here in the US, the minimum wage remains at $7.25 an hour. This means that people making the minimum wage (or even a few dollars more) cannot afford to live. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, a single person with 0 children living in Lancaster County (where I live) would need to make $22.04/hr (and work 40 hours each week) in order to make a living wage.  Obviously that number increases for people living in large urban areas or places with a higher cost of living.
  • Now you might say “well I don’t have a minimum wage job, so what does that have to do with me?” Because here’s the thing: when the bottom of the wage range moves up, all salaries move up. So no matter where you are on that ladder, your wages increase…well unless you are an executive of one of the big companies…then you were already getting a massive raise every year that far outpaced inflation. In fact, top earners are making more money than they were in the 60s and 70s (when adjusted for inflation).
  • So we know: many of us are underpaid, right? And the rich are getting richer? So we still feel that pressure to wear new clothes, look good, fit in, adhere to dress codes (whether explicit–like at work–or implied–socially).  So we have to buy a lot of new clothes.  But we are underpaid, so we can only afford fast fashion, maybe specifically SHEIN.
  • And that’s the thing about fast fashion: Fast fashion doesn’t work as a business model if people are paid well and treated well. And that includes YOU, the customer…because fast fashion doesn’t sell if people are feeling financially secure and happy. A lot of the underpaid people in this world are working (directly or indirectly) within the fashion industry:
    • Garment workers: we already know that the people making our clothing (and the fabrics, trims, etc.) are paid their country’s minimum wage (at best) which is not a living wage. And this is where we get a lot of arguments like “well, it’s different over there.” Or “things cost less there.” Or “well, I’m underpaid, too, soooooo….” But all of those things are not true.  Well, yeah, it’s probably true that you are underpaid, but things are not “different over there.” People still need food, healthcare, education, entertainment, rest, fun, socialization, etc.  And while yes, the cost of living might be lower in the places where our clothing is made, the minimum wages of those countries–just like here in the US–are not a living wage, which means these workers also cannot afford the things that all humans need to be happy and healthy. It’s easy for people here in the Global North to let themselves forget this because it’s happening far away, not in front of them.
    • Retail workers: Almost 16 million people here in the US work in retail. And 64% of them do not make a living wage. Many of them are selling you fast fashion, whether it’s at the mall, Target, Walmart, TJ Maxx or even Nordstrom. It’s brutal physical work, and yes, it’s also skilled labor. Employees are kept at less than full-time hours so that companies can avoid paying benefits like sick days and health insurance. These are also people who cannot afford to live, to be healthy and happy.
    • Warehouse workers: In some ways warehouse workers can fare better than retail workers, making about $16-19 an hour. But that’s not actually a living wage, either. And their schedules can be as unpredictable as retail workers, with a lot of on-call shifts and being sent home on slower days (that happens to retail workers, too). And they are also missing out on benefits like sick days, health insurance, etc. 
    • The people working in the corporate offices: I worked as a buyer for most of my career, working my way up the ladder to the leadership level. I managed millions of dollars worth of business at each level.  And I did not make a living wage for a person with a child until I was a Senior Buyer at Nasty Gal, many years into my career. I also had no work life balance, my benefits were horrible, and I lived paycheck to paycheck for years after that. And I had absolutely no job security…I could lose my job just as fast as retail and warehouse workers.
    • People working in freight/shipping: The low, low prices of fast fashion (along with all of that so-called “free” shipping and returns) are pushing down the wages of truck drivers, delivery drivers, and people working for the shipping companies. We talked about this in the first episode of this series. 
    • Artists, designers, and small brands: Fast fashion loves to steal ideas from small businesses, smaller brands, and artists. When they do that, they are stealing customers and income from these small businesses. And yeah, this means small businesses close up shop because they can’t survive. We talked about this last week.

 

Basically, fast fashion is asking us as customers to push our concerns for all of those people out of our minds, to tell ourselves that access to lots of cheap trendy clothing is far more important than the health and happiness of people all over this world.

 

Fast fashion turns us against one another.

It forces us to say “I suffer, so others must suffer.”

It tells us “you can’t have anything unless someone else is miserable, so turn off your empathy and get to shopping.”

Fast fashion is saying, “hey, we know you’re underpaid and overworked. So just treat yourself.  Buying new clothes will make you feel better.

Don’t you deserve better stuff for the money you spend with these companies? We know now that clothes are kinda garbage these days thanks to a swap into cheaper fabrics, trims, and lots and lots of cut corners.  They aren’t made to last.  Which is great for fast fashion, because the only way the business model works is if you are buying lots of new clothes all the time.  And if the zippers are always breaking or the fabrics are piling up after one wash, well, that’s great for fast fashion because you’ll be back to buy some more new clothes very, very soon. 

You worked so hard for the money you have, and here is this industry sorta robbing you of it, by forcing you into a situation where you have to buy more and more clothes. And the creation and shipping and selling of these clothes…well it involved both present day and future human suffering. Why would you want to spend your money on that?

All of us–no matter where we live or what we do for a living–are experiencing the repercussions of fast fashion: microplastics in the water, soil, and food supply, water scarcity, the impact of carbon emissions, the suppression of wages, and even the emotionally corrosive nature of a steady stream of low quality/poor fitting clothing.

The fight against the fast fashion system is a matter of class solidarity.

We’re fighting for everyone around us, including ourselves.  And to be clear, when I say that, when I point out the problems with fast fashion and SHEIN, I’m not telling you that you are a bad person for buying fast fashion. I’m not even telling you that you should never buy new clothes, even from SHEIN.  What I am doing (and I hope you will be doing now) is joining the movement to change this.  To make buying clothing no longer an issue of environmental, social, and economic justice, something that is so destructive that it breaks people’s brains on the internet.  Buying and wearing clothing should be simple.  No one should suffer for fashion. And that’s what the slow fashion movement is all about: taking the suffering out of clothing.  That won’t happen if we don’t have more people on board buying less new stuff, shopping secondhand, spreading the word about everything we discuss here, and pushing for government regulations for the fashion industry.

This is a fight.  And we are in this together.  Change is coming and we’re making it happen.

Welcome to Clotheshorse, the podcast that is still talking about SHEIN.

I’m your host, Amanda and this is episode 206, part three  in a short series I am calling “The SHEIN-sodes.” If you haven’t listened to the first two parts yet, go do that!

 

In this, what I hope will be the final chapter of this series (for now), we are going to be talking explicitly about the human element of SHEIN’s impact, although one could argue (and the one arguing would in fact be me) that we’ve been exploring this entire time.  We’ll be getting into the following:

  • How the early days of SHEIN (pre-SHEIN really) might indicate something about SHEIN now.
  • What it’s like to work for SHEIN 
  • SHEIN’s connection to forced labor
  • And how SHEIN becoming the standard for making and selling clothing will impact everyone, even people who have never bought anything from the brand.



One more thing: I am once again reminding you of the Clotheshorse Jamboree. It is happening August 16-17 here in Lancaster, PA. Tickets are now officially $300. And we will be cutting off ticket sales on 7/15 because we need to order food, etc..  So buy your ticket now!  If you can’t actually pay for your ticket until after 7/15, drop me an email ASAP so we can secure a ticket for you and figure out everything else. I really want to make this work for as many people as possible.

Why? This is a one time thing. There will not be a Jamboree next  year.  So you don’t want to miss this!

 

This will also be the final Clotheshorse event (virtual or IRL) this year. I am also doing a serious reevaluation of community events, after a few months and some conversations with Dustin.  I am not planning on *any* events in the future.  

 

While I love getting a chance to interact with you all in real time (not just via screens and chat), the workload and financial risk of it all is too much for one person. Whether it’s the virtual webinars, the live streaming episode, or even the jamboree, the level of work and money involved is just too much, especially now that I am working a lot more. And the turnout is always frustratingly disappointing. Which leads me to feel that the impact isn’t very significant and maybe even the demand for it isn’t there. I think most people would be surprised to hear about the amount of work required for events, even virtual ones. So I need to really keep my Clotheshorse focus on the places where I know there is impact: outreach via the podcast, social media, and the lobbying efforts for the Fashion Act. Any future events and live episodes will be part of larger events thrown by other groups. So there might be chances to hang out IRL in the future, but not explicitly Clotheshorse events.  

 

So don’t miss out! Let’s have the most FUN ever! This is just a week after my birthday, so I’m looking at hanging out with you as a big fun birthday gift to myself!

 

You can get your tickets at clotheshorsepodcast.com



Okay, before we jump in to our continued conversation about SHEIN, let’s do our regular disclaimer:

 

SHEIN’s growth and impending IPO are a bad thing for everyone on this planet. 

  • We are not picking on SHEIN when we talk about the ethical/environmental issues related to its business model.
  • We are not being xenophobic when we talk about SHEIN.
  • We are not shaming people for shopping from SHEIN.  If you are wearing SHEIN clothes right now or just placed an order, it doesn’t matter. You are a part of this community and we are glad you are here.

 

We are talking about SHEIN because its success is pushing the fashion industry to make clothing a lot faster and more quasi-disposable. It is making the problem of fast fashion much, much worse.

 

And btw, I’m repeating this in every episode–not because I don’t think you know this by now–but because I want you to get comfortable with starting all conversations with new people about SHEIN with this disclaimer.  One thing I think about a lot is how I can model these conversations for you, so you can learn from me more than just a bunch of facts, figures, and sad stories, but also how to talk to people about fast fashion.   Because we need to be holding these conversations OFTEN. And I promise they get easier with time. 




So I’m going to be honest with you: I’ve worked for some really stupid companies that have done some really stupid things in the name of marketing. Like, ask me about the “feminist” brand run by two cis white women who created a campaign (that included enamel pins) with statements like “we are all black,” “we are all immigrants,” “we are all gay.” Surprise, surprise, that campaign wasn’t well received (WOW REALLY) and my planner ended up taking the like 1000 unsold pins  (because we had to pull them) to the scrap yard for recycling.

 

Last June, SHEIN offered a group of influencers an all-expenses-paid trip to Gangzhou, China, to tour some of its manufacturing facilities.  In fact, let’s be very specific here: SHEIN invited only plus size influencers and women of color on this trip.  And that was definitely a calculated part of  the whole thing. The reality is that plus size influencers and influencers who are not white are often paid less for partnerships. And they are offered fewer partnerships in the first place.  No matter what you might think about influencers, it is a job and everyone should be paid evenly for their work. And while I’m not an influencer, I can tell you that creating content is SO MUCH work.  I know a lot of you small business owners feel the same way. 

 

So yeah, it’s no coincidence that SHEIN didn’t pick thin, white women for this trip. They wanted influencers who would be wowed by being treated well. By having this opportunity in the first place. And let’s be real: an all expenses paid, luxury trip to China? That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  When you don’t get offers like this normally, it’s even more impactful. So of course you’re going to take it AND you’re going to say nice things about SHEIN (or at least believe the narrative that SHEIN is trying to sell).  According to both SHEIN and the influencers, they were neither paid for their attendance nor to post about it on social media.  But of course they did, this was an incredible trip.

 

One influencer said (in a video posted to SHEIN Singapore’s Instagram): “It is so nice to look around the table and see women that look like me. I’m only 21 and so the fact that I have opportunities like this is crazy. I want to thank you Shein for bringing me on this phenomenal trip. China has been on my bucket list forever y’all. So y’all making dreams come true.”

 

And btw, I’m not naming the influencers here because they’ve already dealt with enough of the internet’s rage over this.

 

Another influencer said that despite having reservations about SHEIN, her identity as a plus-sized woman did influence her decision to accept the trip,”Especially plus-size content creators, we’re just happy to be included,” she said. “That it can cause issues because you’re not doing enough brand research and that’s definitely where I can take accountability, I should have done more research.”

 

One part of this trip was touring a factory in Gangzhou, where the influencers were shown a clean, brightly lit facility, where workers seemed fine.  One influencer said, “Upon interviewing the workers, a lot of them were really confused and taken back with the child labor questions and the lead-in-the-clothing questions. They weren’t even sweating. We were the ones sweating!”

 

I mean…ughhhhhh…okay, well let’s poke some holes in this factory tour.

  1. Well, do you really think that a factory worker that was most likely CHOSEN by SHEIN to be there that day and maybe even offered some perks or a little extra money is going to say “yeah, this place sucks. I work a zillion hours a week and my neck hurts from it?” No.
  2. Furthermore this was ONE factory, out of SHEIN’s more than 5,000 suppliers.
  3. Also, if you don’t think this factory was cleaned up and maybe even repainted for this visit….well, I’m sure it was.
  4. And lastly, even if working in this factory is awesome and the pay is good, these workers are still working long hours, handling products with unsafe levels of toxic chemicals. Sooooo…it’s not great.

 

Well, obviously the whole world was angry at these influencers.  And really, that rage should have been saved for SHEIN. After all, the company planned the trip, manipulated the influencers, and most likely fabricated the entire “factory” to be a good PR move. Yeah, it’s disappointing that the influencers were manipulated like this, but honestly, SHEIN had all of the power in this situation.  

 

And once again, there’s just something about fast fashion, and SHEIN in particular (although I’ve seen things get ugly in conversations about Anthropologie), that turns people against one another, rather than against the real systems of oppression.

 

Going back to the introduction to this episode: rather than fighting with one another about SHEIN, we should be fighting against the things that keep people poor and struggling.   But I think our identities are just too wrapped up in brands or where we stand on issues, so it’s easy to go scorched earth defending SHEIN’s honor or telling people to go fuck themselves for shopping from SHEIN.  So instead of working to force SHEIN to do better or pushing our governments to raise the minimum wage, provide universal healthcare and childcare, increase disability benefits  and fix the student loan system, we’re just…fighting on the internet or sending death threats to influencers who went on a SHEIN trip?

 

Such a waste of one of life’s most precious resources:  TIME.

But back to this SHEIN trip…well, by the summer of 2023, SHEIN had received a ton of bad press for issues related to its supply chain and specifically the humans working within its supply chain.

 

In 2021, the Swiss human rights group Public Eye interviewed 13 textile workers employed at six factories in Guangzhou. They released their findings in a report called “Toiling away for SHEIN,” which I will share in the show notes.  

 

Now, Shein does not release the names of its suppliers, but Public Eye was able to determine that these six factories were making SHEIN products through both the presence of SHEIN products on the factory floor and the confirmation of the workers being interviewed.  

 

And what Public Eye found was dreadful.

 

  • Bags of clothing and rolls of fabric were blocking walkways, corridors and exits. This is a HUGE safety issue because it makes it impossible for workers to safely and efficiently evacuate a building during a fire or natural disaster. The researcher found no fire exits, but did see bars on the windows, making it even more dangerous.
  • The workers worked from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm, 75 hours each week. They had one day off per month.  For all of you who are thinking “well things are different in China,” this is actually illegal there, too!  Workers are not allowed to exceed 36 hours of overtime in one month AND they are required to have one day off every week.
  • Furthermore, these workers had no labor contract with their employers. They were paid by the piece–rather than the hour–and they were offered none of the legal protections that come with a labor contract.
  • Overall, the wages were competitive and workers could make a decent amount of money if they worked the long hours and took few days off, but it’s also a quality of life issue, right? And the thing is…these workers don’t have an alternative. It’s either work in these factories, work the long hours and give up quality of life…or have nothing.  

 

So that was 2021.

 

The next year, in 2022, an  undercover investigation from Channel 4 and The i newspaper in the UK had found some pretty horrible stuff in factories making clothing for Shein:

  • Workers worked 18 hours a day, getting only one day off per month.
  • Employees were so overworked that they washed their hair at work to save time (there was not enough free time to do it elsewhere).
  • Workers would be fined ⅔ of their total wages for the month for one small mistake.
  • The workers sewing these garments made 4 cents per item, with a goal of about 500 garments per day. In other words, they were paid $20 a day to work 18 hour shifts.

 

Okay, so things still suck. And btw that documentary is called Untold: Inside the Shein Machine.

After the release of Inside the Shein Machine, SHEIN pledged to spend $15 million improving working conditions in its factories. I’m not really sure how that would work.  Like yeah, they could add fire exits and other safety features, but the reality is that nothing will change the wages and volume of work unless SHEIN changes its pricing and volume of product, right?

So it just felt like a PR move. And speaking of PR moves, that’s when SHEIN started talking about sustainability an awful lot, publishing reports and pages on its website that spoke to a more sustainable, ethical business model.  They did a greenwash-y collection of clothing made of recycled polyester. They announced they were launching a resale business. And they also pledged to give the OR Foundation $50 million over a period of 5 years to help alleviate the economic, social, and environmental crisis created by the flow of fast fashion from the Global North to Accra, Ghana.  

 

But what they didn’t do is make anything better for their workers.

 

In 2023, Public Eye made another trip to Ghangzhou, to interview more workers in some of the SHEIN factories there.

 

And they found that nothing had really changed. But remember, SHEIN promised in 2022 that it was going to invest $15 million in improving working conditions in its facilities. 

 

One worker told the Public Eye researcher, “I work every day from 8 in the morning to 10.30 at night and take one day off each month. I can’t afford any more days off because it costs too much.”

 

Investigators found that the government’s ban of smoking within factories was also being ignored, discovering lit and burning cigarettes in the stairwells and even the entrances to the factory floors. This was a major fire risk because there were garments and fabrics stacked everywhere on the floor. Not only could a single cigarette easily start a fire amongst all of that fabric, the piles would make it difficult to evacuate the building.  

 

Wages were about the same, but with more fines for mistakes in sewing. And once again, people could make an okay living if they worked the long hours and didn’t take time off.

 

I’m going to share this follow up report from Public Eye in the show notes because it also tries to explain SHEIN’s byzantine corporate structure (which I discussed in last week’s episode). This allows them to avoid taxes and legal repercussions, including any penalties for violating labor and safety laws.

 

So okay, working in a factory making SHEIN stuff only works financially if you work really long hours and kinda sacrifice the rest of your life (and there’s never a fire in the factory). And we can agree that okay, these workers choose to be there (although they also don’t have better options, so are they really choosing)?

But what about people who are making stuff for SHEIN and have no choice in the matter?

I’m talking about forced labor, aka slavery.

 

In part one of this series, I talked about SHEIN’s links to the forced labor of the Uyghur Muslims. And how the de minimis loophole has allowed SHEIN to skirt compliance with the UFLPA.  The UFLPA is the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed in 2021 to prevent products manufactured using the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims into the United States.

 

A report issued last summer by the U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party indicated that there is probably a lot of forced labor happening in the factories making SHEIN’s products. I’m primarily referring to the forced labor of the Uyghur Muslims, but political dissidents and other religious groups (like Tibetan buddhists) have also been forced into work camps.   

 

And yeah, that could be anti-China sentiment or political grandstanding, but the reality is that SHEIN has very little insight into its supply chain because it is so massive.  And furthermore, well, they’ve been caught selling products made with cotton grown in Xinjiang, where Uyghur forced labor is used to cultivate, harvest, and produce cotton.

 

In 2022, testing conducted by Bloomberg News on two separate occasions was able to link the cotton in SHEIN products to Xinjiang cotton. From that investigation:



“Labor activists, human rights groups and others have long expressed concern that the retailer was using cotton grown in Xinjiang, but Bloomberg’s testing provides the first public evidence on the matter. Two batches of garments from Shein — one ordered in March and a second in July — were shipped to a laboratory in Germany for analysis. The clothes were chosen from about 60,000 items that turned up in a search for “cotton” on the retailer’s US website.”

 

The long, very scientific story short is that Bloomberg hired a company called Agroisolab to use stable isotope analysis to determine the origins of the cotton fibers in these SHEIN garments.  This type of testing–and this explanation comes from that investigation–”measures variations in the isotopes of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen present in the cotton’s fibers to indicate the altitude and other climate characteristics of the region where it was grown.”

 

SHEIN’s garments were tested alongside some cotton items that were confirmed to originate in the Xinjiang region.  The tests indicated that SHEIN’s cotton items originated in Xinjiang.  And hilariously, one garment that was sold as “cotton” turned out to be “polyester.”

 

So yeah, there is proof there, despite SHEIN’s assertions otherwise.

 

And the thing is, yes, SHEIN is not the only brand that has been busted for using Uyghur forced labor.  Nike, Uniqlo, the list goes on and on. But what’s different about those brands is that anything they ship into the US is inspected by customs and anything potentially linked to forced labor is pulled and investigated. SHEIN doesn’t face that kind of inspection because of the de minimis rule.

 

And it’s not just the forced labor of the Uyghur Muslims. It’s also potentially the forced labor of North Koreans who are sort of exported to China.  According to the U.S. State Department, there are currently over 100,000 North Koreans working in China under forced labor at construction companies, textile factories, software firms, and seafood processing plants. I read this incredible New Yorker piece from earlier this year called “Inside North Korea’s Forced Labor Program,” and I’ve got to tell you, it’s devastating. 

 

From this piece, “many companies in China rely on a vast program of forced labor from North Korea.The program is run by various entities in the North Korean government, including a secretive agency called Room 39, which oversees activities such as money laundering and cyberattacks, and which funds the country’s nuclear- and ballistic-missile programs. Such labor transfers are not new. In 2012, North Korea sent some forty thousand workers to China. A portion of their salaries was taken by the state, providing a vital source of foreign currency for Party officials: at the time, a Seoul-based think tank estimated that the country made as much as $2.3 billion a year through the program. Since then, North Koreans have been sent to Russia, Poland, Qatar, Uruguay, and Mali.”

 

The workers–very secretly interviewed by The New Yorker–were all women and they were held captive, watched 24/7.  They experienced physical and sexual violence. And they are trapped. 

 

Remco Breuker, a North Korea specialist at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, told The New Yorker, “Hundreds of thousands of North Korean workers have for decades slaved away in China and elsewhere, enriching their leader and his party while facing unconscionable abuse.”

 

It is illegal to import products made with North Korean labor into the United States, but once again, with murky supply chains and the de minimis loophole, it’s impossible to know if SHEIN product utilizes it. But for certain, there are textile products being made with North Korean forced labor.  Customs might catch this on a shipment from a big retailer, but they can’t even look for it in individual SHEIN packages.

Obviously so much of SHEIN is hidden, with lots of much louder PR and marketing stories to distract and confuse us as customers, onlookers, and concerned citizens.  And it’s just so hard to get a feel for what it’s like to work for that company, especially overseas.  I did find some Glassdoor reviews. Once again, Glassdoor is a site where employees can anonymously share their experiences working for companies.  I think it is an invaluable resource for future employees and customers alike.  I am always checking them out before I make a purchase, apply for a job, or consider a partnership.  And because I’ve been studying Glassdoor reviews for a long time now, I can do a good job of sussing out real reviews from fake reviews. One thing that every toxic company does is force employees to write fake positive reviews to offset bad reviews.  Unsurprisingly I was seeing some of that in the SHEIN Glassdoor reviews. But I was also seeing things that aligned with what I was reading in all of those investigations of the working conditions in SHEIN factories.  A lot of these reviews did not share job titles or locations, but I would assume that the majority come from workers here in the US, most likely in LA.

 

  • “The culture is, how to put it correctly… authoritarian. Everybody is expected to work for the greater good and ask no questions.”
  • The work culture in China translates over to their American offices. You could easily be working 12-16 hour days, since that’s their expectation of you. Other than that, there are some serious moral and ethical issues to face with the company being in the news every week for another lawsuit filing or being accused of evading import taxes.”
  • “Overworked (be prepared for overtime, nightly meetings plus hours of driving depending on where you live. Even on vacations, it is nonstop work calls and no work boundaries.”
  • you are pushed to work 11 hours per day”
  • “No work life balance, poor leadership, inconsistent values and behaviors”
  • “after a while, management decided that some should not be paid by the hour but by each piece processed, which tanked the pay of others who could not work at an unreasonable pace.”
  • “Very unprofessional that the lunch tables are used as desks.”
  • “If you ever decide to work for Shein, just remember not everyone will be welcomed here on your first day because, so many people come in and out here. It feels very temporary to stay in antoxic/stressful environment”
  • “This company will not respect you, this company will not help you, this company will not let you have any sort of accommodation for the long days and long weekends that they require you to work without warning. This company will fire you for complaining. This company will fire you for saying anything against the PRC online. This company will fire you for even taking a glimpse of the time on your phone. Do not work here, unless you know what you are getting into. They are very exploitative, and change the rules all the time.”

 

Does any of this surprise me? Of course not.  Here’s what I have learned in my career (and after four years of making Clotheshorse): where there’s ethical & sustainable smoke, there’s an ethical & sustainable raging inferno of a fire.

 

If you’re treating your corporate workers terribly, you’re also treating your garment workers terribly. Same for retail workers, warehouse staff, etc.

 

If you’re treating people poorly, you’re also operating with impunity when it comes to environmental impact.

 

And if you don’t care about your workers and the planet, you also don’t really care about your customers, so you’re selling them garbage.

 

No one wins with bad business, except for those at the very top.



Something that I think about often is…how do the people at the tops of these big companies feel okay with knowing that their profits are built from the hardships of so many people? Like what does it feel like to know that, but still do nothing to change it?  I always come back to the same answer: well maybe they don’t know what it’s like to struggle, to have no choice but to work 75 hours a week just to get by, because they were born into money.  I would think about that a lot when I was working in the stores for Urban Outfitters.  The founder of the company comes from money, has always been a millionaire and then a billionaire, and certainly he does not know what it is like to make $1 more than minimum wage and live off of 25 cent bagels and oranges because you can’t afford anything else. That doesn’t make it okay, of course, to underpay and exploit workers…but you have to assume that they aren’t doing tremendous mental gymnastics to make themselves feel okay that they are doing that because maybe they don’t know they are doing that? 

 

But with the founder of SHEIN, Chris Xu, that logic might not work.

In 2022, Wired published an epic long piece called “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: Inside Shein’s Sudden Rise.” It’s a long read, but well worth it. 

 

There’s one little story in there that stuck with me.  Basically Xu (the founder of SHEIN) started a company with two other guys in 2008.  The goal was to build an ecommerce brand. One of those men–Li Ping–spoke to Fast Company about that business.  Per the article, “they began sending buyers to a wholesale clothing market in Guangzhou to purchase individual samples of clothing from various vendors. Then they listed those products online, using all kinds of different domain names, and published basic English-language posts on blogging platforms such as WordPress and Tumblr to improve SEO; only when an item began selling did they place a small bulk order with a given wholesaler.”

 

Hmmm sounds very SHEIN-ish, right?

 

Li told Fast Company that Xu worked very long hours, working well after everyone else had gone home for the day.  “He strongly wished to succeed,” Li said. “It would be 10 pm, and he would be nagging me and buying me late-night street food and asking more. And then it could end at 1 or 2 am.”

 

Xu didn’t talk about himself very much, but he did share that he had grown up poor and he was still struggling.

 

More about the way the business worked from Fast Company:

 

Li remembers that early on, the average order size they received was small, around $14, but that they sold 100 to 200 items a day; on a good day, they might surpass 1,000 items. The clothing was cheap, and that was the point. “We were going for low margins and large quantities,” Li sao/. Plus, he added, the low prices kept expectations about the quality down



Hmm, interesting, right?

 

Anyway, after the business had been running for more than a year, Xu’s partners came into the office and noticed that all of the passwords had been changed. And Xu wasn’t there. He didn’t respond to texts.  Only he had access to the business’s Paypal account.  Later they learned that he had just kinda ghosted them and started his only company, SheInside, the precursor to SHEIN.

 

And I’m telling you this story because it shows  a leader whose focus is growth and success over everything else, including people.  And that’s just scary to me.  

So what happens as SHEIN grows and grows?

 

By mid 2021, every investor out there wanted to know “what is the next Shein? And how can I get on this train?”  Matthew Brennan, a China-based tech expert who has spent a lot of time researching and writing about Shein, told Business of Fashion in 2021, “Everyone in China has been looking at Shein and trying to dig out things to copy. All of the pieces of the puzzle to the business have already been out there, but no one has executed them as well as Shein.”

 

This is when we see more and more brands popping up–practically an infinite list at this point–offering factory direct product. And these factories are kinda selling everywhere: on Amazon, Temu, Etsy, Cider, AliExpress, Shein, and so much more.  It’s sort of a “renaissance” of connecting customers with Chinese factories. 



And more “brands” have popped up that operate in the same way as SHEIN: factory direct, low visibility into their supply chains, skirting import taxes, while portraying themselves as more high end than SHEIN.  Cider, of course.  But also Quince.  Yes, SHEIN is on its way to becoming THE model for making and selling clothing, much like the original incarnation of fast fashion (Zara, H+M, Forever 21) became THE model for making and selling just about everything over the past 15 years.

 

What will this change look like?

 

  • For one, retailers here in the US can’t compete with those prices.  After all, they have the expenses of customs, duties, taxes, warehouses, and staff. So the Shein era is definitely going to drive a bunch of brands out of business. Am I crying over the potential loss of Forever 21 (who is btw now partnering with Shein)? No, but people will lose their jobs.  Lots of people will lose their jobs.  
  • I want to assure you that brands won’t go down without a fight. And where they will start is by lowering their prices. And they will get there by cutting their costs: laying people off, maybe getting rid of more expensive employees so they can hire new ones for less money, pushing factories for even lower pricing (putting garment workers in an even more terrible position), and generally creating even lower quality goods.
  • In fact, the ripple effects of SHEIN’s growth  are bad for everyone, everywhere:
    • More low quality clothes entering the landfill even faster.
    • Clothing production never returning to the US in a major way and the clothing made here will still be made under shady circumstances
    • All of us spending more money, more often to replace our clothing because they are low quality.  Think about how much we had to lower our expectations for clothing in the last decade? Imagine it even worse.  Because retailers can’t offer Shein pricing with the current quality while still having warehouses and stores
    • More and more synthetic fabrics (because they are cheaper) shedding microplastics.
    • Wages for warehouse workers, retail staff, and even corporate staff being suppressed even more (so it becomes even harder to make a living with these jobs).
    • Destruction of small businesses via intellectual property theft (and not being able to keep up with the low prices)
    • And here’s the thing: when wages in one industry are suppressed, it carries over into every other industry.  If you don’t think what Amazon workers are paid affects what you are paid, you’re wrong! These big companies set the standard for pay and benefits.  Basically this will affect every worker (all of us).

This is scary, right? Like it almost feels unfair: how do we as individuals change what’s happening? 

 

Well, there are many things we can do: some easier than others.  Some related to clothing and others in no way (at least on an obvious level) related to clothing

 

  • Change your habits! We shop for a lot of different reasons (and most of them having nothing to do with actual “need). It’s important to get to know yourself and why/how you shop. Retail therapy is not therapy. And that means even if we do need to buy stuff from SHEIN because it’s what we can afford and what is available in our sizes…buy only what we need.  Skip the haul mentality.  Really think through what we are going to buy by asking: 
    • Why am I buying this? Is it a need, a want, or an add to get to the free shipping threshold?
    • Can I wear it often? Will I wear it often? Is it hyper trendy or does it seem to have longevity in my life?
    • Does it play well with my other clothes?
    • Am I going to have to buy other stuff to make this work: specific undergarments, shoes, etc?
    • Am I prepared to care for this properly?

 

  • Buy less new stuff and make it last longer! This includes learning to mend (visible mending is an art form) or paying others to mend and repair pir wardrobe. Do laundry carefully. And make thoughtful decisions about what we decide to buy.

 

  • Be a proud outfit repeater! Dismantle the expectation that we have to wear a new outfit for every event and instagram photo. And we definitely don’t need a new wardrobe for your  vacation. SHEIN (and all other fast fashion brands)  thrive on this misconception that we shouldn’t be seen in an outfit more than once.That we can’t wear the same dress to every wedding we attend this year. That we need special clothes for our vacation.  Pssst pro tip: if you’re going on a vacation to a different climate and you need super lightweight clothing or a big puffy coat and sweaters:  RENT THEM. Or borrow them from a friend, if possible.
  • Adopt a Secondhand First approach (meaning opting for secondhand as often as possible).  It won’t be every time, but most of the time is still a big help!
  • Get out there and VOTE.  Call our elected representatives and tell them that we want legislation that regulates fast fashion.  That we want the de minimis loophole tightened so SHEIN and its peers are subject to customs inspection and import taxes. Support legislation like the Fashion Act by signing petitions, telling others about it, and sharing information with others.
  • And wait…that’s the really important part: TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE. One of the most effective things we can do to change anything–including the impact of fast fashion–is talking to others and sharing our own personal stories.  And that can mean a wide range of approaches:
    • Talk about your own experiences buying stuff from SHEIN or other fast fashion brands.  Why it was disappointing.  How it made you feel.  Why you don’t buy it now.
    • Or why you are buying less new clothing in general.  How you are making different decisions about shopping.  Why you are getting into secondhand or mending or getting really really good at laundry.
    • Be honest about your eco anxiety and why that is motivating you to make a change.
    • If you’ve worked in retail or a warehouse or in any company related to fashion, share your stories with others.  Let’s dismantle the patina of glamour and glitter that disguises the true ugliness of all of the waste and exploitation.  
    • Let’s make it personal!!! Someone left a bad Apple review for Clotheshorse a few weeks ago, and yeah, it made me really sad for a while.  But that’s the intention of a bad review, to be heard and have an impact on the maker of whatever the review is about. Otherwise (in the case of a podcast) they just wouldn’t listen again. This review said “Way too many digressions about personal life that very only tangibly relate back to the topic. Not for me, but understand why it’s for others. Still listening for the fashion tidbits. (Truly tidbits)” Well, I’m sorry that listener does not feel that they are getting enough fashion information from Clotheshorse. The 20-30 page script of research that I write each week would indicate otherwise, but maybe that’s not the kind of information this person wants.  The thing about the personal life stuff: well, that’s not going away. In fact, that is a very strategic decision that I have intentionally made after so much reading and research about how to be an effective activist, how to bring people into a grassroots movement, and how to build a community: you have to share yourself, you have to be vulnerable and real (and yes, that’s super scary and uncomfortable for me as a person who always felt the best thing I could do for myself was never actually talk about myself or say how I was really feeling). The reality is that authenticity and vulnerability help people see why they should get involved.  Personal connection is imperative when we are asking people to not only change their habits and do all of the work of making change, but also be motivated to get others involved, too! So share your stories with others, like I do with all of you. This is not a news program.  I do not see myself as a journalist (although sharing only factual accurate information with all of you is a major priority). I am an activist.  I am a community builder.  And I am a human on this planet with all of you who just wants things to be better for everyone who exists now and in the future. That’s why I do this work. And that’s why I do it the way I choose to do it.

 

  • Lead by example. Show others what the slow fashion way of life is on social media and IRL.  Listen, fast fashion sells us the ideas of fitting in, being our best, feeling better, impressing others, this false promise that something new will make everything better for us.  We’re coming up against a lot when we try to tell people that maybe they should pass on SHEIN.  So show people that you are having a great life. Brag about your secondhand finds and the things you just repaired, your laundry triumphs, the ways you are getting plastic out of your life or doing things that make you way happier than shopping ever has. 

 

I’ve said it many, many times before and I’ll say it again: one person can’t make a difference alone, but when all of us are talking about fast fashion, changing our habits, and pushing for laws around this stuff, we will make a serious change.  This week marks four years since the first episode of Clotheshorse was released out into the world, and while progress has felt slow, I can also see the results of our work. So let’s keep doing what we’re doing.  And that includes talking to others about SHEIN.

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Clotheshorse is brought to you with support from the following sustainable small businesses:

Thumbprint is Detroit’s only fair trade marketplace, located in the historic Eastern Market.  Our small business specializes in products handmade by empowered women in South Africa making a living wage creating things they love like hand painted candles and ceramics! We also carry a curated assortment of  sustainable/natural locally made goods. Thumbprint is a great gift destination for both the special people in your life and for yourself! Browse our online store at thumbprintdetroit.com and find us on instagram @thumbprintdetroit.

Picnicwear:  a slow fashion brand, ethically made by hand from vintage and deadstock materials – most notably, vintage towels! Founder, Dani, has worked in the industry as a fashion designer for over 10 years, but started Picnicwear in response to her dissatisfaction with the industry’s shortcomings. Picnicwear recently moved to rural North Carolina where all their clothing and accessories are now designed and cut, but the majority of their sewing is done by skilled garment workers in NYC. Their customers take comfort in knowing that all their sewists are paid well above NYC minimum wage. Picnicwear offers minimal waste and maximum authenticity: Future Vintage over future garbage.

Shift Clothing, out of beautiful Astoria, Oregon, with a focus on natural fibers, simple hardworking designs, and putting fat people first.  Discover more at shiftwheeler.com

High Energy Vintage is a fun and funky vintage shop located in Somerville, MA, just a few minutes away from downtown Boston. They offer a highly curated selection of bright and colorful clothing and accessories from the 1940s-1990s for people of all genders. Husband-and-wife duo Wiley & Jessamy handpick each piece for quality and style, with a focus on pieces that transcend trends and will find a home in your closet for many years to come! In addition to clothing, the shop also features a large selection of vintage vinyl and old school video games. Find them on instagram @ highenergyvintage, online at highenergyvintage.com, and at markets in and around Boston.

St. Evens is an NYC-based vintage shop that is dedicated to bringing you those special pieces you’ll reach for again and again. More than just a store, St. Evens is dedicated to sharing the stories and history behind the garments. 10% of all sales are donated to a different charitable organization each month.  New vintage is released every Thursday at wearStEvens.com, with previews of new pieces and more brought to you on Instagram at @wear_st.evens.

Deco Denim is a startup based out of San Francisco, selling clothing and accessories that are sustainable, gender fluid, size inclusive and high quality–made to last for years to come. Deco Denim is trying to change the way you think about buying clothes. Founder Sarah Mattes wants to empower people to ask important questions like, “Where was this made? Was this garment made ethically? Is this fabric made of plastic? Can this garment be upcycled and if not, can it be recycled?” Signup at decodenim.com to receive $20 off your first purchase. They promise not to spam you and send out no more than 3 emails a month, with 2 of them surrounding education or a personal note from the Founder. Find them on Instagram as @deco.denim.

The Pewter Thimble Is there a little bit of Italy in your soul? Are you an enthusiast of pre-loved decor and accessories? Bring vintage Italian style — and history — into your space with The Pewter Thimble (@thepewterthimble). We source useful and beautiful things, and mend them where needed. We also find gorgeous illustrations, and make them print-worthy. Tarot cards, tea towels and handpicked treasures, available to you from the comfort of your own home. Responsibly sourced from across Rome, lovingly renewed by fairly paid artists and artisans, with something for every budget. Discover more at thepewterthimble.com

Blank Cass, or Blanket Coats by Cass, is focused on restoring, renewing, and reviving the history held within vintage and heirloom textiles. By embodying and transferring the love, craft, and energy that is original to each vintage textile into a new garment, I hope we can reteach ourselves to care for and mend what we have and make it last. Blank Cass lives on Instagram @blank_cass and a website will be launched soon at blankcass.com.

Gabriela Antonas is a visual artist, an upcycler, and a fashion designer, but Gabriela Antonas is also a feminist micro business with radical ideals. She’s the one woman band, trying to help you understand, why slow fashion is what the earth needs. If you find your self in New Orleans, LA, you may buy her ready-to-wear upcycled garments in person at the store “Slow Down” (2855 Magazine St). Slow Down Nola only sells vintage and slow fashion from local designers. Gabriela’s garments are guaranteed to be in stock in person, but they also have a website so you may support this women owned and run business from wherever you are! If you are interested in Gabriela making a one of a kind garment for you DM her on Instagram at @slowfashiongabriela to book a consultation.

Vagabond Vintage DTLV is a vintage clothing, accessories & decor reselling business based in Downtown Las Vegas. Not only do we sell in Las Vegas, but we are also located throughout resale markets in San Francisco as well as at a curated boutique called Lux and Ivy located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jessica, the founder & owner of Vagabond Vintage DTLV, recently opened the first IRL location located in the Arts District of Downtown Las Vegas on August 5th. The shop has a strong emphasis on 60s & 70s garments, single stitch tee shirts & dreamy loungewear. Follow them on instagram, @vagabondvintage.dtlv and keep an eye out for their website coming fall of 2022.

Country Feedback is a mom & pop record shop in Tarboro, North Carolina. They specialize in used rock, country, and soul and offer affordable vintage clothing and housewares. Do you have used records you want to sell? Country Feedback wants to buy them! Find us on Instagram @countryfeedbackvintageandvinyl or head downeast and visit our brick and mortar. All are welcome at this inclusive and family-friendly record shop in the country!

Located in Whistler, Canada, Velvet Underground is a “velvet jungle” full of vintage and second-hand clothes, plants, a vegan cafe and lots of rad products from other small sustainable businesses. Our mission is to create a brand and community dedicated to promoting self-expression, as well as educating and inspiring a more sustainable and conscious lifestyle both for the people and the planet. Find us on Instagram @shop_velvetunderground or online at www.shopvelvetunderground.com

Selina Sanders, a social impact brand that specializes in up-cycled clothing, using only reclaimed, vintage or thrifted materials: from tea towels, linens, blankets and quilts.  Sustainably crafted in Los Angeles, each piece is designed to last in one’s closet for generations to come.  Maximum Style; Minimal Carbon Footprint.

Salt Hats:  purveyors of truly sustainable hats. Hand blocked, sewn and embellished in Detroit, Michigan.

Republica Unicornia Yarns: Hand-Dyed Yarn and notions for the color-obsessed. Made with love and some swearing in fabulous Atlanta, Georgia by Head Yarn Wench Kathleen. Get ready for rainbows with a side of Giving A Damn! Republica Unicornia is all about making your own magic using small-batch, responsibly sourced, hand-dyed yarns and thoughtfully made notions. Slow fashion all the way down and discover the joy of creating your very own beautiful hand knit, crocheted, or woven pieces. Find us on Instagram @republica_unicornia_yarns and at www.republicaunicornia.com.

Cute Little Ruin is an online shop dedicated to providing quality vintage and secondhand clothing, vinyl, and home items in a wide range of styles and price points.  If it’s ethical and legal, we try to find a new home for it!  Vintage style with progressive values.  Find us on Instagram at @CuteLittleRuin.