My Thoughts- Forever 21,Big Money Over Little People

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Let’s face it, I loved Forever 21 with a passion, like a long distant lover in for a two day visit! One day, over lunch, one of my more socially conscience friends informed me about that manufacturing practices behind this company. Since then,my animosity towards Forever 21 has grown over the years, from a simple pet peeve to a burning hatred.  Online, particularly on  “what I’m wearing” type blogs there is a preponderance of fashion loving ladies sporting their Forever 21 gear.  It seems young fashion savvy shoppers online and off are continuing to favor our nemesis, Forever 21.  It is so hard, when I see a blogger, coworker, or friend bragging about their latest Forever 21 deal, to keep from screaming; “Do you have any idea who or what you are supporting?”  I hoped for awhile that the despicable chain would disappear, which has been the fate of many retailers this year.  However, it seems their evil plot of world domination is continuing.  Forever 21 has just announced plans to develop 30 massive department stores across the country, including one in Times Square replacing the Virgin Megastore.  So to make it perfectly clear why you should forgo F21 (if you must indulge in disposable fashion, H&M or even Target are better) here is a list of reasons to boycott Forever 21 forever!

  1. Sweatshop labor in the US – Forever 21 has been running sweatshops in California and using Mexican immigrant labor in subpar working conditions to provide you with cheap disposable clothing. Especially for our LA readers, how can you in good conscious spend money on a product that forces fellow women to work in sweatshop conditions?  Several of these women have banded to together and created a must see documentary called “Made in LA”.  It is very easy to say “Oh yeah, it may be cheap labor but I can’t afford anything better” and thereby distancing yourself from the issue at hand but watching this documentary and seeing the faces behind your garments should open everyone’s eyes.  Additionally, Forever 21 has been taken to the California Supreme Court regarding its unfair labor practices repeatedly.  As one factory worker Guadalupe Hernandez explained she earned, “$4 per hour working 10 hours a day 6 days a week in a factory with no running water and no bathroom.” Clearly the cost of fast fashion is too high!
  2. Sweatshop Labor overseas – As many are not aware, much of Forever 21’s products are not made in their own factories, but rather subcontracted out.  F21 finds third party manufactures who produce private label pieces (i.e. with Forever 21’s labels and hangtags) made in subcontracted overseas sweatshops to make the incredibly low price-point that F21 demands.  You see, Mexican/American sweatshop labor is far more expensive then that of Chinese, Cambodian, or Bangladeshi workers.  Forever 21 has repeatedly faced lawsuits regarding overseas sweatshop labor; however, they avoid the consequences by laying the blame on the third party contractors and deny any responsibilities.  Unfair labor practices, child labor, dangerous work environments and the exploitation of women are the true cost of that $12.99 sun dress you picked up.
  3. Designer copyright infringement – We’ve written before about the legalities of protecting a designer’s original designs and what can and can’t be protected in fashion.  Unfortunately knockoff’s and thievery are common place in the fashion industry and if not always illegal they are at least unethical.  Please check out a full post I found about this issue here about being inspired by a high-end designers and creating an affordable versions vs. running a business based solely on direct copycats.  Bottom line, Forever 21 is the largest offender of creating knockoffs, be it upscale designers or struggling independent designers, F21 is in essence stealing their livelihood from them.  They have been taken to the US District Courts for their violations and have been sued over 50 times in the last 4 years alone for copyright infringement!
  4. Proselytizing and shopping don’t mix – For those of you who are not aware, the owners of Forever 21 Mr. and Mrs. Chang are evangelical Christians and big supporters of Christian missionaries.  This, in and of itself, is not a big deal, however they have been accused of discriminating against employees and workers based on religion.  Mrs. Chang has been known to take young designers and send them on Christian missions and if they become “born again” they will be promoted and financially rewarded.  Have you ever looked at your Forever 21 packaging or shopping bags?  Those numbers printed on them are bible verses.  Frankly, we don’t need our tube tops and leggings preaching religion to us.

I have personal reasons for being so enraged about this issue, as I have been comforted with this issue before hand. I remember working for several noted companies, traveling back and forth to China, India, and Turkey, and witnessing the MOST horrible travesties concerning work rights, heck human rights. I remember one manufacture in China, who’s floor employees had to ask to use the bathroom, and were timed. I was astonished, so I visited the restroom, to find a filthy “port-a-potty” type toilet. I was design director for several product lines for my employer at that time, all were HUGELY successful, so I KNOW this manufacture, and its sister company were making large fortunes. Why could they not afford a decent bathroom for their employees. I remember speaking with my boss about the situation when I got back, and he was very nonchalant, saying it was they way things were done. Needless to say, I was not at that company too much longer. I simply could not,in good conscience, being a child of this earth, watch other children of this earth suffer, because of something I designed. I can name several heart-wrentching situations in which american clothing manufactures are not responsible who they out-source their manufacturing needs to, but why bother. This is one of the reasons, why I am no longer directly in the industry, have my own design consulting business, where I design and source manufactures for my new design clients. In my company,I am in control, and I make sure I ONLY utilize companies that participate in the Fair Trade Federation. I don’t want to sound preachy guys, I am like EVERY fashion conscience  designer out there, I adore fashion, no really, I adore shopping!  Keep in mind, fashion is a wonderful escape for many people in the world. It allows one to escape into the “skin” of a new look, and or new personality that only accents to the wonderful persona you already have. Guilt, regret,or betrayal should not be apart of this wonderful experience. Just my opinion,an outfit that looks great on you AND is made in a great factory, just makes the outfit feel and look even better.

For more information on businesses that participate in the Fair Trade Federation, called National Green Pages, visit there site: http://www.greenpages.org/

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About Seaki Fashion Designer / Illustrator

Seaki Nelson is owner and founder of Seaki Creative Services, a freelance design company based out of NYC. With over 19 years in the international fashion community, Seaki is a fashion industry veteran, working with companies such as , such as Calvin Klien, Baby Phat,Phat Farm,Sean John,Marithe Francious Girbaud, Tommy Hilfiger to name a few. His enormous product design talent, and eye for detail and trend-spotting has garnered Seaki a dedicated following of some of the world's most powerful fashion industry professionals. Thank you for your support Thank You :)

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