How Gen Z Killed Forever 21, And The Lessons Your Brand Needs To Learn From It

Gordon D'Mello

In Audience, Behaviour Posted

Barely a week ago, fashion giants Forever 21 filled for bankruptcy. They’re a brand with over 33.5 million social media followers globally, repping a huge cultural brand. They’ve been featured in a tonne of pop culture, and were recently involved in an Ariana Grande tiff. They’ve stayed constantly relevant, yet they’ll need some serious re-evaluation to remain present in the future. But why? But how? With 178 stores set to close in the United States and a further 350 globally, it’s a big kick in the guts for a brand that’s been at the forefront for young people around the world.

So with some painful months coming up for the wider Forever 21 brand, we did some digging into the mess. And these are some of the lessons your brand should be aware of.

Ignoring The Tidal Wave

This whole debacle is a classic case of a brand not being reactive to blatant trends and consumer feedback. For years we’ve heard about how sustainability, conscious effort towards recycling/production and worker welfare has been important for the wider fashion industry. Yet Forever 21 has made barely any effort at even slightly changing their processes, with very vague details about their production. Their Social Responsibility breakdown reads more like “we’re doing the minimum needed”, rather than “we’ve heard our customers and are proactively taking steps to be better”.

The takeaway here is that you should be constantly listening to your customers/industry, and be taking on their feedback. Rather than re-shape their brand or business model (which no doubt would have been time consuming and potentially costly), Forever 21 stuck to their guns and came up empty. It’ll be tough to get the trust back now.

The Decline Of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion has often been somewhat what of a hypocritical topic for Gen Z. We know all about the generation’s craving for environmental awareness, and corporate responsibility (which we’ll come to in a second) – but a lot of global fast fashion brands are still succeeding.

Forever 21 are one of many fast fashion brands still out there, but Gen Z are increasingly making a stand against cheap clothing produced super unethically. While they no doubt still make millions of dollars worth of fast fashion purchases in Australia alone, their awareness of the the darker side of the industry is starting to make a serious impact.

The Rise Of Responsibility

And like we just touched on, Gen Z simply just expect companies to be more switched on from a corporate point of view. They expect brands to not only act very ethically in all forms, but actively try to make a difference in society. And well if you’re pulling in millions in revenue potentially, it’s not necessarily a big ask, is it? In this case, Forever 21 tried to take the cheap thrills lane to try and win back customers, with obvious knock-off attempts at nostalgic lines and continuous use of sweatshop-esque production (with some workers in the US earning USD$6 per hour).

The simple fact is that brands who want to appeal to Gen Z need to understand that they have a wider societal responsibility – with 54% of Gen Z saying they wont purchase from brands who aren’t ethical. Gen Z want to know what your brand stands for, and that it somewhat matches with their own personal brand, ideologies and beliefs.

Expression Is Still Massive

Despite all the doom and gloom around fast fashion, there’s arguably never been a generation that’s wanted to express themselves more than Gen Z. They’re by no means earning enough money to be making expensive purchases (at least not on the regular), and that has seen the increasing rise in thrift shopping and just generally using less. Thrift shopping and re-use of clothing solves two problems for them; it’s cheap, and they often find more elaborate/unique clothing that allows them to express their personality better.

So a question for your brand is, are you helping Gen Z with their own identity and expression? If not, how can you do it more?

Ultimately, the Forever 21 situation here proves that even a brand with global recognition and awareness can plummet to the depths of liquidation. Gen Z will hold your brand accountable, and it’s vital that you learn and adapt with them.

Image Source: @amelen Twitter

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