Forever 21, the fashion chain known for its ultra-trendy, low-price offerings, filed for bankruptcy as a result of a rapid expansion while consumer tastes in both what they wanted to wear and how they wanted to shophas changed significantly.
The bankruptcy signals the end of an era in shopping, but not the demise of fast fashion. Forever 21 offered absurdly cheap, designer-inspired clothing that could accelerate trends in mere days and even helped usher in the rise of fast fashion in the United States. When Forever 21 began in the early 2000s, fashion was something that was really exclusive and there wasn’t online shopping. The offerings were very basic. Forever 21 was the first company who took what you see on the runways and create an affordable version.
With Forever 21 style-conscious clothing, most everything in the store retailed at under $50 and available immediately. The Internet influx of information mean’t “only read in Vogue” became something everyone could access. Designer or high fashion has historically only been available to rich and usually white consumers. Forever 21 made it possible for nearly anyone, from students to low-income families, to participate in the trends of the moment in real time. A large part of the company’s clientele are minorities and customers are between the ages of 25 and 40.
Forever 21’s dirt-cheap prices were made possible by factory workers in “sweatshop-like conditions.” The chain faced numerous “knockoff” lawsuits throughout the years about copyright and trademark infringement served to them by everyone from Ariana Grande this summer to Gucci in past years. Additionally, the rapid production of cheap, easily disposable clothes has called into question the negative environmental impact of fast fashion. Forever 21 expanded from having stores in seven to 47 countries in less than six years, all while, online shopping was gaining momentum.
As climate change has become a more widely shared concern, sustainability has become a focal and selling point for many fashion brands. We are witnessing a shift in the way we are behaving towards consumption. Contemporary consumers, especially younger ones, have a heightened awareness of the impact that their clothing shopping habits can have on both the environment and human rights.
Forever 21’s bankruptcy isn’t necessarily the end of fast fashion, but instead a pivot to a different mode. Fashion Nova opts to essentially replicate the Forever 21 formula: ultra-trendy clothes at ultra-low prices with questionable production practices, banking on consumers that value easy accessibility. Fashion Nova’s investment in its presence and merchandise has tapped social media influencers and celebrities to promote the brand to widespread success instead of expensive brick and mortar.
As long as fast fashion is being created by these companies and still being sold in the amount and scale that they’re being produced, there’s always going to be someone who buys it. Fast fashion is interesting to track and watch because inevitably, we’re trying to figure out the global supply chain of things and the ways in which technology and the tangible infrastructure from labor and the environment allow for this stuff to get made. To study fashion is to study the global economy.
Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day…but teach a man to fish and he will become your competition, pricing you out into inevitable bankruptcy and suicide