In the last week, the managers of the fashion store in Brazil had to accept the determinations of the central office. Starting this Sunday (19), according to information published in Estadão and replicated in the press, the 15 Forever 21 stores across Brazil should close their doors. This is the first step towards ending the company’s operation in the country.
The event could have been more a result of the antics of ambitious executives or the routine storms of capitalism, but no. It’s symbolic. It reveals the new face of the Brazilian economy, the ambitions and desires of consumers in continuous transformation and the changes in the business model of major fashion retailers.
Forever 21 arrived in the country in March 2014. Although things were already going wrong here, there was still some optimism between us and the promise that a better future would come to fruition somehow (oh, how I miss it!). Driven by the increase in purchasing power, a valued currency and access to credit, Brazilians invaded the stores of North American metropolises hungry for consumption.
The corridors of malls and outlets in Florida, New York and California were always crowded with people mixing Portuguese with English, carrying giant bags, full suitcases and eager to buy. Economists’ warnings about the symptoms of bankruptcy in the Brazilian economy were not heeded because we were willing to deal with other doubts. Everything boiled down to “Sir, credit or debit? Are you going to pay in reais or dollars?”.
The greed was such that, that year, the spending of tourists abroad reached a new record. There were 25.6 billion dollars sent to the gringa.
To save customers the effort of traveling and having to deal with the despair of making all their purchases fit in two 32 kg suitcases (oh, I miss you!), international brands have landed in the country’s capitals. Forever 21 was one of them.
The company was born in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 1984. A young couple of Korean immigrants, until then employees of a gas station, realized that the clientele more connected to fashion had better cars, complained less about the prices and had more money. to spend. That’s how they decided to take their meager savings, open a small clothing store (at that time it was called Fashion 21) on Figueroa Street to offer products produced in South Korea, with the power to last just one season, but connected to the latest fashion trends and with great prices.
Soon the name changed to Forever 21. If the number 21 brought with it the idea of innovation and connection with the future, forever (always, in English) gave the feeling that it was a business model with enough stability and breath to eternity.
On their first anniversary, Dong-Won Chang and Jin Sook’s store jumped from $35,000 to $700,000 in sales. A growth of 2,000% in just one year. And, at this rate, 30 years later, they reached 800 stores around the world. The business earned the couple a fortune of more than $4.5 billion and made him one of the richest on the planet.
However, in capitalism, sometimes the medicine, when misapplied, turns into poison. The closing of stores is not just the fault of national economic agony or the so-called “Brazil cost” — always remembered by experts as the answer to all ailments. In 2019, Forever 2021 declared bankruptcy in the United States and Canada. The broth spilled outside before scorching here. The problems are different.
The same modernity that boosted the building of an empire and gave the Korean couple the opportunity to make a fortune is hitting the entire fast fashion industry in the world.
Executives forgot that, in modernity, everything solid melts into thin air. Powerful, profitable and efficient business models, if not directly connected to the spirit of the times, to cultural tensions, to the satisfaction of consumers’ wants and needs, dissolve and disappear as if they never existed.
The fashion industry is experiencing this moment. Attachment to trend reports from international bureaus was not able to educate them about the transformations in consumers’ relationship with clothing, nor about the acceleration of our relationship with time.
Fast fashion was consolidated in the United States, Europe and Asia in the 1990s. The giants of the sector took advantage of the potential opened up by globalization to solve an old dilemma: how to mass consumption, given that each culture has a way of dressing different? The internationalization of customs imposed by globalization allowed a pasteurization of clothing and, consequently, the massification of the offer of products. In addition, the global village has spread the production chain to the four corners of the planet in search of lower costs.
As a result, a sector was invented focused on offering cheap clothes of dubious quality, connected to the latest trends in Paris, Milan and New York fashion shows for a young and up-to-date audience. The production model was fast, incessant and massive so that, in a short time, the stores offered pieces inspired by the recent creations of desired designers. The model met consumers’ dreams, fit in their pockets and was profitable. It was good for everyone.
However, the consumers who were formed within this model have aged, and today’s youth cannot find what they need in these stores as quickly as they need it.
Millennials – born between 1980 and 1995 –, now older and with more money in their pockets, are beginning to value quality attributes such as fabric, modeling and sewing that the industry is not able to deliver at a low price. As a result, they migrate to smaller brands, with more quality, purpose and greater concern for sustainable practices and support for society. They don’t go to these stores with the frisson of before.
Generation Z — those born between 1995 and 2010 — have a different view on the role of fashion. Unlike other generations who dressed to fit into larger groups, they choose the look to mark, with even greater force, their own individuality in the crowd. The problem is that they change social masks frequently and extremely quickly. Thus, for Zs, every purchase is a disposable purchase. Because of that, it needs to be cheap and get to the closets before they change their minds about who they are. Time is different.
In this way, fast fashion guided by massification finds it difficult to meet young people concerned with uniqueness and with a tiny gap between “I want”, “I buy” and “I use”. In this game, it’s not enough to be fast anymore. It needs to be ultra fast.
In this tune, the Chinese Shein, darling of the Zs, is doing well. With online sales in more than 150 countries, the company puts at least 3,000 new models on sales apps every week.
The production model is focused on consumer desires. Algorithms “read” customer search trends and app navigation. The information serves to endorse the production of small batches of clothing with around 100 pieces. The ones that sell the most gain the status of successful items and are produced on a large scale. The business model reduces the production cycle to just one week, from design to packaging. While, in the fast fashion giants, at least 3 to 4 weeks are needed.
With this, ultrafast fashion, such as Shein and Shopee, are able to better serve consumers and are taking the place that was previously held by Zara, H&M, Forever 21, among others.
However, it must be remembered that the ultrafast logic further intensifies the dilemmas imposed by the fashion industry. Consumerism, the sense of product disposability, the excessive production of waste reminds us that, if everything remains the same, neither companies nor the planet will last forever.
Everything indicates that the Great End is closer, for everyone.