Fashion Research Inspired by the current Border Crisis

With current calls for warm clothing donations to the asylum seekers reaching the San Diego-Mexico border, I became interested in learning about the availability of affordable clothing retailers throughout Southern California. The fast fashion model of accelerated clothing production and consumption has made clothing more accessible and lower priced.

In this short research, I sought to understand the spatial relationships between fast fashion and thrift retailers in Southern California to determine social and equitable access to affordable clothing for donors. I began by developing a database of Southern CA fast fashion and thrift retailers including Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army. I found 134 fast fashion and 204 thrift stores throughout 10 Southern CA counties. The graph below shows the amount of each retailer in each county. Los Angeles has the highest amount of each type of retailer, which is not surprising since it is a major urban area and fashion capital.


I then used GeoPy in Python, Google Maps, and ArcGIS software to map the data. I also connected the map data with US Census Bureau data of socio-economic, median household income of each neighborhood.


Most thrift and fast fashion retailers are along the coast of Southern California in Los Angeles and San Diego. Los Angeles has 143 of these retailers (42%) and San Diego has 47 (14%). The population, status of these cities as shopping, and tourist destinations may impact the density of these stores in these cities compared to other areas in Southern California. Most retailers are in mid and high household income neighborhoods. Approximately 54% are in middle income areas, 29% are in high income areas, and 17% are in low income neighborhoods.


Below are maps that focus on Los Angeles and Riverside counties since these have thrift and fast fashion retailers at all three levels of low, middle, and high income. Growing up in LA, I’m not surprised by the high availability of the thrift stores. The fast fashion retailers are relatively newer to me since a lot of them emerged when I was away studying at UC Davis. At the center of LA, the retailers are within a 20-mile radius of each other compared to broader parts of LA county where the retailers are more spaced out. Like LA county, Riverside county has more thrift retailers, but they are spread beyond a 30-mile radius.


Most counties with lower household incomes are in the eastern parts of Southern CA, including part of San Diego and Imperial county that share a border with Mexico. The unavailability of these retailers may be due to a lower population and may induce alternative low-cost shopping alternatives such as Walmart, Target, or online. This suggests that the unavailability of clothing-focused physical retailers may lead consumers to seek alternatives through broader retailers.

Questions that this research led to me further about is whether clothing donors to the caravan are purchasing new clothes, used clothes, and from which retailers. This is significant as the Border Angels non-profit organization recently announced that it is not accepting used clothing, blankets, or shoes.

This research was conducted during a Geographic Information Systems and Cartography course at San Diego Mesa College.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. wspines says:

    Is there a reason why the Border Angles don’t accept used clothing. I am sure the folks coming accross would appreciate any good clothing

    1. Helen Trejo says:

      On the Border Angels site, they provided this reason “Please note that due to Mexico’s customs requirements, it is very hard, if not impossible to bring second hand clothing across the border. It is far easier for shelters (or volunteers) to purchase these products locally for immediate delivery to those who are most in need.”

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