Type of goods: casual clothing
Rating: *** (3 out of 5)
Forever 21 began as a 900-square-foot mom-and-pop boutique in Los Angeles. In 1984, a Korean American couple took some of the trendy designs they saw in Korea and started selling them to mainly Asian customers. As the word of mouth spread, sales soared and new stores began to pop up all over California. By 2011, there were 480 locations in three continents and sales topped USD2.6 billion. In New York City, the chain recently replaced the Virgin Megastore in Times Square with a 90,000-square-foot flagship, more than 100 times bigger than the original store the humble couple opened 28 years ago. It was an American Dream come true.
The flagship in Times Square, NYC
Forever 21 caught the wave of casual wear in the 80s that saw the rise of international retail giants like Zara and H&M. They market “disposable fashion” to young women who buy what’s in vogue for the season and toss it after a couple of wears. In California, Forever 21 merchandise is known affectionately as “hoochi clothes” because the chain is said to cater to party girls (or “hoochi mamas” as they are called) looking for cheap, revealing garment to go out on Friday nights.
Joining GAP and Abercrombie & Fitch in the recent spate of American retail invasions, Forever 21 opened shop in Hong Kong this past March. It kicked struggling local retailer Giordano out of Capitol Centre (京華中心), a commercial building located at quite possibly the busiest intersection in all of Hong Kong, as it sits on the narrow passage connecting Times Square and SOGO. Forever 21 reportedly pays HK$11 million a month for the multi-story space, one of the most expensive in Hong Kong and even the world. To pay the astronomical rent, the store rushed to open in January – two months before renovation was even complete – so that the cash registers could start ringing while the other half of the store was still boarded up with power drills roaring and sawdust flying. Sky-high rent also explains why the store is open till 1:00 AM every day of the week. Barely breaking even each month, the chain has no current plans for a second location in Hong Kong.
Forever 21 on Jardine's Bazaar, Causeway Bay
I walked into the store for the first time this month. It was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with teenage girls and Mainland tourists. The men’s section is decidedly small, tucked inconspicuously in a sad corner on the basement level. It is clear that the male population is not a demographic they target. Prices are impossibly low: a T-shirt for HK$40, jeans under HK$90. It makes H&M and even Bossini look expensive. The fabric feels cheap and uncomfortable, and none of the items looks like it would survive a single cycle in the washing machine. That being said, Forever 21 does provide teenagers and their parents an affordable option, especially since the former tend to grow out of their clothes fast, both physically and emotionally.
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