We all know the brand; the blinding traffic-light-yellow bags with the black font that takes over every mall. We know Forever21 for its trendy crop tops, it's $3.90 leggings, the cheap band shirts, and basics. What we don't know, however, is how they can keep their prices so low.
Fast Fashion has long been abusive to the use of underpaid labor in manufacturing facilities, and Forever21 is no exception.
By listing themselves as a retailer, Forver21 avoids responsibility for unethical practices in their manufacturing processes. They outsource manufacturing to companies who underpay their workers and provide poor working conditions, and not just around the world. There are manufacturing facilities as close as Los Angeles. Forever21's "Social Responsibility" page boasts about recycling plastic bags and collecting donations, as well as donating clothing of their own to those in need. However, the section on manufacturing falls farther down on the page.
The section opens with the statement that Forever21 "care[s] for [their] employees and for the employees of hundreds of vendor manufacturing facilities that we work with throughout the world. [They] want all of these employees to work in safe and healthy environments." Yet, the statement does not provide any promise or commitment to doing so.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "manufacturers say that no matter how tightly retailers squeeze their margins or how frequently the state penalizes them for contractors' unpaid wages, many can't turn down a buyer with the budget and scale of Forever 21."
According to Goodonyou.eco, Forever21 is "one of the only fast fashion brands to still refuse to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety – a legally binding agreement which requires brands to ensure safe working conditions in supplier factories." The agreement works to monitor remediation, ensure safety inspections, and facilitate factory inspections. The same article also claims that "they've also made no significant progress towards paying employees across their supply chain with a living wage". The Los Angeles Times claims that in an investigation of 77 Los Angeles garment factories from April through July of 2016, it was discovered that workers "were paid as little as $4 and an average of $7 an hour for 10-hour days spent sewing clothes for Forever 21" and other fast fashion brands.
The question is, why don't we talk about this more often? What if we really considered how the price of one item can stretch down the supply chain. Would it make us reconsider purchases we make? Would we be willing to spend more money on clothes to know that the people who make them are earning a sufficient wage?
To be the generation who makes a 180-degree shift is going to be challenging, but it doesn't have to be all or nothing. The next time you're thinking about buying something new, try the thrift shop or borrow from a friend instead of buying something new and cheap at the mall. You'll be doing more than yourself a favor.