The end of fast fashion?
By Michele Provenzano, Staff Writer
On Sunday, September 29, fast fashion behemoth Forever 21 announced that they have filed for bankruptcy. The Los Angeles headquartered chain will shut down all 44 of its Canadian locations. Additionally, up to 178 of 534 stores in the United States will be closed.
Forever 21 is known for its low prices and its ability to quickly churn out trendy items inspired by runway styles and celebrity culture. As the name suggests, its target demographic is young adults and teenagers.
According to Forbes, Forever 21’s sales are estimated to have dropped by 20 to 25 percent in 2018. In Canada, Europe, and Asia, the company is losing $10 million a month, according to an article in Bloomberg. Forever 21’s debt stands at $500 million, as reported by market research firm Mintel. Due to this, continuing to operate in Canada is “no longer economically viable” according to a statement made by Forever 21’s chief financial officer Bradley Sell. Vancouver has already witnessed the first hints of Forever 21’s collapse. In early 2018, the company closed its Robson Street flagship store.
A multitude of factors have contributed to the downfall of the once-beloved brand. Fast fashion may finally be falling out of favour, especially with millennials and gen z. More individuals are realizing the detrimental effects of fast fashion on the environment; the clothing and footwear industries account for eight percent of global climate impacts according to a Quantis report. As the products of fast fashion retailers are often poor quality, many of these items end up in the trash after a few wears. Also, the low prices of stores like Forever 21 can only be achieved if someone in the production process goes underpaid; exploitation of workers is inherently necessary for fast fashion brands to make profits.
Many young people are turning to sustainable options, such as purchasing clothing second hand. Thrift stores, consignment stores, as well as clothing buy-and-sell apps such as Poshmark and thredUP, have seen a surge in popularity. However, these options are not the singular cause of Forever 21’s failure.
Stores with a near-identical fast-fashion model like H&M and Zara are still going strong. Affordability will always be a priority for many. But affordable clothing can be found elsewhere these days, with most of it online—but additionally at stores like Target, whose clothing brands target young people. With the popularity of cheap fast fashion sites such as Fashion Nova, ROMWE, and YesStyle—which produce on-trend items just as quickly as or even quicker than Forever 21—there seems to be no room for the brand. Forever 21 is turning customers off—either with fast fashion and its unappealing consequences, or by not being as speedy as online competitors.
Forever 21’s fall is an example of a larger issue of brick-and-mortar stores falling out of popularity as online shopping continues to grow. According to CouponFollow’s Millennial Shopping Report, millennials, Forever 21’s primary customer base, do 60 percent of their shopping online. Malls are simply getting less traffic these days, and Forever 21 has suffered because of it.
Making things worse for the company, Forever 21 has become known for a few unfavourable things. Stores are known for often being messy and littered with garbage, as well as for lacking adequate customer service. Employees are rarely seen on the sales floor. Additionally, Forever 21 has become a meme for one of their distinguishing traits—the internet is full of customers sharing the common experience of picking up a seemingly basic piece of clothing only to realize it has a childish, ridiculous, or simply odd phrase on it.
Time will tell if Forever 21’s downfall is a sign of unsustainable fast fashion practices dwindling out. Locations will remain open during liquidation. Canadian customers will also be able to shop from the company’s US website.