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Forever 21's rising fortunes
by Joy Fang

FOREVER 21 – it’s a name that conjures up images of bright, high street-styled clothes displayed on endless racks in stores that play pounding dance music.

And anyone who’s into shopping can tell you that it’s the one-stop shop where one can find everything from scarves to dresses and underwear.

Not bad, for a brand that got its humble beginnings as a 900-sq ft store in Los Angeles under the name Fashion 21 in 1984.

Since then, it has become so popular that its Korean- American founder, Mr Chang Do Won (also known as Don Chang), is now a billionaire.

The brand counts 460 stores in 14 countries, and it plans to add “three to five large stores” in Singapore in the future, said Mr Larry Meyer, executive vice-president of Forever 21, in an e-mail interview.

On Sunday, the brand officially opened its four-storey, 16,000-sq f t outlet at 313@Somerset.

Its other two outlets are at Wisma Atria – the first store to enter the market here, and which opened in 2004 – and VivoCity.

The brand expects to expand to Europe within the next one to two years, added Mr Meyer.


When the store first opened in LA, Mr Chang – who left Korea for America with wife in tow in 1981 – had no tailoring or fashion experience, and only a basic command of English.

Three years later, he opened Fashion 21, acting as buyer, cashier and janitor.

The outfit grew quickly, with sales rising from US$30,000 (S$42,106) to US$700,000 at the end of its first year.

Now, the brand is worth at least US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion), according to a Forbes article which ran in April.

But the company has come under fire from several designers, who accuse it of ripping off designs from high-end fashion brands.

In 2007, Belgian-American fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, singer and designer Gwen Stefani and designer Anna Sui all filed lawsuits claiming that Forever 21 duplicated their designs and sold them at much lower prices.

In Singapore, a Forever 21 dress costs less than $100, but compare those to von Furstenberg dresses, which average from $700 to $800 in retail stores here, and one gets the gist of the complaint.

Forbes reported that Forever 21 has “apparently been sued at least 50 times for copyright infringement in the past several years”.

Asked about its reputation as a “copycat” brand, and Mr Meyer said: “Over the last year or two, this has not been the case.

Historically, there have been only a couple of items that caused a problem which fell through our control because we handle thousands of styles.”

He added: “Our goal is to make people happy, regardless of their financial status.”

Items in the stores start at around $3 for a pair of earrings to less than $100 for a dress or jacket.


Mr Chang will not rest until Forever 21 sits at the top of the fashion heap.

In a Straits Times report in 2004, he claimed that he would not consider himself successful until his brand had as many stores as San Francisco-based Gap. Gap owns brands like Banana Republic and Old Navy.

The apparel giant has more than 3,000 stores worldwide.

According to Mr Meyer, Asia “is an important market for us”, and the brand intends to expand elsewhere in the region.

Besides Singapore, it has shops in China, Malaysia and South Korea.

“We are always looking for additional stores. It will just depend on finding the right location and timing,” he said.

Mr Chang, in a press statement, said that “Singapore is an ideal market for Forever 21’s continued expansion”.

“The women of Singapore truly understand and appreciate fashion and this has been reflected in the overwhelming response the brand has received,” he added.

And do not expect the brand to go into the high-end market.

It intends to remain firmly as an affordable brand.

“Our goal is to offer the latest fashions with new items arriving daily, coupled with sharp prices and an exciting store environment,” said Mr Meyer.

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