The story of Forever 21 began nearly 40 years ago as Jin Sook and Do Won Chang emigrated from South Korea to Los Angeles in 1981 with not much more than a high school education. After several years of trying to make ends meet with several side jobs such as a janitor, gas station attendant, and in a coffee shop, Do realized that the people that he noticed “driving the nicest cars were all in the garment business.” This realization led him to open his very first ‘Fashion 21‘ and in their first year alone, they struck gold as they made $700,000 in sales! After their initial success, they began opening new stores every six months and eventually changed their name to Forever 21. Take a look at 5 inspirational lessons that we can all take away from the story of Forever 21!
1. Big Things Start Small
To begin with, it took several years for Do Won Chang and Jin Sook to make ends meet. The cofounders of Forever 21 immigrated to the U.S. in search of the American Dream as they were penniless and spoke broken English, but that didn’t stop them from wanting the best for their future family together. The couple had been in the U.S. for only three years when they opened their first store in Highland Park, CA after Do had a realization that he should get into the garment industry. Not long after, Jin and Do opened a 900-square feet clothing store called Fashion 21, where they raked in $700,000 in sales during their first year! Since, then, Forever 21 has expanded to an international brand, with more than 725 stores worldwide that have generated $3.2 billion every year.
“I tried everything when I first arrived in America: dishwashing, cleaning, working part-time at a gas station. I tried my hand at whatever physically demanding jobs I could get.”
-Do Won Chang, from an interview with Wealthy Gorilla
2. Patience is Key Because Success Takes Time
Comparatively, Do Won quickly saw that the road to the American dream was not all rainbows and butterflies, but it can be achieved if you work hard and put in the time. Do saw many language barriers and cultural differences when he first opened his retail store as he saw a limited option in clientele. But, as he began doing his research on the industry and practiced his patience, Forever 21 began gaining loyal customers outside of the initial American Korean population.
“You can’t go into business thinking that success will come to you in just one or two years.”
-Do Won and Jin Sook Chang, Co-Founders of Forever 21
3. Get to Know Your Target Population
Moreover, Do had stated in an interview with the Vulcan Post that “constantly changing their inventory has helped Forever 21 continue growing.” They are always thinking about the customers and not the company and that is one of their secrets to success. Having a clear vision of who their target market is one of the most important things that some entrepreneurs may forget. The more knowledge you have about your customers’ preference, the more you will be able to build a solid customer base. Rachel Kane, a new media consultant from Los Angeles who is in charge of the WTForever 21 blog says that “Forever 21 is really adventurous, far more than other fast fashion retailers, and that’s why you’ve seen them come out ahead.” Kane continues as, “they don’t brand themselves with any specific type of style, saying it’s edgy or preppy,” and that’s what has continued growing their sales.
“The forever 21 customer includes all ages, genders, and sizes—anyone who understands the importance of fast fashion, but still appreciates affordable luxury.”
-Linda Chang, Vice President of Merchandising for Forever 21 and daughter of Forever 21 founders
4. Be Persistent
Equally important, persistence has helped the Changs overcome several obstacles as they have faced several copyright issues and lawsuits, but the company has been able to surpass it all. Also, forever 21 was amid the process of expansion when they abruptly had to close some stores throughout an economic downturn, but they were able to surpass the American recession. And for Jin Sook and Do Won Chang, persistence is the key to success.
5. Always Be One Step Ahead of Your Competitors
Lastly, the Changs knew that they had to stand out in the retail industry to gain an advantage among the other stores. They quickly realized that other retail stores sold garments that were too expensive and they saw that as an opportunity. Forever 21 specializes in creating high-end clothing into quality versions at a much affordable price. The retail population quickly noticed this and soon the company gained a solid following of customers.