I remember the first time I ever went to Forever21. I was about 12/13 and went to the mall to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Upon entering the store, I felt like I just entered a teenage Disney World. There were trendy clothes that I could afford, shirts with cute slogans, and all the costume jewelry a girl could want. My first purchase was a pair of jeans with tan floral embroidery on the sides. They did not fit well and I maybe wore them once. Those jeans represented my years long relationship with Forever21. Clothes that I did not need, that were poorly made, and disposable. Yet every event, or trip to the mall would start or end with Forever21.
Once I got to college, it was a sure bet that if I were going out that weekend Forever21 would have what I needed for the price that I needed. After I graduated, nothing changed. A broke college graduate Forever21 kept me looking on trend for less. One of my aunts gave me the book, Overdressed, by Elizabeth Cline about the high cost of fast fashion. As someone who was interested in human trafficking, I was aware of the use of slave labor by fast fashion brands. And as much as I wanted to stay away from them, it was honestly all I could afford.
But I slowly noticed a difference when I went into Forever21. Suddenly all the clothes were cheap and too bright. I also noticed that I was shopping for clothes with girls who were about 13, the same age I was when I first started shopping there. Nothing makes you feel older than realizing that you are buying clothes with middle-schoolers. The music was loud, the store was a mess, the employees were clearly overworked and underpaid. I continued going into the store, but often walked out empty handed. I was maturing and the store that I had loved was not maturing with me. The clothes were still as on trend as they always have been, but that feeling wasn’t there anymore.
Forever21 has recently filed for bankruptcy and will now close over 100 stores. They are not the first retailer for young women that has been forced to shutter their doors. Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal, Delia’s; all stores that defined my pre-teen and teenage years. My generation has matured we’re now working, wives, mothers, and understand the difference between quality and quantity. It’s also a different time when more consumers are turning to online shopping. Forever21 has not evolved with the times; they are still secretive about their supply chain, and continue to steal designs.
With Forever21 filing for bankruptcy and closing stores, it really drives home the changing landscape in retail. Even though I’m on the last of my clothes from Forever21, their closing makes me feel nostalgic. An era is coming to an end. It should also be a warning to other retailers to not follow the same path. Consumers want transparency and honesty. What brought you to that next level is not what will keep you there.
The photo was taken of me in Thailand wearing a Forever21 romper. I wore it twice and it shrunk and I have been pretty much unable to wear it since.