Originally known as Fashion 21, the first Forever 21 (Fashion 21) store was founded in Los Angeles, California on April 21, 1984 by husband and wife, Do Won Chang and Jin Sook Chang from Korea. The store is located at 5637 N. Figueroa Street in the Highland Park district of Los Angeles and is still in operation, bearing the chain's original name. Designs similar to those seen in South Korea were sold and targeted to the Los Angeles Korean American community. In its first year in operation, sales totaled $700,000, and by 2013, there were more than 480 stores and revenue of $3.7 billion. And as of February 2014, Forever 21 generated a revenue of $3.8 billion. Originally, Forever 21 only sold clothes for women, but later expanded to sell menswear. Most Forever 21 stores now sell clothes for men and women, including plus size clothing for women.
On their website, they also sell girls clothing and home/lifestyle products.
In September 2001, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the Garment Worker Center, workers' advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit against Forever 21, charging them of violating labor practice laws. They claimed that 19 contracted employees received less than the minimum wage, that the hours on time cards were reduced, that workers who complained to the state were fired, and that the employees faced sweatshop like working conditions. Forever 21 denounced the accusations, asserting its commitment to fair labor practices and that "none of the workers named in the suit were directly employed by the company." A three-year boycott of Forever 21 was held throughout the United States by the garment workers and this movement was captured in the Emmy Award-winning documentary, Made in L.A. Although the charge was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real, Forever 21 responded with a defamation suit in 2002. Attorney Robin D. Dal Soglio asserted that both Forever 21's reputation and its sales were impacted by the allegations and protests. On the other hand, Kimi Lee, the director of one of the advocacy groups that represented the workers, maintained that the lawsuits were justified due to complaints from 20 workers. Both cases ended in a settlement in December 2004.
Five Forever 21 employees filed a class action lawsuit in January 2012, declaring they were not compensated for the time they worked during their lunch breaks and the time spent on bag checks.
After the Labor Department found that some of Forever 21's suppliers had violated various federal laws on wages and record keeping, a subpoena was ordered in August 2012. U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Morrow ordered Forever 21's compliance after the retailer failed to provide the documents. The retailer claimed that it tried to meet with the Labor Department and that it had provided the requested information.
As of July 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recommended fines in excess of $100,000 for three different retail locations in Northern New Jersey and Manhattan in New York City for "serious safety hazards," for which they have been cited since 2010.
Critics such as Susan Scafidi, a professor of copyright law at Fordham University, question Forever 21's design process and argue that it is replicating the designs of others. Forever 21's Vice President of Merchandise, Lisa Boisset, was quoted in 2007 as saying that Forever 21 works with merchant designers and not with designers, but would not make those merchants available for comment. CEO Chang expressed that some of their merchants have disappointed him. Forever 21 has never been found guilty and the majority of cases have been resolved through settlements.
On January 8, 2015, Canadian media reported on a local, family-owned business in Richmond, British Columbia, Granted Clothing, whose designer noticed that their sweater designs had been stolen and mass-produced for sale on Forever 21's website. In April 2015, both parties have resolved the matter on "amicable terms", settling out of court.
Forever 21's clothing has been criticized in the media due to the slogans printed on some of their shirts. The Daily Mail, The Huffington Post, and others insisted that the company was "...pushing a Christian agenda" because it sold tops with phrases such as "Holy," "Love, peace, faith, hope, Jesus," and "Thank God." Similarly, Forever 21 has received attention in the media for printing the Bible verse "John 3:16" on the bottom of their trademark yellow bags. The corporation maintains that it is not influenced by the religion of its founders, who are born-again Christians. Moreover, ABC News, numerous users on Reddit, and others condemned Forever 21 for its "Allergic to Algebra" shirt in 2011. They declared that the shirt had an anti-education and sexist theme, but Ellie Krupnick, a writer for The Huffington Post, questioned this. Krupnick expressed that the top was making a remark about math, rather than a sexist remark, and announced that she would wear the shirt.
In April 2010, Rachel Kane, a writer and Forever 21 customer created a blog with the domain name WTForever21.com. Kane posted pictures of some Forever 21 items and voiced her opinions about the clothing. The blog's popularity rose after being featured on the Jezebel blog and in June 2011, the retailer asked the blogger to take the site down or she may face a lawsuit.
The Center for Environmental Health found that Forever 21 and 25 other retailers and suppliers sold jewelry that included the toxic metal cadmium. A payment of $1.03 million and a 0.03% limit on cadmium in jewelry were part of the settlement that took place in 2011.
Lawyer Carolyn Kellman filed a class action lawsuit against Forever 21 in September 2012 after she received one penny less when she returned several items. Customers that received a penny less or were charged one more joined the case. According to The Huffington Post, these pennies added up as "The threshold for civil actions in her court district is $15,000 -- meaning, she had to find enough people to join the case so that she could cite 1.5 million pennies in damages (750,000 customers since 2007.)"