What does the bankruptcy of Forever 21 mean for fast fashion?

Can large fast fashion retail chains survive in today's culture of online shopping and user-generated content? Many think Forever 21's bankruptcy is just the beginning.

Fast fashion giant Forever 21 has filed bankruptcy. It’s the latest victim of what the media is calling the “retail apocalypse,” meaning that walk-in stores are closing down, while online retailers are thriving. As the company scales back, it will close 350 stores worldwide, including 178 stores in the U.S. It’ll also stop operating in 40 countries and “restructure” towards a more online-centric sales model. 

As we all know, during the 2000s, Forever 21 epitomized fast fashion. Everything about the brand is extra. Stepping foot in one of their stores, your senses get bombarded with a synthetic color explosion and blaring pop music. The brand subliminally asserts a throw-away aesthetic as you browse the inventory: the directionless fashion sense, the extremely fast pace of fashion turnover, and the shockingly low prices. 

But if fast fashion means you have to undercut garment workers and damage the environment, why bother? Second-hand fashion offers the same low prices without the unsavory side effects, right? It’s easy to speculate that Forever 21’s bankruptcy may be symptomatic of a shifting tide: young shoppers’ distaste towards fast fashion

Fast fashion retailers like Forever 21 create a hugely negative impact on the environment. On top of unsustainable production, their massive inventories must fly globally to stock stores, burning fossil fuels as they travel. Next, customers only wear the (mostly) synthetic garments a few times before trashing them. And like other plastics, these clothes don’t even break down in the landfill. We’re literally stuck with them in the environment--forever. 

Forever 21 is obviously an easy target for criticism on its sustainability. Other fast fashion brands like H&M have tried to expand their lines to include more sustainable garment options. Meanwhile, ThredUp has been making partnerships with traditional retailers like Macy’s to assist with reselling used clothing. But Forever 21 hasn’t made noticeable attempts to innovate in this direction.  


With so many youth climate strikes and extinction rebellion protests underway, fashion companies need to wake up to the fact that young shoppers want better choices. Retailers should shift their focus toward sustainability before it’s too late. After all, there are just five or six years until today’s climate strike generation turns 21.  


Shop our second-hand inventory to avoid the environmental and social costs of fast fashion. It’s our goal to help you keep your closet’s footprint clean and shift the fashion paradigm.  

Article Written by Erica Eller

1 comment

  • Love what you guys are doing here, great article!

    Jay M.

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