Forever 21 fails to grow with its customers

Julia Koh/The Occidental

My best friend once told me that “nothing at Forever 21 lasts forever.” As of Sept. 29, the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will close up to 350 stores in 40 countries. However, in middle school, I remember yearning for after-school walks to Union Square, where Forever 21 stood next to the incense vendors and bustling crowds exiting the Q train. I sought out only the most fashionable of fashion from Forever 21, including a Forever 21 and “Glee” collaboration cropped T-shirt with Finn Hudson on it. Forever 21’s clothes brought me little sparks of joy for what I thought was a reasonable price.

Beyond “Glee”-themed T-shirts and cute dresses that fit me for a good wash (or two), I realized that their cute clothes had to come at the expense of a lack of quality and self-worth. Forever 21 may have been the original place for me to embrace fashion, but social media taught me that it’s imperative to hold clothing brands accountable. By both boycotting their products and listening to concerns about the brand’s practices online, I’ve learned that following the trends of iconic brands and people doesn’t have to come at the cost of self-esteem.

Forever 21’s sizing may be better than H&M‘s and Brandy Melville‘s, but that doesn’t mean it is the epitome of body positivity. I know I wasn’t the only eighth-grade girl crying in the Forever 21 dressing room with countless skinny jeans on the floor — some more ripped than before I tried them on. As someone who has always been a little taller and curvier, this memory will never leave my mind while shopping. Forever 21 is no stranger to wonky sizing that caters to the “ideal” of that size. Yet this “ideal” doesn’t fit most people.

I didn’t know much about “social justice” and “feminism” in middle school, but I knew that something was awry with Forever 21’s sizing and the prototypical skinny models on their website. At the beginning of high school, I got my first Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit accounts, all of which exposed me to millions of girls who felt the same way. Absorbing all of the Forever 21 tea, I was motivated to do something about it. So I stopped shopping at Forever 21 and turned to other options.

Throughout middle school, my mom suggested that instead of Forever 21, we go to the Housing Works down the street because they had better quality clothes for cheaper. Like all middle schoolers, I refused her advice — even though I always enjoyed seeing what funky pieces she found there. And I would occasionally steal a few items from her closet (sorry mom).

As I grew older, social media inspired me to listen to my mom.

Thrifting requires more time than fast-fashion shopping. You may have to sift through countless pieces before you find the perfect one. And if you can’t find what you’re searching for in a thrift store, maybe you don’t need it in the first place. Sometimes the best way to shop is to not shop much at all.

YouTube offered me inspiration and tips for how to find hidden gems. People would go to their local Goodwill or Salvation Army and thrift unique vintage items from Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Adidas for cheaper than Forever 21 clothing. I put my binge-watching into practice and found some awesome pieces, such as a brand new 100 percent silk shirt for $13 from Goodwill. Although YouTube doesn’t always promote the best shopping habits, influencers taught me to question where I shop and what my style should be.

The first Forever 21 Store in Los Angeles. Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

Forever 21 started as Fashion 21, a small family business on Figueroa Boulevard in Northeast LA. Owned by South Korean immigrants Do Won and Jin Sook Chang, the business’ success was a prime example of an immigrant family achieving the American dream. It was once an innovative company that provided cheap alternatives to designer clothing, but people have indicated through many memes that the company’s fashion innovation has halted. The company also angered customers this summer by sending them unsolicited Atkins Protein bars with their plus-size orders. Many enraged tweets called out this issue as those customers accused Forever 21 of being a “fat-phobic” company. Although the brand issued an official apology, this business move was unforgivable by many, since it triggered people with eating disorders. As Forever 21’s consumers have outgrown its clothes, they’ve outgrown the brand as well.

People’s criticism of Forever 21 has trended more than their actual trends, which led me to find alternatives and made me the confident girl that l wanted to be when I was 12. I recommend that you all grab some reusable Trader Joe’s bags and go thrifting because it lets you develop a personal style without having to spend too much money. At Oxy specifically, there is a Facebook buying and selling page and a clothing swap at the Food Justice house every semester. Also, tell your little sister or cousin that instead of shopping for “Vintage and Cute T-shirts” at Forever 21, they should go out and find clothes that last forever.

Esmé Epstein is a junior history major. She can be reached at