Imagine you’re in high school. You have little money, but big aspirations of winning the “most fashionable” yearbook superlative. So you go to your local mall, pass by the decrepit kiddies ride and Auntie Anne’s and make your way through the glossy doors of Forever 21. Get your crushed velvet slip dresses and shirts plastered with phrases like, “I want pizza and cuddles” now, because Forever 21 will be closing 178 of its US stores and ceasing most international operations following the announcement of a chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Forever 21’s abrupt fall mirrors its modus operandi; a fast fashion retailer, the designs featured in Forever 21 stores are known for their quick transition from the catwalk, then to shelves and finally, to the garbage. Fast fashion retailers face criticism for contributing to pollution via the mass manufacturing of clothes and synthetic materials, and for the poor working conditions in their sweatshops. The garment workers in Forever 21’s southern California factories made a mere $4 an hour, less than half of the state’s $10 an hour minimum wage.
Reception of Forever 21’s bankruptcy and store closures has been mixed. Some students appreciated the store’s accessibility, while others think its downfall is deserved after years of selling cheap garments at the price of exploitative labor.
“I’m sad because I myself like cheap clothing. But also, it’s kind of like karma,” first-year Shelby Bryson said. “They get all of their stuff from sweatshops and sell it for so much profit, and yet it’s still so cheap. There’s no way their workers are paid well at all, and the quality of the clothing is garbage.
But also, as a teenager with no money, I really did appreciate the option to choose to partake in that part of society. It’s bittersweet because I’m happy that I won’t have that specific option to support that terrible industry, but I’m still sad because they have cute things.”
For first-year Annie Holzwarth, Forever 21’s closure isn’t a personal loss. To her, the store’s cheap clothing quality and exploitative labor practices have contributed to her not frequenting Forever 21’s shelves.
“Honestly, Forever 21 was never a store that I consistently went to,” Holzwarth said. “The reason behind that is that I feel like Forever 21 is really low quality, a lot of their sewing doesn’t align. It doesn’t last long. Other brands are expensive for a reason. Their clothes will last, and they will be durable. At Forever 21, I feel like the clothes are overrated. They’re expensive for no reason.”
Junior Delaney Martin sees some merit in Forever 21.
“As a poor, almost fashionable person, the closing of Forever 21 is devastating,” Martin said. “But at the same time, it’s probably really good for H&M.”
Martin continued to describe her nightmare garment from Forever 21, utilizing the brand’s signature aesthetics.
“It would say something like, ‘I hate Mondays,’ ‘Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee,’ or ‘Touch my butt and give me pizza.’”
Editor’s note: This story originally was published in Volume 106, Issue 2 of The Guilfordian on Oct. 11 2019.