Fast Fashion Giant Forever 21, recently made headlines for filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. According to Nathaniel Meyersohn and Chris Isidore at CNN Business, the filing is an effort to salvage the future of the brand. The company is looking to close between 300-350 stores in various countries including the United States. Think about the last time you were at the mall. Foot traffic was probably slowed down, similar to the past few years due to the increase in popularity of online shopping.
While taking a look at my own preferences, I realized that I haven’t been to a mall in the past couple of years to shop unless I was getting off work. I can’t deal with the crowds or clothes being thrown around everywhere, both give me an annoying amount of anxiety. Online shopping is more my speed, from the conviennce of my home I can simply filter through my options and click away.
Although I never shopped at Forever 21 regularly (For me, quality is more important than quantity), I have so much respect for the workers because I was one. Last winter, I needed to pick up a second job because I wasn't getting enough hours at PINK. I was hired without an interview, which should have been the first red flag. They mentioned a few people had left which didn't scare me off because of how fickle the world of retail is. I worked whenever I could, my peers were welcoming, but I can't say the same for the managers. They expected us to stay late without asking, assuming that if we didn’t get our required hours of shipment done we weren’t working hard enough. If you’ve ever been to Forever 21 you know that clothes are placed wherever they can fit. So many clothes, so many boxes and only two people working shipment shifts...yeah. The shipment room was so stuffed that we had to what’s called sampling, pulling a distinguishing tag from an item of clothing outside of its box so we can sort through it later. Working at Forever 21 for that month was very overwhelming, I can only imagine the pressure store managers were under trying to make sense of everything.
As I started looking further into Forever 21 worker’s stories and their business practices, I was surprised to find they are as known for controversy as they are for retail. According to Alice Hines with Huffington Post, in 2012 five employees from a Forever 21 located in California filed a class-action lawsuit claiming they were not paid for overtime worked and were not allowed to take breaks. On the manufacturing side, It was also revealed by The US Department of Labor that “Companies like Forever 21 send designs to manufacturers who employ contractor shows to sew the items" (Hines, huffpost.com). Forever 21 doesn’t have direct control over the working conditions applied in plants, breeding uncleanly working conditions and underpaid labor. This is not an issue strictly overseas, California garment factories as a whole can pay employees by piece of clothing, thus causing them to earn below minimum wage (Hines, huffpost.com).
I was also surprised to find Forever 21 has had continual lawsuits with high-end designers that deem their designs too similar to a higher-priced original. The most well-known case was a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Diane Von Furstenberg's studio in 2007. According to Danica Lo from the New York Post, the suit claimed that Forever 21 copied patterns, color, fabric, manufacturing location and measurements from a “Sabrina” smock dress created by Ms. Furstenberg. This article also stated, “Along with financial compensation for damages, all dresses and promotional displays, and commercial distribution of products must be removed and recalled in that they infringe on DVF’s copyrights.” Forever 21 was willing to bet that the amount of money from selling these clothes would outweigh what the lawsuit would cost them.
While this article singles out Forever 21, there are plenty of fast fashion retailers that have questionable practices. It’s important to do your due diligence while researching the companies and brands you support. Nothing is perfect, but efforts to reconcile the past or further hide from a problematic history should be taken into consideration.
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