On September 29th, Forever 21 officially filed for bankruptcy. After continually struggling to stay afloat in the “retail apocalypse” brought on by every mall-store’s biggest enemy, the internet, the fast fashion giant with eight hundred stores and three billion dollars’ worth of sales has fallen. While this news has troubled bargain seekers across the world, it is a win for the general well-being of humanity.
The leading cause of the downfall of Forever 21 is its untimely expansion. “We went from seven countries to 47 countries within a less-than-six-year time frame and with that came a lot of complexity,” said co-owner Jin Sook Chang in an interview with the New York Times; this expansion occurred as the fashion industry shifted to online, leaving Forever 21 in quite the predicament.
Following their file , the company launched a global restructuring strategy which the company’s executive vice presiden t, Linda Chang, said, “it is an important and necessary step to secure the future of our company, which will enable us to reorganize our business and reposition Forever 21.” This reconstruction involves closing over half of its stores world-wide.
Forever 21 is well-known for their massive selection of cheap, trendy clothes. They paved the way for the fast fashion market, offering $5 tops for the trendiest of teens to wear once and then toss into a garbage can, which then will be dumped into a landfill to sit or be burned, releasing mother earth’s worst enemy, carbon, into the air.
Fast fashion takes a sizable toll on the environment, presenting eager shoppers with the dilemma of buying the cropped Hot Cheeto tee or protecting our beloved planet The United Nations Environment Program reports: “Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. If nothing changes by 2050, the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget. Washing clothes also releases half a million tons of microfibers into the ocean every year.”
The root of Forever 21’s environmental crisis lies in its business scheme. Forever 21 aims to produce as much as possible for as cheaply of possible and continue to stay on top of trends, inevitably leading to the lack-luster quality of such products. This angle encourages shoppers to buy clothes for very little, and when the fad fades, the shopper can toss the old piece for something newer with barely any economic consequence.
Additionally, the poor quality of the clothes lends themselves to not having much chance as a hand-me-down, basically eliminating the opportunity of recycling the clothes as they cannot last for longer than one owner.
Another disturbing element of Forever 21 is the working conditions for the clothes’ manufacturers. In 2017, The LA Times reported a story on factory worker Norma Ulloa, a forty-four-year-old women who spent eleven hours pinning tags and snipping loose threads for six dollars an hour, one-half of Los Angeles’s twelve dollar minimum wage and the same price of a shirt sold at Forever 21. Ulloa, along with over three hundred other workers, filed a claim against Forever 21 in 2017. Two years later, it has still gone unsettled and ignored by the company.
Those working in the sewing department are paid for each garment completed. Business Insider reported that for a vest that is set to retail for $13.80, the typical garment worker would be payed 12 cents.
Though Forever 21 claims that they do routine evaluations of their factories, and that any disregard of the law is, in fact, not their own fault but that of the manufacturing company, they have made very little efforts to improve their conditions.
For example, in 2013 the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed from lax structural standards, killing eleven-hundred workers as one of the worst industrial accidents in history. Forever 21 employees were killed in this disaster, but as fellow competitors have since joined the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety or the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, Forever 21 opted out.
In 2016, Forever 21 was called out by the International Labor Rights Forum for buying cotton from Uzbekistan factories, places known for their horrible human rights violations and forced child labor . Forever 21 has yet to respond to this call, refusing to join companies such as The Gap, Levi’s, and American Eagle and resource their cotton.
Any good qualities Forever 21 may retain pales in comparison to the damage the store causes. A major contributor to the Earth’s landfills and the release of carbon in the atmosphere, their clothes, unoriginal replicas of short-lived trends, are never worth the consequences caused by major violations against general human rights.
Despite all these shortcuts taken, they are unable to turn a simple profit.
The closing of Forever 21 may temporarily wound the wardrobes of those searching for a get-cool-quick fix, but overall, Forever 21’s slow burn to Hell calls for a halleluiah.
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