Last Sunday, one of the big names of the “fast fashion” industry, Forever 21, filed for bankruptcy. The term “fast fashion” describes the quick manufacturing of the inexpensive versions of latest trends produced by mass market retailers that quickly transitions from the runway to store to consumer, and ultimately garbage.
Forever 21 was once prosperous, operating around 800 stores worldwide. Instead of planning for the next new clothing line, now it is planning on closing up to 178 stores in the US and about 350 overall, including pulling from international stores in Canada, Asia, and Europe.
The abundance of the trademark bright yellow shopping bags were compelling for millennial teenagers because it was an accessible way to follow the trend. The only strategy Forever 21 was lacking was a plan for sustainability – which had an impact towards its decline.
For Generation Z, those born from 1998 onwards, the “trend” is to be unique. There is a lot more emphasis on finding your own style and even more leverage on not only shopping according to their aesthetic, but considering their beliefs. Forever 21’s main selling points of being cheap, large, and convenient is no longer impressive to a substantial portion of its target audience.
In an increasingly environmentally aware society, there is high criticism of fast fashion due to its negative environmental impact from the use of toxic chemicals and textile waste. Consumers want to see action, not fancy words. People see right through the greenwashing as companies fail to meet ends with grand environmental marketing and acts as a watchdog for some who may seem like it is faltering from its good record.
There are a variety of factors that played into the decline of Forever 21. A lot of fashion is adapting to the niche of the internet, even more convenient and popular way of shopping, and smaller specialty brands such as FashionNova have charmed over Forever 21’s consumer base with better use of social media, branding, and designer trends. Consumers are also affected by the recommendations and sponsors through influencers on social media and YouTube.
However, the desire for individuality is not the greatest factor driving consumers away from mall retailers. The new generation is more concerned and aware of what they are consuming. Standing up for their beliefs is a core value for Generation Z, evident through the example of the worldwide student climate protests and wearing second-hand clothing during the event.
The emphasis on the importance of sustainability is evident through the competitors of Forever 21 such as H&M and Zara, who continue to strive in the market simply by the attempts to become ethically conscious and sustainable. Even so, companies are constantly checked by consumers to ensure it is following through with its sustainability goals to maintain customer loyalty and trust. Consumers see right through the greenwashing as companies fail to meet ends with grand environmental marketing.
For young consumers, the factors that are considered on top of assessing whether it produces quality products is if the beliefs of the business is aligned with their beliefs on ethical, environment, and human rights issues. While some influential companies are engaging in accountability, the problem of sustainability not being addressed by the “fast fashion” industry pushes young consumers away from spending their money on those businesses.
It’s the ingrained image of a controversial issue such as cheap labor in sweatshop-like conditions that overlap with the purchase of a tank top, which makes the consumer feel like they are supporting and fueling the continuation of those working conditions. The way to stay relevant is to not only present products that are fitting the style trends but also to sympathize with the issues and core beliefs of consumers. More and more, people care about what the company stands for in the long term, not merely the ends it produces.