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The History of Budget Fashion: Forever 21

The History of Budget Fashion is a series of articles that explores the evolution of fashion on a budget.

Forever21 has now become a mainstay in every budget stylista’s shopping arsenal, yet few know the beginnings of one of the most popular stores in America. In this “History of Budget Fashion”, we explore the beginnings of the retail chain as well as some of the challenges faced by the store.

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The Beginning

Denim Pants

The first Forever21 store, originally named “Fashion 21”, was founded in 1984 by Korean immigrant/entrepreneur Do Won “Don” Chang in the community of Highland Park, with the goal to sell Korean fashions stateside. According to a 2010 Los Angeles Times article, Chang got the idea for a retail store after he noticed “…the people who drove the nicest cars were all in the garment business”. (Citation) Soon the store became popular and started to expand into other areas of Southern California.

Linear Composition

While Chang’s interest was more economic than sartorial, he was unknowingly at the forefront of a new trend (along with Halston, Jaclyn Smith, Wal-Mart, etc) in retail– the bridging of the gap between high fashion and the American mass market consumer. During this time period, the rise of networked computers and retail technologies reduced the “supply chain”, which meant the time and cost it took for a piece of apparel to go from production to the store was significantly reduced. So, that shirt on scene during New York’s Fall 1984 fashion week could go from concept to reality in a significantly faster time.

Fashion became faster, allowing chains like Forever21 to deliver high fashion (at least in concept, if not in quality) to consumers in a matter of days.

Forever21 and It’s forever list of issues

Faster fashion comes with it’s own challenges. According to Forbes, the company has been sued for copyright infringement at least 50 times (read it here) from “borrowing” heavily from established designers like Diane Von Furstenberg and Gwen Stefani . This suits could stem from the fact that Forever21, unlike H&M, the company didn’t hire designers to “alter” designs, so the resulting pieces were extremely similar to the originals by top designers and brands.

The store also experienced worker rights issues in California (note: most of Forever21’s items are made in their factories in Southern California), which have been resolved and several shoppers have complained about the perceived overt Christian ties of the store (Chang and his family are devout Christians and a reference to the bible passage John 3:16 is printed on the bottom of every bag).

The store also experienced worker rights issues in California (note: most of Forever21’s items are made in their factories in Southern California), which have been resolved.

The Future of the Store

Forever 21 Store

However, these problems have not slowed down the rocket growth of the company, which is one of the fastest growing retail chains in the world. The chain has purchased several spaces once occupied by the old Meryvn’s department store chain to turn into large Forever21s.

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