News.com.au reports that Stephanie Wilson, 28, an Australian who lives in West Harlem and works in human rights, found the note after buying Hunter rain boots at the expensive department store in 2012, reports The New York Post.
“HELP! HELP! HELP! We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory,” said the note, handwritten on lined paper and tucked into the bottom of her shopping bag.
“Thanks and sorry to bother you,” it added.
“I read the letter, and I just shook,” Ms Wilson told DNAinfo.
“I could not believe what I was reading.”
The note was signed “Tohnain Emmanuel Njong” and accompanied by a small color picture of a man in an orange jacket.
The letter, which also included an e-mail address which included an email address on the back, triggered a desperate hunt for the man.
The group’s founder, Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in a Chinese prison factory, told The Post that he believes the letter is authentic and that he contacted the US Department of Homeland Security, which investigates allegations of slave labor.
Mr Wu said Njong took a big risk in writing the note.
“There would be solitary confinement until you confess and maybe later they increase your sentence — or even death,” Mr Wu told DNAinfo.
“They can just do anything they want,” he said of the Chinese government.
“But they have to care about international media and politics. If everybody speaks out, that can really impact the Chinese government.”
In a phone interview, he confirmed to the web site unusual details about the note.
He said he is from Cameroon and had been teaching English in China when he was imprisoned on bogus charges.
He said he secretly wrote five notes — several in French and the rest in English — from prison and put them in the bags.
He said he was released from prison after three years, in December 2013, and is now in Dubai.