Forever 21 was once the hottest place to buy the latest clothing. There seemed to be a Forever 21 store in every mall. They were the unquestioned fast-fashion king.

Now, all that’s left of them is bankruptcy in September 2019 and an announcement of new ownership by a group that includes two major mall owners and a retail conglomerate. Let’s look at the rise and fall of this once-unstoppable company.

Forever 21’s Beginnings

Founded in 1984 in Los Angeles as a small store called Fashion 21, the store became well known for its business savvy in copying fashion trends and having a high turnover of clothes. After the first year, the store’s name changed to Forever 21. The founders began expanding throughout the United States in the 1990s and around the world through the 2000s. Forever 21 generated $4.4 billion in sales in over 600 stores at its peak in 2015.

Forever 21 made its brand as the mainstay for low-priced, trendy clothes while being notorious for facing many lawsuits over everything from copyright infringement to labor department violations. Those types of lawsuits don’t seem to be what brought the retail giant down, though. The company’s rapid expansion and success simply could not stand up against the waves of the retail apocalypse.

The Downfall of Forever 21

Forever 21 expanded rapidly in a short time, going from doing business in seven countries to 47 in six years, which turned out to be costly in the long run. The company was opening new stores as late as 2016 even as other chains were downsizing, filing for bankruptcy, and planning smaller stores.

Another big move that other stores made to survive during the retail apocalypse? Building better e-commerce experiences, so that shoppers could purchase their goods without heading to the now-empty malls. This was a crucial move for businesses that target young audiences, but Forever 21’s site just didn’t measure up. Their focus was still trying to get people to shop in-store, largely ignoring e-commerce in any region until years after their competitors developed strong e-commerce strategies.

One other big contributing factor is the climate change movement, which has made young people more conscientious about fashion’s impact on the environment. Customers now favor better-quality clothes and mission-driven brands. Zara and H&M are following the sustainable movement by rolling out sustainable collections, alongside up-and-coming brands whose core values are focused on sustainability.

Forever 21 could not keep up with the times and led themselves to their downfall.

Forever 21’s Next Move: Sustainability?

It is hard to predict what young people want, especially with the increasing speed of online trends. One thing is certain though: sustainability is here to stay. If Forever 21’s new owners focus on some tactics that help other established and emerging retailers thrive, including smaller stores, experiential shopping, and sustainable clothes, then they may turn their luck around.

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