The Meaning of Forever 21's Closure

By Annika Townsend

Years ago, the popularity of clothing brand Forever 21 was at it’s peak. Teens could not stop talking about the “cute” and “trendy” clothing at dirt-cheap prices. So-called “fast fashion” has dominated much of retail for the past two decades.

However, the brand’s unethical practices have surfaced and attitudes towards consumerism of young shoppers are changing. In early October 2019, the company filed for bankruptcy and announced the closure of 350 stores worldwide, including the store at Westfield Montgomery Mall.

According to The Washington Post, the environmental effects of fast fashion are serious: the apparel industry is a major source of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The clothing produced by companies such as Forever 21, H&M, and Zara is virtually disposable. Americans throw away 12 million tons of clothing every year, and

69% of this ends up in landfills.

The effects on the workers making clothing for these companies are also documented. Such retailers tend to rely on low-wage workers in countries like China and Bangladesh, where they have few protections or labor laws. These brands seek to make a huge profit margin, while pricing their apparel extremely low, making their clothing attractive to teenagers.

However, more teenagers and young adults care about their environmental and social impact on the world. A survey of 126 B-CC students shows that one-third of students think about the ethics of clothing before purchasing. While not the majority, this number is significant and has had effects on fast-fashion brands, such as Forever 21 with its recent bankruptcy.

When asked about fast fashion, B-CC sophomore Natalia Gomes-Lima says “ethics are important when I’m shopping because I always think about the fact that the money I’m giving the cashier is going to the company, the people at the top, and not directly to the workers.” She adds, “I like to make sure that companies are paying workers properly, not exploiting them, as well as using resources well to not harm the environment. Forever 21 does not back these values for myself and many others. This explains them going out of business. It’s time for a change.”

More ethical apparel companies such as Fazclo, Moral Earth, Brook Apparel, and UncaptiveCo have been coming into the light as fast fashion is pushed into bankruptcy. In an interview with Kirsty Shaw, the owner of ethical clothing company Moral Earth, emphasized that having a “value base that does no harm.” Shaw said she “ensures the fabric and inks we use is certified by a governing body, meaning no human was harmed in the making and the damage to the environment is minimized greatly.” Moral Earth also does not use plastic mailers, instead they use corn mailers to reduce Moral Earth’s plastic consumption. In addition, all waste is recycled carbon footprint.

What sets a business like Moral Earth apart from Forever 21 is that Shaw is more concerned with her values and the products she creates than turning a profit. A business model like that of Moral Earth offers an alternative option for teenage and young adult consumers as brands like Forever 21 are pushed from popularity.

Photo courtesy of Annika Townsend

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