Forever 21: An Unethical Corporation for the Ladies. ~ René Cousineau

Via on Jan 31, 2011

upward shot_1. by paul posadas, on Flickr

Photo Courtesy  of  Paul Posadas

I’ve been having a torrid love affair with cheaply made designer knock-offs…

Twenty-something girls. Aren’t they cute with their leggings. Their tissue-thin layering tanks and tees, over-sized cardigans and oh-so-hip keffiyehs (those checkered scarves they wear that are actually traditional Arabic headdresses). Their Frye motorcycle boot knock-offs and knit leg warmers, fake feather jewelry and big-ass, bag lady purses in which they carry around who knows what day in and day out.

Aren’t they cute? Or I guess I should say aren’t we cute, because not only am I twenty-two but all of the aforementioned items come together to make up the very outfit that I happen to be wearing right now as I write this in a coffee shop sipping on my personal version of heroin (the latté)! And I think I look damn fine.

How did I accrue all of this bangin’ garb? The answer is simple: I went to Forever 21. In fact, this could be the answer to many questions asked of me on any given day.

“Why are you so happy?”

“I went to Forever 21.”

“Your goldfish died? That’s terrible, how are you taking it?”

“Fine, I went to Forever 21.”

“You won the World Series? What did you do after that?”

“I went to Forever 21.”

“You broke your ankle in a spinning accident at the Roller Disco and then got kidnapped by a gang of second graders who sent a ransom note to your best friend asking for a 10 pound bag of Jolly Ranchers and season passes to Transformers on ice?! What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to Forever 21.”

It’s the truth. And, for the record, those are all entirely hypothetical (except for the last one, that actually happened).

Blah blah blah lady, get to the point already. Here it is: I recently found out that Forever 21 is evil. It’s possible that I suspected it all along and just chose to turn a blind eye. I mean come on, you walk in with 100 big ones and leave the place with like 25 things! It’s too good to be true. Up until now though, I ignored this idea and just settled for too good. I guess a girl on a budget will stop at nothing to look like every other girl on a budget. And who doesn’t want to be 21 forever… Well, I think it’s safe to say that after you take a look at the following articles, you’ll consider hopping over to my side of the fence where we’re ready to burn all of our teeny-bopper rags and settle for more of the Forever 38 type look (maybe burning all of my clothes is a little extreme but, I can definitely resolve to stop shopping there).

I’ll outline the horrors for you but, I strongly recommend taking a gander at the Forever articles from Jezebel and Businessweek.

(That’s me above, circa 2008. The dress: Forever 21. The natural good looks: my mama. Photo courtesy of Keighley Voorheis)

1. In the early 2000s, Forever 21 was sued by up to 50 different clothing labels for stealing intellectual property (they have even–allegedly–incorporated the cost of liability regarding illegal copying into their business model).

2. Forever 21 has also been taken to court repeatedly for unfair labor laws. One worker alleged that she earned “four dollars per hour working 10 hours a day six days a week in a factory with no running water and no bathroom.” There is also a documentary called “Made in L.A.” which follows a small group of women in California taking action against Forever 21 in regards to these conditions.

3. As far as overseas labor, Forever 21 credits that responsibility to third party contractors. This allows them to plead ignorance to the potentially (and probably) terrible conditions of overseas factories.

4. While I don’t expect this to be a con for everyone, I do expect that it will be a bit disturbing for some: the owners of Forever 21 are highly religious, and incorporate their religion into the business. The Jezebel article states that “there are Bibles at the company’s headquarters, and it’s generally understood that in order to advance within the company, one should be ‘saved.’” They also (oddly) print bible verses on their signature yellow shopping bags (how in the hell have I never noticed this?!).

Photo Courtesy of an awesome blog called !i$@ Bee

5. Let’s be honest, the garments are cheaply (and unethically) produced, which yields low-quality results. Both articles talk about seamstresses having to sew at least 66 vests per hour just to make minimum wage. That means that when the clothing gets to us, it is by no means in the condition to stand the test of time. So if you’re going to continue shopping there, and this is advice coming from personal experience, always wear underwear with your four dollar leggings unless you want your lady junk to make an appearance in your next creative writing workshop (luckily I had a keffiyeh to put over my lap–oh the blasphemy).

All of that being said, I of course must acknowledge the fact that Forever 21 is not the only unethical clothing company in existence today. You could literally Google the name of just about any clothing company around followed by the words “labor” or “evil” and find a slew of similar information. I’ve narrowed in on the folks at Forever 21 specifically because this store has been so dear to me throughout the years, and their shortcomings (to put it lightly) have only just in the past week come to my attention.

So, I guess I’ll be seeing you at American Apparel. Or rather, I guess you’ll be seeing me around in a mesh body suit, gold spandex underwear and thigh highs. Better hit the gym.

René Cousineau was born and raised in Glenwood Springs, CO. She currently lives in Boulder and is a student of fiction writing and Russian literature. She spends her time reading, cleaning, hiking, dancing, and slinging cupcakes at a local bakery/coffee shop.

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19 Responses to “Forever 21: An Unethical Corporation for the Ladies. ~ René Cousineau”

  1. Lindsey Block Lindsey B. says:

    Great article. I have to admit I shop at Forever 21 from time to time because it's so affordable, but this really brought light to all its horrors.

  2. Kelsi Coia KelsiC says:

    The post oozes with talent.
    I love you(r style), Rene!

  3. Daniel Slanger Dan Slanger says:

    Love the post, Rene. Your writing's as aware as your topic. Only buying clothes from companies who care about their employees (and the planet) makes you feel far more confident and hip than anything sweat-threaded. Of course, that can cost a bit more. But I guess that's why we should just buy less and/or hit up the second-hand shops.

    • René Cousineau says:

      Thanks Dan. You're a peach. It's probably going to have to be second-hand for me for a good long while. Luckily, my homeland is the Roaring Fork Valley so I get my hand-me-downs from the Aspenites. Chanel tastes even better the day after…

  4. René Cousineau says:

    Thanks Joe! I've never worked in retail but I have many friends that have and they usually say the same sorts of things. It's a pipe dream but… I wish people could just be honest.

  5. Audrey Mangan says:

    Great article Rene! I've been meaning to explore second hand shops in Boulder since I moved here, but this article makes me want to all the more. Perhaps a review of the good ones could be a future article?

    • René Cousineau says:

      Thanks Audrey, that's a really great idea. Especially now that I feel like I have nowhere in the world to shop… :(

  6. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Waylon Lewis, Panca Juli Setiawan, nadya hutagalung, JKronk, Mary Hatch and others. Mary Hatch said: RT @elephantjournal: Say it ain't so, Forever 21 http://bit.ly/hPo7oz [...]

  7. brittney says:

    I think it's high time people shop at the second hand store or better yet dig out those perfectly good things the second hand shop threw in their dumpster and repurpose it..use creativity ..organize sewing or crafting clubs as a social event (booze or not) and start living a more meaningful life in our communities while promoting awareness of such horrendous crimes.

    • René Cousineau says:

      Brittney, I think that's a great idea! And it sounds like fun… have you started or belong to any such clubs?

  8. Kara says:

    I do appreciate the levity here, and covering the lady bits with a garment traditionally designed for sandstorms, but no info on the thousands of pounds of toxic dyes this place dumps into waterways? The chemical-y aroma in all the fabrics? That this stuff disintegrates in weeks but won’t biodegrade for milennia? Conscious living means conscious shopping, and a genuinely indie outfit is always way cuter than the best stuff F21 brings to the table.

    Forgive the spelling. iPhone at work.

    • René Cousineau says:

      Kara, thank you for bringing these other issues to light. I didn't even consider this since I was mostly just drawing from and commenting on the information I was reading in these other articles (which also neglect to mention this detail). I'll be sure to do a little more reading and will perhaps speak more to this in a future article. Thank you for your comment!

  9. Rachell Laskowitz says:

    Hello! I just wish to give a huge thumbs up for the good information you’ve gotten here on this post. I might be coming back to your blog for more soon.

  10. Kory Mazzucco says:

    If you apply what’s said here to your life experiences it begins to provide an understanding as to how music helps to burn images and places into your memory. When the setting and the music resonate with you as an individual being, the memories last a lifetime (i.e “I remember hearing this when I was…”). I’ve met a few people in my life who claim that they “don’t listen to music.” I always am surprised and saddened but such statements. How can something that gives such pleasure to so many do “nothing” for others?

  11. René Cousineau says:

    I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I don't think keffiyeh are in production anymore… the one I have is a few years old and I still see them around from time to time. The bags are scary! I never even noticed that that was on there until I read the articles I referenced…

  12. René Cousineau says:

    I'm sorry to hear that I have come across to you in such an unflattering way. Hopefully, as I continue to write for Elephant Journal, you will find me to be less of an airhead.

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