Forever 21 may not get much older than 35…

Forever 21 just filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and will close almost 1/4 of its stores and withdraw from some overseas markets.

Originally called ‘Fashion 21’, the company was founded in April 1984 by Korean born Do Won Chang as a young woman’s boutique in Los Angeles. The shop has focussed on trendy fast fashions although it now also includes some girl’s and menswear. Over the past 35 years, the company grew into an international brand and retailer culminating in 800 stores around the world – its largest growth period (doubling in size) occurred in the last decade.

The company has come under criticism over the years. There were some employee relations issues but also accusations of sexism and of pushing a Christian agenda via sayings written on shirts. There were also issues of shortchanging customers on refunds, using toxic materials in its jewellery production, and copyright infringement lawsuits by a number of companies, including Diane von Furstenberg and Gwen Stefani. Most lawsuits were settled out of court. It’s almost impossible for such a large company to avoid lawsuits, however, the company is equally litigious towards others.

The original L.A. location, c. 1984

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