Op-Ed: Nothing Lasts Forever

Words Sherry M. Lai

My first ever online purchase was a white lace bodycon long-sleeve dress from Forever 21. That was back in 2012 when Instagram was still growing, Justin Bieber was in trouble (as always), and Forever 21 was reaching its peak, not its downfall.

After filing for bankruptcy on October 3, 2019, Forever 21, the brand which once embodied fast fashion, will be closing its stores in Canada.

How did it all go this way? What does Forever 21 closing its stores in Canada mean?

Same!

My friends and I used to play this hallway game in middle school, where we categorized people based on their clothing labels. We got the ‘Urban Behavior Sweats,’ ‘Garage Plaid Shirts,’ ‘American Eagle Jeggings,’ ‘Vans Squad Swag’, and my personal favourite, ‘The Bloggers.’ The bloggers, whose hair had the flawless curls, and the perfect bounce; their nails were fresh and always done; their outfits were ‘to die for.’

Desire stimulates action. I woke up at 6 am to take the train to Vancouver on a weekend morning, just to carry two big yellow shopping bags at the end of the day.

Forever 21 was one of the first companies to specialize in fast fashion. It quickly turned runway looks into affordable products, and people could not get enough. I was one of those people. I was proud to wear their clothes, so I could say same! to The Bloggers.

Forever 21 was my Pinterest back in the day, it was where I could draw myself into look books for hours.

Sure.

In high school, Forever 21 wouldn’t pop into my mind unless I needed an inexpensive dress. I was in the dance program, so I needed a different outfit for each of the shows—sometimes a half dozen each year.

“Just get ‘em at Forever 21,” was heard before each show.

Years went by, and I noticed the stores had become less crowded. Less crowded meant more fun, though. All of us got to play around and try on more clothes in an emptier space.

It’s hard to say if fast fashion itself is going to die. People are more informed and are choosing sustainable options. For Forever 21, the twenty-one-year-old core consumers of a decade ago are different from the ones today. The price point is no longer the only consideration.

One competitor, Zara, has expanded tremendously over the past decade. The company creates products that meet people’s demands while maintaining decent quality. They insert pop culture into the retail environment and uniquely structure their store.

If you’re not a fashion guru, you might go to Uniqlo for the essential, classic, and straightforward options.

Meanwhile, instead of keeping up with target consumers, Forever 21 turned into storms of cheap, misfired products. The over-extended aggressive retail chain has been left behind.

Sure, I did shop at Forever 21 sometimes, since it was a prominent tenant at big malls—easy to reach, approachable. At one point, I thought, is it just me, or is everything starting to look the same? I wasn’t some Youtuber who could afford a new shopping haul every three weeks and having stretched or faded clothes was—and is—a severe problem for me. Though the products at Forever 21 are affordable, the quality isn’t there.

“Hey, you wanna just wrap it up at Forever 21 for the beach party?”
“Okay.”
“Actually, do you want to go somewhere else instead?”
“Sure.”

Smh. (shaking my head)

The growing pain of Forever 21 was not just the rise of sustainability culture among consumers, but also its controversial lawsuits, and the lack of awareness of its target demographic. Forever 21 closing its stores in Canada symbolizes a shift in consumer taste.

Frankly, Forever 21 ran as an outdated retailer that did not embrace change and innovation. Younger shoppers are more environmentally cautious, they have a higher awareness, and feel a responsibility towards climate change. Most of Forever 21’s clothes were made overseas, and many workers were not being paid a living wage. This isn’t sustainable on an environmental or a humanitarian level.

Also, the style of visual merchandising in its retail stores didn’t keep up with the taste of its target audience. The last time I shopped at Forever 21 was three years ago, and the products were overwhelming and featureless.

With the closing of Forever 21, roughly 20,000 people will lose their jobs. Smh. Guess nothing lasts forever.