Forever 21 is Forever Unfair

Imagine:

The factory is hot. You’re covered in sweat. You are on overtime for a ten-hour shift, but not getting any extra compensation. The most you’ve had to eat has been a measly half of a day-old sandwich and you haven’t had a bathroom break in the past seven hours. Your back hurts from being hunched over a worktable, your hands are cramping but you must continue the stitching. You steal a glance around, decide to take a one-minute break to stretch. Your supervisor happens to sees you, screams for you to continue working, threatening to physically abuse you if you do not.

The scenario above describes the work conditions in which Forever 21 clothing is manufactured.

The purpose of this blog is to persuade Don Wong Chang, the founder and C.E.O. of Forever 21, to run Forever 21 under more ethical policies and procedures.

These are the only two photos I could find of Don Wong Chang in the media (he and his wife and co-founder of Forever 21, Jin Sook Chang, are very elusive and private):

In this blog, I will analyze the many lawsuits that have been filed against Forever 21. I will include the most high-profile cases from various categories, all of which deal with unethical conduct in one or more ways. The first case I will highlight is a sweatshop case, the second is a case regarding the controversial construction of a warehouse, the last are about copyright infringement violations (which can lead to sweatshop use, as I will explain later). Although these issues may seem unrelated, each concern unethical business practices and affect all levels of the fashion industry, from the garment workers to top designers.

As someone who has been in the fashion industry for the past six years, I know the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve seen it all: I’ve been a model, I’ve been a stylist, I’ve planned fashion shows, I’ve been a photographer assistant and have worked at an agency. I’ve worked at St. John Knits in their high fashion showroom on 5th avenue, I’ve worked with international and domestic textile mills and print studios and have done PR for Tatyana Peter, a couture designer. From all of my experience in the field, and from designing/making my own clothes, I know firsthand all the hard work that goes into manufacturing a piece of clothing and understand the repercussions that copyright infringement has on the garment workers and the industry as a whole.

I will apply all my fashion knowledge and skills to making a change in Forever 21’s business practices. Although outlining the cases and providing information is a great starting point, I plan to take this a step further and hold an interview with a Forever 21 store manager who was working at the time of the protests. I will also highlight groups and companies that are fighting for ethical practices within the fashion industry.

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29 Comments

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29 responses to “Forever 21 is Forever Unfair

  1. Interesting topic and you definitely have provided enough information about yourself to show that you know what you’re talking about. There is an error where you write “In this blog, I will….” but other then that I can’t wait to read more.

  2. evangelinelyu

    You did a great job of painting a picture of what these sweatshop workers have to go through. I think it would be even more effective if you added a picture of a sweatshop similar to one that Forever21 uses. It might be controversial, but I’m sure it would get your point across.

  3. Good start. I like the scenario at the beginning, where I can really put myself in that position. Sounds like you have a solid idea of where you want to take this blog, I’m excited to hear all the evidence against Forever 21, and I’m already reconsidering shopping there!

  4. I really like your topic because Forever 21 is growing rapidly and people need to be exposed to the truth. The use of sweatshops explains why the clothes are inexpensive, but the working conditions are horrible. Using employee personal stories and the companies policies will benefit your blog immensely.

  5. This was a great post! I know exactly what your goals are, and I know how you plan to achieve them. I am familiar with this controversy, especially now that Forever 21 has more than quadrupled in size since 2001. The story was also covered in Chapman’s Tunnel of Oppression last year. Also, have you seen anything about the documentary called Made in L.A.? I know there has been quite a buzz about it, and Forever 21 is a subject in the film.

  6. Good intro. It helped to draw me in to you topic immediately. I am curious to see how their prices might change (go up) of their manufacturing conditions changed. Obviously it is more important for their products to be made in humane ways, but the tradeoff would be an interesting thing to look in to.

  7. I’m not sure if you are familiar with Fairwear but it a club on campus (Chapman) that is all about changing factory conditions. I suggest that you attend a meeting and possibly do a post with this club in mind……

  8. Loved the story telling technique of pulling readers into your blog. You have a great topic and catchy title. It sounds like you have the professional experience to talk about all sides of fashion. Was there a personal experience that happened to you, or to someone close to you, that revealed the manufacturing in Forever 21? I also immediately pictured children working when you were describing the sweatshop – do you have an idea of the ages of these employees? Pictures of children and employees on your blog would be truly effective. Great job!

  9. You did a great job at painting a picture of the working conditions. The only thing that I would add is how you know that this is true. Is there any kind of proof? I am sure that there is, so I would just lie to see a little bit upfront.

  10. I think you have a really good case. I admit, I shop mainly at Forever 21 because of their stylish clothing and modern trends. However, I had no idea that the store was using sweatshops to make these clothes. It saddens me that this is happening and I think you definitely can make a change in how Forever 21 manufactures its clothing. I am looking forward to hearing more on this topic and seeing what we can do to change it because as much as I love their clothes, I want to feel good about where the clothes came from.

  11. Your topic is a very trendy one, seeing that today many places are about trying to have cheap clothes and other products, that are cute, and obviously in the masses because of how inexpensive they are. I think this topic is a very fitting one for you especially since you know everything that goes into the making of clothes. If you do stuff outside of the blog to raise awareness and hopefully put an end to this, it would be neat to see pictures of what you are doing however you go about it. It would also be neat to hear maybe an interview from the change agent or to hear a bit of his history so maybe you can say “hey, would you like your family to work under these conditions…” or something to that effect. I think it would be good to put him on the spot in your blog so it really hits home that where he is buying from is unethical and wrong.

  12. I like that you established your credibility on the subject directly in your first post. I am eager to hear more about how you came across the information that Forever21 uses sweatshops and I am interested in why you are targeting them specifically since I am aware of many other stores that have been accused of using sweatshop labor as well.

  13. The scenario you described in the beginning was very effective. It made me sympathetic and “feel” for the workers. Great start!

    My suggestions for you is to find a way that for Don Won Chang to make the same amount or close to the same amount of money for his clothes. He is running a business and obviously is not concerned for the ethical treatment of people. If there is no way to make the same amount of money try ways to make him feel bad for the conditions that he is putting his workers in.

    This is a great topic and I agree that it is wrong and cruel! Hope it all goes well!

  14. I didn’t know that Forever 21 used sweatshops which makes me feel horrible for shopping there. I actually did a whole report on sweatshop labor overseas but it focused mainly on Nike and banana workers. Just being in the fashion industry, it must frustrate you to know that people go through blood, sweat and tears to create avant garde looks and create masterpieces and then have someone use sweatshop labor to create cheaper, uglier versions. Your change agent is perfect because he is the only one that can make serious changes. Hopefully this can be seen through one day.

  15. very interesting topic. I heard about the scandals that Forever 21 has had in the past, and I never realized it was this serious. I use to be an avid shopper at Forever 21, and now I will definitely think twice before I shop there again.

  16. I think you should have a post convincing people of reasons not to shop at Forever 21, because let’s face it, cheap clothing in today’s economy is the best way to go.

  17. Rin

    I like that you’re willing to become active on this issue, rather than just write about it.

  18. I have heard much about these types of situations in developing countries. Outsourcing these jobs to workers who are mistreated and paid next to nothing. You always have to think about why exactly these chain stores have such a low price for all their products. Walmart has been in the news for the same type of shady business. It’s completely immoral to base the foundation of your business off the misery of poverty.

  19. Forever 21 is always ripping off other designers and I think it is great that you are becoming active with the issue.

  20. This is a topic I have never really thought about or knew anything about! I am really interested to learn and read more! Your use of pictures to support your topic was great! Clearly you have a great passion for this topic! Great job!

  21. Ive never been a fan of Forever21 because I find the quality of their clothes extremely poor but I will admit I have bought a couple tank tops and miscellaneous items here and there. With such cheap prices a customer should be automatically aware the workers are probably paid extremely low wages and work in poor conditions. We are shopping their for their cheap prices, but shouldnt we realize that we are also supporting unfair labor?

  22. Obviously too many fashion related issues to be solved. I won’t buy from them anymore! Thanks for a great & informative article! Please join/help me for more fights!

  23. Rafael

    Hey, it’s me who wanted to use you’re website as a resource for my Editorial homework.

    I was wondering if you would want to see it. My teacher actually loved it and made copies for my whole class to see. It’s okay if you do not want to see it, I just want to make sure you know how much you helped me. 😀

    If you want to see it, I can e-mail it to you. I just need your email address.

  24. Carlee

    I was just wondering, but where did you get your information? I am trying to write a persuasive paper on why people should buy fair trade, and I’d really like to include something about the unfair working conditions, but I couldn’t find any info. on Forever 21, and would greatly appreciate any information you have! Thanks!

  25. Razorgirl

    the 2nd pic is not of Don Chang…that is the president Alex Ok.

  26. Elica

    Is there a petition?

  27. whats up, love your blog about small business workers compensation california

  28. your second to last picture is of Mr Chang and the bottom picture is Lawrence Meyer CFO/Sr VP and I believe Alex Kim is his name, he is in charge of real estate… i used to be a district manager for this company… been trying to find the magazine article about the working conditions where they discussed Mr Chang yelling at protesters outside his house because they were making his daughter cry and about workers being unable to take breaks to change feminine hygiene products..
    and just an FYI… from what i understand/remember, F21 purchases the cut fabric (its cheaper to send the un made garment than the finished product)and has it shipped to LA. Then in LA, workers sew on F21 tags and the sew the garments together. When Mr Chang says he has no idea about the conditions of the workers, well, he is kind of lying in that the man he buys most of the fabric from is also a part of the F21 leadership team and used to be seen in the HO on a regular basis… thinking his last name was Au..????

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