Many women have fallen in — and out of — love with Forever 21.
There are young, cash-strapped customers who just want to get their hands on stylish clothing, not caring if its going to wear out quickly. But as many women get older, they tend to prefer higher-quality clothing they won’t have to replace constantly.
The former category is helping Forever 21 thrive.
Goldman Sachs and Teen Vogue recently polled fashion influencers — or “it girls,” as the survey dubbed them — ages 13-29. This survey set out to answer where the youngest consumers like to shop.
Apparently, they not only like Forever 21 — they love it.
Forever 21 came in at number 8 on the list of brands that matter to fashion-forward “It Girls.” The retailer topped the survey’s ‘Love List,’ which ranked brands based on their respective levels of familiarity and affinity, as well as how much people talked about the respective brands. Forever 21 beat out teen staples like Urban Outfitters and H&M.
Why would a brand that offers low-cost, low-quality apparel rank so high with fashionable teens?
The answer might be simple: Forever 21 is targeting a girl who is not yet interested in purchasing quality clothes. She just wants to look good. And when that girl moves on, another crop of girls will enter Forever 21’s throes.
Ultimately, the name “Forever 21” says it all. To a young woman who can’t legally drink yet, turning 21 is the dream. (To an older consumer, being trapped in a 21-year-old’s body forever probably sounds horrifying.) But Forever 21 is “aspirationally 21,” as Liz Dunn, CEO of Talmage Advisors, put it to Business Insider earlier this fall.
This cheap, ephemeral fashion doesn’t bother this consumer. After all, this consumer is more interested in spending money on technology and experience than apparel, anyway.
This trend is ultimately “part of this whole generation that’s kind of obsessed with taking selfies, showing the world what they’re doing at every single moment,“ Dunn said to Business Insider.
Ultimately, she said that this allows young consumers to say, ”'I have a really fabulous life because of all the places I’ve been and the things I’ve eaten and the people I’ve been with — that’s almost worth more than what my outfit is.’“
And Forever 21 allows a young consumer to do exactly that at the whim of her latest purchase.
And someone who is young and cash-strapped doesn’t necessarily care if Forever 21 (sometimes egregiously) rips off other designers — even other fast fashion brands, like H&M. Think about it: a 14-year-old using her babysitting money for clothes can shop at Forever 21 and still look like chic and trendy.
"You’re attempting to get the looks for less, right?” Dunn said. “The consumer is aware that the brand is derivative — that’s probably why they’re buying it.”
Of course, this philosophy isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some millennial women — many of whose formative years were during the recession — are looking at what value means to them.
“I think that there’s just very big shifts in terms of [what] consumers value, particularly with the millennial generation. They tend to be more value-based in terms of their purchasing behavior,” Dunn said to Business Insider, noting that this trend was still in its nascency.
The other confounding piece of the puzzle is how Gen Z and millennials famously care about brands that come packed with messages, and Forever 21 has historically been outed for its unethical working conditions. And this spring, the film “The True Cost” shed light on the invisible expenses that come with such affordable apparel. Yet on the surface, young people’s affinity for cheap clothing has usurped the desire to combat the system. It begs the question: will these young people ultimately turn away from Forever 21?
Not any time soon. Because right now, cheap, accessible, and stylish clothing is alluring to many young women who maybe don’t have the funds to buy couture clothing, or whose Instagram followers might notice if she repeats an outfit multiple times.
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