Originally known as Fashion 21, the store was founded in Los Angeles on April 16, 1984 by husband and wife, Do Won Chang and Jin Sook Chang from South Korea. The store is located at 5637 N. Figueroa Street in the Highland Park district of Los Angeles and is still in operation, bearing the chain's original name. Designs similar to those seen in South Korea were sold to and targeted at the Los Angeles Korean American community. In its first year in operation, sales totaled $700K and by 2013, there were more than 480 stores and revenue of $3.7 billion. Originally, Forever 21 only sold clothes for women but later expanded to sell menswear. Most Forever 21 stores now sell clothes for men and women, including plus size clothing for women. On its website, it also sells girls' clothing and home/lifestyle products.
Forever 21's sales peaked in 2015, with $4.4 billion in global sales that year, and in 2017, Forever 21 generated a revenue of $3.4 billion.
The global explosion in 'fast fashion' competitors, reputation damage (caused by both labor rights groups and environmentalists), high cost rental locations, and competition from online retail led to a temporary collapse in global operations. In 2019, the company experienced a 32% drop in global sales forcing it into bankruptcy protection.
In September 2019, Forever 21 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company announced that it was ceasing operations in 40 countries and closing most of its international and 178 of its US stores, while aiming to allow mall operators and landlords to have a stake in the company. The company plans to close most of its stores in Asia and Europe, and focus on the profitable core part of its operations in the US and Latin America.
Linda Chang, executive vice president for the company, reported that filing for Chapter 11 is "an important and necessary step to secure the future of our Company, which will enable us to reorganize our business and reposition Forever 21." The company closed all of its Japanese stores at the end of October 2019, while all of its Canadian stores were closed at the end of November 2019.
On February 2, 2020, it was announced that Forever 21 had reached a deal to sell all of its assets for $81 million to a consortium of mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Properties, and brand management firm Authentic Brands Group (ABG), subject to approval by a bankruptcy court judge. Following the purchase, ABG expanded Forever 21 in Latin America via licensing deals. In June 2020, ABG appointed IB Group as Forever 21's licensee in Mexico, and in October, it signed a licensing deal with AR Holdings to launch the brand in nine Latin American countries.
Employee relations and safety
In September 2001, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the Garment Worker Center, workers' advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit against Forever 21, charging them of violating labor practice laws. They claimed that 19 contracted employees received less than the minimum wage, that the hours on time cards were reduced, that workers who complained to the state were fired, and that the employees faced sweatshop-like working conditions. Forever 21 denied the accusations, asserting its commitment to fair labor practices and that "none of the workers named in the suit were directly employed by the company". A three-year boycott of Forever 21 was held throughout the United States by the garment workers and this movement was captured in the Emmy Award-winning documentary, Made in L.A. Although the charge was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real, Forever 21 responded with a defamation suit in 2002. Attorney Robin D. Dal Soglio asserted that both Forever 21's reputation and its sales were impacted by the allegations and protests. On the other hand, Kimi Lee, the director of one of the advocacy groups that represented the workers, maintained that the lawsuits were justified due to complaints from 20 workers. Both cases ended in a settlement in December 2004.
Five Forever 21 employees filed a class-action lawsuit in January 2012, declaring they were not compensated for the time they worked during their lunch breaks and the time spent on bag checks.
After the Labor Department found that some of Forever 21's suppliers had violated various federal laws on wages and record-keeping, a subpoena was ordered in August 2012. U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Morrow ordered Forever 21's compliance after the retailer failed to provide the documents. The retailer claimed that it tried to meet with the Labor Department and that it had provided the requested information.
In July 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended fines in excess of $100,000 for three different retail locations in Northern New Jersey and Manhattan for "serious safety hazards" for which they had been cited since 2010.
Critics such as Susan Scafidi, a professor of copyright law at Fordham University, question Forever 21's design process and argue that it is replicating the designs of others. Forever 21's Vice President of Merchandise, Lisa Boisset, was quoted in 2007 as saying that Forever 21 works with merchant designers and not with designers, but would not make those merchants available for comment. CEO Chang said that some of their merchants had disappointed him. Forever 21 has never been found guilty and the majority of cases have been resolved through settlements.
On 8 January 2015, Canadian media reported on a local, family-owned business in Richmond, British Columbia, Granted Clothing, whose designer noticed that their sweater designs had been stolen and mass-produced for sale on Forever 21's website. In April 2015, both parties resolved the matter on "amicable terms", settling out of court.
Forever 21's clothing has been criticized in the media due to the slogans printed on some of its shirts. Numerous users on Reddit and others condemned Forever 21 for its "Allergic to Algebra" shirt in 2011. They declared that the shirt had an anti-education and sexist theme, but Ellie Krupnick, a writer for The Huffington Post, questioned this. Krupnick's view was that the top was making a remark about mathematics, rather than a sexist remark, and announced that she would wear it.
In April 2010, Rachel Kane, a writer and Forever 21 customer created a blog with the domain name WTForever21.com. Kane posted pictures of some Forever 21 items and voiced her opinions about the clothing. The blog's popularity rose after being featured on the Jezebel blog and, in June 2011, the retailer asked the blogger to take the site down or she might face a lawsuit.
The Center for Environmental Health found that Forever 21 and 25 other retailers and suppliers sold jewelry that included the toxic metal cadmium. A payment of $1.03 million and a 0.03% limit on cadmium in jewelry were part of the settlement that took place in 2011.
Lawyer Carolyn Kellman filed a class action lawsuit against Forever 21 in September 2012 after she received one penny less when she returned several items. Customers who received a penny less or were charged one more joined the case. According to The Huffington Post, these pennies added up as "The threshold for civil actions in her court district is $15K -- meaning, she had to find enough people to join the case so that she could cite 1.5 million pennies in damages (750,000 customers since 2007.)"
Forever 21 has been accused of fat shaming due to their inclusion of Atkins' brand weight-loss bars with orders containing plus-sized clothing. Forever 21 apologized, stating that the inclusion of the bars was an "oversight."
In September 2019, American singer Ariana Grande accused and sued Forever 21 for $10 million for copying her style and likeness by dressing up their models the same way in their photoshoot from her music video of "7 Rings".
Outside the United States, most of stores are franchised or, in some markets, operated in joint ventures with a local partners. The average store size is 38,000 square feet (3,500 m2).