“Shop your closet first, then secondhand.” Q&A with entrepreneur, CEO, and Hot Buttons podcast host Shilla Kim-Parker
Boston, MA (September 15, 2022) – Shilla Kim-Parker is the CEO of Thrilling, the first dedicated vintage marketplace powered by thousands of mom and pop shops across the U.S., named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative retail companies of 2022. She’s also one of the co-hosts of Hot Buttons, a Post Script Media show about the future of fashion and culture on a changing planet. Each week, Christina Binkley, Rachel Kibbe, and Shilla unwind the breaking news, industry moves, cultural trends, and tech breakthroughs that are shaping sustainable fashion. The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters. Can we change it? Listen Here.
We wanted to learn more about Shilla’s introduction to climate change, sustainability in the fashion industry, and how she lives her values today. This interview has been edited and condensed.
What made you first notice the environmental footprint of fashion? Was it something you experienced first-hand?
I was an avid donator of clothes, which I think enables guilt-free shopping if you think you can just donate away anything you don’t want. The first aha moment for me was learning that up to 80% of what gets donated ends up in landfills, because the volume of clothing production is so vast that it’s just impossible for non-profit thrift chains to re-sell clothes quickly enough.
That was shocking to me and I wanted to learn more. Digging into it, I learned that the apparel industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate emissions and is vacuuming up the world’s natural resources – for example it can take up to 1,000 gallons of fresh water to produce one t-shirt. And of course all of it is fueled by fast fashion – our clothes are cheaper than ever, easily replaceable, and so we are trained to view them as disposable – creating this unhealthy cycle where we buy more, and get rid of them, over and over again.
This is not to mention the fact that we’re exporting our apparel waste to other countries – primarily the Global South – to deal with. I found that once I learned more, it was impossible not to want to do something about it. That’s one of the reasons that drove me to create Thrilling and launched my entire sustainable fashion journey.
How are you seeing clothing or apparel companies embrace the “fix it/ repair” culture?
To be brutally honest, I’m not seeing appeal companies really embrace fix it or repair culture in any meaningful way. We’re situated in a capitalist economy that rewards quarter over quarter growth where most of that growth is achieved by producing more, selling more, to more consumers every quarter. Consumers want companies to be more responsible, but companies aren’t incentivized to pursue it.
What do you say to people who want to decrease their fashion footprint?
The most sustainable option is already in your closet. Can you rework something into a new style that might excite you, or take it to a tailor to size it up or down? Second-hand is the next best sustainable option because the resources have already gone into making that item – and most clothes aren’t biodegradable. Shop your closet first, then secondhand.
Your company, Thrilling, connects more than 2,000 vintage clothing shops in 300 cities across the country – how are you serving their needs?
I grew up among people who ran apparel-oriented businesses and when I talked with them, they all talked with great passion about being underserved by tech. Even though e-commerce is a mainstream concept, it has mostly been geared towards individuals selling a few items from their closets – not for the vintage store owner who is essentially a clothing curator with tens of thousands of unique SKUs. Most people are surprised to learn that there are more secondhand and vintage clothing shops than the number of Starbucks and McDonalds across the country – combined. Collectively they house tens of billions of hand-picked and curated inventory and 95% of it is still offline today because of this challenge. That was one of the reasons I started Thrilling, to make it easier to upload unique inventory at scale, for these small shop owners to have an incremental source of revenue, and for shoppers around the world to have access to all of this incredible inventory.
Who do you consider to be a changemaker in the fashion world?
There are a few activists I think are doing remarkable things. Hoda Katebi is a Chicago-based activist who is a founding member of Blue Tin Productions, an apparel manufacturing co-operative run by working-class women of color. Liz Ricketts co-founded the OR Foundation, she’s been working to improve the lives of Ghanaians impacted by the Global North’s apparel waste. Brittany Sierra created the Sustainable Fashion Forum in 2017 and has led tough and important questions among leaders across the industry.
What are you hoping comes from those who shop on Thrilling or listen to Hot Buttons?
With Thrilling, I hope visitors fall in love with shopping vintage and second-hand. That they see that they don’t sacrifice anything by not shopping first-hand. With Hot Buttons listeners, I hope people learn about the impact of fashion, get excited about potential solutions, and perhaps are inspired to start a company or lead a movement to help our greater community and planet.
What are your favorite podcasts/ what are you listening to?
- Into It: A Vulture Podcast with Sam Sanders
- Jemele Hill is Unbothered
- Decoder with Nilay Patel (Verge editor-in-chief)
- Pivot, with tech journalist Kara Swisher and NYU Professor Scott Galloway
- Keep It!, with Ira Madison III and Louis Virtel
- Pod Save America
- How I Built This with Guy Raz
- Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend
About Post Script Media
Post Script Media makes podcasts for a changing planet. Founded by Stephen Lacey and Scott Clavenna, Post Script has produced some of the most important podcasts in the energy and climate space, including The Carbon Copy, Catalyst With Shayle Kann, The Big Switch, Columbia Energy Exchange, and Watt it Takes. Its production of Where the Internet Lives for Google won two Webby Awards in 2022, including Best Technology Podcast and People’s Voice Winner, Technology Podcast. Its production of A Matter of Degrees was a bronze winner in the inaugural Anthem Awards in 2022. Post Script Media is based in Boston, MA, with a team of audio professionals located throughout the U.S.