The controversies that helped put Forever 21 out of business

All the ways that Forever 21 dug themselves a hole they can't get out of.

For many of us, Forever 21 has been a staple shop that you visit during your trip to the mall, or just to be able to walk into a store that has a top that has “I love tacos” on the back of it. 

Over the years, Forever 21 has come under fire more than just a few times but lately the brand has been in the headlines for a new reason: bankruptcy. 

This year they have already had three big incidents just with their product designs that brought them under fire with many angry customers. The most recent, being a pair of biker shorts with the phrase “fake news” written all over them. The phrase, popularized by US President Donald Trump as an expression of contempt for news media, was taken as Forever 21 siding with the president and against journalists. Katherine Fominykh, a journalist for The Capital, tweeted “Turns out, all you need to express your hatred for journalists in clothing form is $9.90, to be given to @Forever21! Wow, so affordable!” Many people on Twitter condemned the design but they sold out fairly quickly, as Trump supporters responded enthusiastically. One person who wrote “I love it! I’m ordering….@Forever21 gets it!” 

This happened just days after Forever 21 had sent Atkins diet bars in all of their online orders, and people were not happy. Critics felt that it was tone deaf for a fashion brand to promote diet bars, and that it contributed to body shaming, implying that the recipients should lose weight. It was thought that the bars were only shipped with orders from their plus size section, until someone on Twitter confirmed that her non-plus-size order had one of the bars as well.  Critics said that having diet bars as a promotional product in clothing orders could trigger an eating disorder. Forever 21 apologized for the bars. 

When you have a clothing brand or fashion line, it is expected that you have original and new ideas to bring to the industry but many brands have been accused of stealing ideas from smaller, indie brands. For example, Zara was accused of stealing designs from an individual artist named Tuesday Bassen.  Zara isn’t the only brand doing it. Back in 2018, Forever 21 was accused of trademark infringement from a charity brand named Peach’s Neet Feet over one of the shirts that Forever 21 was selling. The issue was the trademarked phrase “hustle kindness” that had a shirt with the words printed across it in gold. Forever 21s version of the shirt below on the right. It has the words printed in a yellow tone and has added stars to the outside of the text. The copied version also has white hem around the collar and the sleeves

This tee shirt was being sold for thirty dollars on Peach Neet Feet’s website and the proceeds from the shirt went to kids with health issues. Forever 21 is still selling the shirt on their European website, for eleven euros ($16 Cdn) and none of the proceeds are going to any sort of charity. Forever 21 has been accused of stealing others’ ideas more than fifty times

And stealing designs isn’t the only thing the brand has gotten sued for. Ariana Grande is suing the brand for her likeness, and the look of her “7 Rings” music video. The brand tried to set up an endorsement deal with the famous celebrity, but wasn’t able to meet the amount she wanted, and she declined the offer. According to the New York Times website Forever 21 still went on to use the look of Grande’s music video and had created an Instagram post in hopes to persuade the public that she had endorsed the brand, which she in fact, hadn’t. 

Perhaps most significantly, Forever 21’s also been criticized as one of the more popular brands that are labeled as “fast fashion.” Fast fashion has been considered a problem since before the company started but Forever 21 is largely accused of contributing to the fast fashion pandemic. Fast fashion is a term used to describe cheaply made clothing that follows the latest trends and is mostly mass produced. It is considered a contributor of pollution and climate change. Forever 21, H&M, and Zara are the pioneers of fast fashion.

The brand filed for bankruptcy and closed all of the stores in Canada on September 29th. In the US, they are reorganizing the debts the company has, suspend foreclosures and repossessions of property. The company has roughly 800 stores worldwide and are set to close around 350 stores, including 44 in Canada. 

While the trend away from shopping in brick-and-mortar stores in favour of online outlets like Amazon is doubtless a major factor here, the company’s long history controversies cannot have helped.

Image Credit: Invisible Writing

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