If you’re following retail, you’ve heard that fast-fashion retailer Forever 21 has filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States; and if you’re Canadian, you’ve also read that all 44 stores here will be closing in Canada will be closing before the end of this year. The iconic retailer, arguably the original fast-fashion pioneer, is only one of many brick and mortal retailers to seek bankruptcy protection over the past 12 months (Payless and American Apparel come to mind). Those retailers still standing need to do something differently if they expect to avoid the same fate.
I advise my clients to follow two cardinal rules: Always be relevant, and never be boring. While the jury is out on whether Forever 21 was boring (on the plus side, the rapidly rotating product ensured something new on every visit, on the negative side, it walking into a Forever 21 was no different from walking into any discount apparel store these days). What we know for sure, though, is that Forever 21 lost its relevancy.
By failing to anticipate a shifting demographic preference that is starting to prioritize environmental considerations over a quick fashion wardrobe fix, Forever 21’s demise was predictable. The stores were empty, because while the dollar price was cheap, the environmental cost was simply too high. The retailer failed to align its story with the evolving narrative, environmental narrative, of today’s retail apparel shopper.