Phoenix fashion designers find wider audience through SHEIN X program | Phoenix New Times

Phoenix fashion designers find wider audience through SHEIN X program

These local labels were already making a name for themselves in the Valley. Then, fast-fashion giant SHEIN came calling.
A romantic dress from Sarah Kesler-Engelbrecht's SHEIN X KES line.
A romantic dress from Sarah Kesler-Engelbrecht's SHEIN X KES line. Courtesy of SHEIN
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It’s pronounced SHE-IN — like "she's in the fashion designer incubator now." And two of the members of the SHEIN X Designer Incubator Program are from right here in metro Phoenix.

“We launched in 2021 with only seven designers then. It was a way to remove barriers in the fashion industry. Our U.S. president, George Chiao, met a few designers and noticed they were really talented and wanted to help bring the products to market,” says Emily Workman, SHEIN corporate communications director.

When a fashion designer is either scouted or submits to the program online and is accepted, they are given a SHEIN coordinator who helps them through the whole process.

“We are currently looking for designers right now with a wide range of experience. You can apply on the website and if accepted, you would hear back in a couple weeks and submit a few designs after being connected with a SHEIN coordinator,” Workman says.
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Alexandria Carroll is one of the Phoenix designers in the SHEIN X program.
Courtesy of SHEIN

Phoenix designer Alexandria Carroll says that her affiliation with SHEIN has been helpful getting brand recognition for her label, Modern Alien.

“I went to school for graphic design and thought I wanted to be a graphic designer. Then COVID hit, and I felt like I wanted to do something more than virtual. I started to make graphic T-shirts, then made a kimono for myself. Someone asked if I sold these and I said 'No, I barely know how to sew.'" Then I started posting what I was making," Carroll says.

"SHEIN reached out to me; they said they really like what they’ve seen on Instagram and they’d like to see collections. My first collection was on my golden birthday. It dropped two years ago on May 30. My pants sold out the first week, which I thought was really exciting. I took the risk … they didn’t want money up front and here I am designing for SHEIN and myself.”
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A design from Modern Alien x SHEIN.
Courtesy of SHEIN

When Carroll first got started, she knew she wanted to do plus-size festival type clothing but after a while, she switched her style to more funky eclectic with lots of colors.

“Be bold and out there," she says. "That’s kind of how I chose my name. Aliens — you can either choose to believe or not. You’re either into it or not I’m not for everybody.”

According to Carroll, SHEIN has been great by helping her with opportunities she would never would have otherwise had.  “I know I started with the program when it first started, so it’s cool to see the progress for the designers. I think it’s given me a platform to grow and expand as a designer. I know what I design for SHEIN is different from my personal brand. And people can still shop on my website, Instagram and personal events. My personal brand is upcycled, sustainable brands.”

Another local designer in the SHEIN X program is Sarah Kesler-Engelbrecht of Mesa. Her namesake brand, Sarah Kes, offers a more classic look.

“Even though each season, I have a different aesthetic or color palette, it’s always based around classic silhouettes. So I pull inspiration from different eras and then I find ways to make them modern but still keeping a classic timeless element to them,” she says.

Kesler-Engelbrecht knew from a young age that she wanted to be a fashion designer and has had that passion since she was a child.

“It started with an internship out of college after I went to school for fashion merchandising. It was for Neiman Marcus in Las Vegas. I saw a lot of the luxury fashion, materials, fashion shows … working there really inspired me to delve into fashion design and I moved to L.A. in 2014."
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Sarah Kesler-Engelbrecht of Mesa is one of the local designers in the SHEIN X program.
Courtesy of SHEIN

She found out about the SHEIN X program in 2021, when a friend encouraged her to apply.

“I applied and then I got a call from the SHEIN X coordinator; she explained the program and I submitted a portfolio. My first collection was a 20-piece collection in spring of 2021," Kesler-Engelbrecht says. "It was a huge collection. There’s a lot more to it than having some designs on paper. You need to know what fabric works for which season … I worked a full-time job while doing SHEIN X on the side. It was a lot of fun and the whole program has been really great all six collections.”

Over 4,000 designers from around the world have joined the SHEIN X program, eager to get their name out there. SHEIN announced in September 2023 it will invest $50 million into the program in the next five years with goals of a total $105 million through 2028. SHEIN’s net worth is unknown as it is a privately held company.

“About 3,500 designers have been through the program and about half in the USA,” Workman says. “We manufacture in different places in Brazil and Turkey, but most is produced in China. They tap into the SHEIN supply chain. Something that a lot of people don’t know is we have no physical stores, which reduces overhead, and (we) have an on-demand business model. When you go on SHEIN, it’s only 100 to 200 products pre-made,” Workman says.

Carroll says she currently gets 10 percent of her sales, "but I know they are launching a beta program in SHEIN X where designers get to set their own prices and percentages.”

Kesler-Engelbrecht has a different commission with SHEIN X based on the cost for the company to make the garment and the sale price, including the markup.

“It fluctuates every season, but it's changed from the time I started the program to what it is now. It has increased over time. They take care of so many other things for it to launch on the website,” she says.

Kesler-Engelbrecht had a baby in August 2023 which, surprisingly even to herself, influenced her spring 2024 collection.

“I don’t usually do a lot of pink, floral or feminine looks. But after I had Owen, I was struggling a little bit getting inspiration because I was home. A big part of this collection was becoming a mother and empowering your feminine side. It's also designed to easily unbutton or straps to easily nurse your baby and embrace motherhood. It’s challenging to balance work and a baby, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
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