Farewell, fast fashion

Forever 21 and Brandy Melville: once hot retail chains for teenagers, now empty storefronts all across Canada. 

Forever 21, founded by husband-and-wife duo Jin Sook and Do Won “Don” Chang in 1984, was once home to cheap club clothes and comfy basics. The company was successful through the 2000s, valued at around $5 billion, according to Forbes magazine. 

On Sept. 29, the American chain officially filed for bankruptcy protection in both the U.S. and Canada. The company has been ostracized by shoppers due to their close competitors, like H&M, Zara and even online fashion sites, like Fashion Nova and PrettyLittleThing. These companies are able to churn out similar styles while staying on top of fashion trends and keeping it affordable. 

In September, CBC news reported that 16 per cent of the sales came from online e-commerce but that was not enough to offset other financial problems within the corporation.

Right now, the retail chain needs more time to reposition their brand and recollect themselves from their economic downfall. This in turn will have the franchise closing about a quarter of their 800+ locations across the U.S. and Canada, with liquidation sales set to start Oct. 8 and run until Nov. 30. 

Upon taking a visit to the Forever 21 in the Eaton Centre, I was shocked. The clothing was in disarray–even more so than usual–and even the mannequins had been styled and put up for sale at reduced prices. There were all of two employees, one cashier and one manning the fitting rooms. Neither was willing to speak on the impact of the store’s nationwide shutdown. Some 2000 employees will be left to find another job in upcoming months. 

Brianna Kennedy is just one of those employees. Having been a sales associate at the Sherway Gardens location for the past two years, she is “pressed for time to find a new job.” Brianna also explained that “being unemployed was never part of the plan” and that she hopes to find success in her future away from Forever 21.  

Forever 21 is now taking time to find their footing among our competitive clothing market by reassessing business strategies behind closed doors, which could ultimately save the retailer from facing a similar fate.

Most millennials will remember the graphic t-shirts with “I love you to the moon and back” scripted across the front found at Brandy Melville. A U S. based clothing brand, Brandy Melville was famous for their “one size fits all” exclusivity. Each article of clothing sold and produced ran one size, except for certain pairs of pants, which ran up to a size two. This impossible claim upset many shoppers as the brand had made it clear that they were only interested in catering to one body size. 

When Brandy Melville first established in Canada in the early 2000s, Canadian girls were excited to take on the styles of American YouTube influencers, like Bethany Mota, Lindsey Hughes and Lauren Elizabeth who were often seen wearing Brandy Melville clothing. 

But that excitement didn’t last long: while many fawned over the store’s large assortment of crop tops, coloured skirts and wrap tops, they were also discouraged to learn that clothing didn’t cater to a diversity of body types. 

The Brandy Melville location on Queen Street in Downtown Toronto: the only one open in Ontario (Madison Dolman/Ryerson Folio).

Established in 1970 by Silvio Marsan and his son, Stephan Marsan, Brandy Melville’s first retail store opened in 2009 in the U.S. Teenage girls are the brains behind keeping designs current, brainstorming and refining clothing ideas in a back room. 

Although the store has done their best to keep styles contemporary, it’s not doing enough for the market. 

In its early years, Brandy Melville held constant with reasonably priced items: $10-20 for a t-shirt, $40 for pants and dresses. But as the brand’s popularity has grown in recent years, some of the items are no longer as cost effective. 

A sales associate from the Brandy Melville Queen Street location told me she did not know the real reason as to why stores were shutting down but some suspicions might involve the economic downfall of the brand. 

This dramatic price fluctuation could be the main reason behind Brandy Melville shutting its doors. With Brandy Melville being a female-specific store, the lack of gender engagement could also be part of the problem. Whatever it may be, the only Brandy Melville left in Ontario is located on Queen Street, stocked with just about every style staple a girl could need. Stores in Montreal and Vancouver remain open.

Besides being stylish, these two fashion brands have one important thing in common: as they were a marketplace for a teenage audience for a long while, with their storefronts no longer existing, finding a quick and easy outfit for a night out might be a difficult task. Other competitors like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle are expected to dominate shopping malls once Forever 21 and Brandy Melville shut their doors for good. 

Should shoppers expect other fast-fashion stores to follow in the footsteps of Forever 21 and Brandy Melville? 

Large brand names move at lightning speed when it comes to creating new styles and trends. One issue with fast fashion is sustainability– there is a lack of time given to designers to produce creative fashion pieces that will sell, and the market relies on predictable fashion trends, dying just as quickly as they’ve come. 

“With the growing presence of online retail, many companies have improperly adapted to the major shifts in the industry,” said Yanni Taxidis, a Wilfred Laurier University alumnus who majored in finance. 

“While some companies have done a wonderful job at fostering emotional connections and customer loyalty within stores, Forever 21 has done a poor job and focused on transactional connections. These are the facts, but no one can predict the outcome of fast fashion retailers.” 

Other experts suggest larger retail chains need to lead by example in order to keep customers attracted to their brands. 

“The pace of technological innovation is impacting the apparel industry through changing consumer expectations and habits,” said Josiah Crombie, the CEO and founder of Gimme 360

“Customers now expect fashion houses and world-leading brands to come up with more sustainable production methods, like Adidas’s recycled shoe.”

Fan favourites are constantly shifting over time as fashion trends come and go. As we near the end of two recognizable retailer stores, it could be argued that fast fashion is failing to meet consumer demands around affordability and sustainability. That could just lead to their undoing and those of similar retail chains around them—after all, nothing lasts forever.