Photos show the glittery glory days of now-bankrupt Forever 21, which thrived with cheap styles in the wake of the recession
- Though Forever 21 just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, for a period in post-recession America, the fast-fashion retailer showed no signs of stopping.
- Forever 21 capitalized on consumers who still wanted to look stylish while on a budget. It took over empty storefronts left in the wake of the recession and focused on rapid expansion.
- Now, as consumer sentiment shifts away from fast fashion, the future of Forever 21 remains unclear. We took a look at Forever 21 in its glory days.
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Read more: Forever 21, once among America's fastest-growing fast-fashion retailers, files for bankruptcy
Spotting an opportunity to capitalize, Forever 21 began to aggressively take residency in vacated storefronts around the country, left by retailers capsized by the recession. In 2010, Forever 21 opened its massive flagship store in Times Square - spanning 90,000 square feet and four floors - and then set its sights on global expansion, inviting celebrities like Kylie and Kendall Jenner to promote the stores along the way.However, as the US dollar strengthened, and consumers - especially millennial and Gen Z shoppers - grew wary of the apparel industry's impact on the environment, fast fashion's star began to wane.
As the fate of Forever 21 hangs in the balance, we took a closer look at the fast-fashion company's golden era and the styles that defined it.
Forever 21 was founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1984 by husband-and-wife duo Do Won "Don" Chang and Jin Sook Chang. The first store was called Fashion 21, and over the next two decades, the couple worked to establish their global fast-fashion empire.
By the early 2000s, the brand had picked up significant clout in the US for its bargain fashions. It started opening in the shopping centers of major cities, including Chicago's State Street in 2004.Advertisement
As part of the grand opening, Forever 21 held a makeover contest.
A model shows off some of a classic early-aughts look at Forever 21's grand opening on Chicago's State Street in 2004.Advertisement
Forever 21 became synonymous with fashion on the cheap. Though it sold basics, it also didn't shy away from cheaper versions of trends dominating fashion magazines.
At one point, this meant that Forever 21 had a lot of glitter and sequins ...Advertisement
... like these shoes.
Forever 21 also went all in on cheap, stylish denim and helped popularize the "jegging" — a mix of leggings and jeans that women soon began wearing around the country.Advertisement
In 2010, Forever 21 opened its gargantuan flagship store in New York City, a telling sign of its growing US dominance.
The opening was celebrated by city officials like then-Mayor Michal Bloomberg, who attended the grand opening along with Forever 21 cofounder Don Chang and Linda Chang, who was a senior marketing manager at the time but is now executive vice president.Advertisement
The Times Square store became a model for many of the large-scale Forever 21 locations around the US. It was filled with thematic rooms with cheeky sayings on the walls, like "Kissing burns 26 calories."
In the early days, each of these rooms was carefully curated according to different types of styles.Advertisement
Also in 2010, Forever 21 bulked up its pop-culture collections like its "Minnie Muse" line, for which it recruited Disney channel stars Zendaya and Debby Ryan.
That same year, Nick Jonas moonlighted as a Forever 21 store employee in the CBS hidden camera show "I Get That A Lot," helping the store to raise its profile.Advertisement
Here, Nick Jonas helps another surprised customer at Forever 21 during "I Get That A Lot."
Meanwhile, Forever 21 continued to open stores, taking over empty storefronts in malls around the nation.Advertisement
As Forever 21 grew around the nation, the company looked for ways to attract even more customers. In 2009, it launched its plus-size line, which was subsequently relaunched in 2017.
It also started to expand its menswear lines, which it first debuted in select stores in 2006.Advertisement
Suddenly, the yellow bags were ubiquitous. Per the Changs' request, the bottom of the bags have a reference to the Bible verse John 3:16 printed on the bottom.
In November 2010, Forever 21 officially expanded into Europe, marking the occasion with a fashion show in London.Advertisement
Forever 21 entered Europe to significant fanfare. Here, a crowd gathers for a store opening in Paris.
In the early 2010s, Forever 21 continued recruiting celebrities to promote limited-edition collections.Advertisement
In 2012, Forever 21 teamed up with Conde Nast editors on a limited-edition collection.
A shopper in Times Square browses the Conde Nast collection in 2012.Advertisement
By 2014, Forever 21 had gone all-in on pop culture and sports, including lines like this one with the New York Knicks.
Its next big frontier was festival wear for events like Coachella. It rolled out festival styles in 2014.Advertisement
It was around this time that consumer sentiment began to shift and shoppers began to turn away from fast fashion.
In recent years, Forever 21 has struggled against falling foot traffic and a failure to innovate to appeal to their core consumers. As a result, its fate remains uncertain.Advertisement
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