From glory to cry for help: what explains Forever 21’s downfall?
Eight years ago, Forever 21 arrived in Brazil as a promise for those looking for more affordable clothes and modern models. Occupying two floors at Morumbi Shopping, in the South Zone of São Paulo, in its inaugural store the chain of fast fashion from California, United States, gained favoritism and provided its consumers with even a certain level of status.
I wasn’t shopping just at a retailer, but at Forever 21: a young gringo label that, unlike others based here in Brazil, brought trends from the northern hemisphere — something similar to what we see with Zara today, or when a relative travels to Europe and brings H&M items as a gift.
The frenzy was such that there was even a Twitter page titled @filadaforever21, in which users shared photos of the huge lines that formed in front of the store’s checkouts.
However, nothing lasts forever. Not even a brand that proposes this in its name. According to information from the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, the network of fast fashion will terminate its operations in Brazil. wanted by Our on several channels, Forever 21 did not respond to requests for clarification on the news.
In an exchange of messages through a social network, one of the company’s partners in Brazil did not confirm, or denied, the closure: “I inform you that I left the company in September 2017 and I do not feel comfortable, for ethical reasons, express myself about it”.
The news about the closure gained momentum after several branches in Brazil shared on their Instagram profiles a “super sale” of 50% of the pieces, without the possibility of exchange. On a visit made by Our in one of the stores in São Paulo, several clothes were on sale, although other pieces were being sold at their original price.
On Twitter, the store in Recife, Pernambuco, illustrates several publications with the place practically empty: both macaws and consumers.
The possible end of Forever 21 is not exactly new. Previously titled Fashion 21, the brand was created by Do Won Chang and his wife, Jin Sook, in Los Angeles shortly after immigrating to the United States from South Korea. Once created in the 1980s, success was sudden with t-shirts selling for 5 dollars and dresses for 10 dollars.
In 2019, almost 30 years established in the market, fast fashion began to face financial problems internationally, as reported by the “Washington Post” and “The New York Times”. In addition to the controversies — involving accusations of plagiarism by Gucci, lawsuits for illegal use of the image of singer Ariana Grande and pieces considered racist and in support of Nazism — one of the reasons for the great lack of interest in Forever 21 is what the fashion world It’s not the same as it was three decades ago.
By targeting the young audience, not only the Californian brand but the other fast fashions face an impasse: making sustainable fashion, while producing clothes with unbridled speed.
“I believe that Generation Z is much more aware than previous generations, because of the information they have and we didn’t”, says sustainable fashion consultant Giovanna Nader in an interview with Our. “There is also the issue of urgency for climate issues, as they are the ones who will be impacted by this”.
The younger generations have a much greater quest for purpose than we do.”
With that said, it is undeniable that disposable clothing is out of fashion. And that, consequently, has an impact on the success of fast fashion, just like Forever 21. Currently, it’s not so flattering to say you wear clothes from these production chains. However, as pointed out by Nader, this thinking is still part of a bubble.
“I wanted to make it clear that I still see this consciousness inside a bubble. It is still very niche for those who have the power of choice and privilege of information”, emphasizes Giovanna. “It’s a much deeper issue than saying: buy it or don’t buy it”;
There’s no way to tell people not to buy from fast fashion, especially in Brazil, where this ends up being one of the only ways to ‘be in fashion’. To feel part of something.”
The fashion consultant also points out that sustainability has become an essential pillar to continue to be relevant in fashion. Forever 21, for example, has on its official page a link made available exclusively to highlight its initiatives: from 100% recyclable and reusable bags and the “development of clothing collections using ecologically correct materials”.
“It takes a long time for the big department stores to get there. Even if they try, they are far from ideal”, adds Giovanna, citing also that other networks, such as the Brazilian Renner and Riachuelo and the Dutch C&A, are working on this issue, which has become a practically mandatory demand to “continue in the race”. ”.
Another important point to note about Forever 21’s decline is its competitors in the fashion world. Ironically, here we highlight the overwhelming success of Shein — a Chinese brand with cheap clothes that almost ubiquitously dress influencers on social networks and has recently even developed a collab with Anitta.
I use “ironically” in consequence of the duality of China’s etiquette triumph. Focused on the digital universe, recently leveraged by the pandemic, Shein has debunked the big chains and gained attention among Generation Z — in contradiction to the constant hunt for sustainability.
For clarification, while networks of fast fashion, like Forever 21, can develop a collection in 14 days, Shein produces the same in 7 days. Not quite, Chinese-branded clothing is sold at half the price of California-branded pieces.
“I have to confess that I am scared by the Shein phenomenon. It’s an ultra fast fashionhas the power of speed that is twice that of fast fashion“, says Giovanna Nader.
“I see a lot on Twitter, Gen Z influencers showing Shein’s received for 200 dollars, for example. They open the envelopes and all that clothes fall out”, completes the consultant.
On TikTok, not surprisingly, the hashtag #Shein has over 30 billion views with videos from unpackingbetween others.
Gen Z’s somewhat contradictory defense of Shein is precisely that point: diversity. The site, in addition to having an exclusive sector for plus sizeoffers clothes that reach a size of 4XL — four times extra wide.
“I understand this point, because we talk about sustainable fashion within a standard: who has access and a body that fits in those pieces that cover this aspect”, concludes Giovanna Nader.
The possible end of Forever 21 is the portrait of a challenge, still without very practical solutions, about the rampant consumption in fashion.
The exclusivity that the brand had when it arrived in Brazil in 2014 no longer exists. Low prices are knocked down by ultra fast fashions. The not much improved quality of confections exchanged for thrift stores.
Apparently, Forever 21 did not find the solution to keep in our country the key to combine relevance with the expectations of the new generations.