Forever 21 saves the day…

May 29, 2010 in Fashion, The Business of Fashion by alliemcc

Via the News-Times, Danbury’s crack information team (who can’t even get the name of the store correct in the headline).

DANBURY — After more than four years as an empty shell, the former Filene’s store at Danbury Fair mall will have an occupant.

Forever 21, a national clothing retailer with a smaller store at the mall, has submitted plans with the city to take over more than 77,000 square feet of space.

The company is expected to spend more than $2.3 million to renovate the space, according to documents submitted to Danbury’s building department. The store now occupies about 5,000 square feet elsewhere in the mall.

Filtering past the middle school name-calling and bickering in the comments on the web site, I was appalled to find someone actually thanking Forever 21 for "bringing much needed jobs to the area", as well as some other truly misguided economic analysis.

I was compelled to write a letter to the editors, which I usually refrain from doing with newspapers of such low caliber.

I’m reproducing it here, in a slightly expanded form, and with links.

To the Editors: 

I have read the comments on the News-Times website in reaction to the proposed expansion of the Forever 21 store at the Danbury Fair Mall, and I think that most of the commentators, both for and against, are off the mark.  Both consumers and the business community in Danbury should oppose the expansion of Forever 21 at the mall for more substantial reasons.

 The economic benefits of expansion are a false beacon.  Employees in retail are some of the lowest paid in the US economy.  Mostly young people will benefit from the added jobs, because of the industry’s trend toward part-time-only scheduling.  Young workers, especially students, will not be making a significant reinvestment in the local economy through property taxes and other investments.  Adult workers, who pay property taxes and have higher spending power, will not be filling these positions.

 Furthermore, Forever 21 targets young women shoppers, a demographic already shopping at the mall, so it won’t be bringing in a more diverse customer base, or making higher average sales figures.  And studies have shown that large national retailers have a significantly lower impact on the local economy than locally-owned, independent businesses.

 On the more ethical side of economics, Forever 21’s supply chain is notorious for unsafe and unfair labor practices, including sweatshops in the US and overseas, which have been well-documented, including a 2007 PBS documentary.

 Forever 21 is the least “green” of the big, trendy apparel retailers.  Again, environmental violations have been documented in their supply chain, and high levels of lead have been found in their accessories.  Searching for “organic” and “eco” on their web store just today returned only a couple of allegedly organic cotton t-shirts in their boy’s line, and several tote bags marketed as “eco-friendly.”  In spite of a few token green products, by flooding the apparel market with cheaply produced goods with questionable quality, Forever 21 is continuing to negatively impact the environment with “disposable fashion” that quickly ends up in the waste stream.

 Finally, as a local fashion designer, I take issue with Forever 21’s reputation as a flagrant violator of design copyright.  Although copyright protections are often nebulous when it comes to apparel design and other forms of intellectual property, Forever 21 has been named in numerous lawsuits over the past several years.  In a creative industry, it is highly unethical to shamelessly reproduce other companies’ products without proper licensing, even if it is difficult to prove in court whose idea it was first.

 Danbury needs to stop dreaming that the mall is the be-all and end-all of economic development, and start thinking about the big picture.  Engaging and supporting creative entrepreneurs, and making it easier for non-traditional start ups to get a foothold downtown should be priorities for City Hall and the economic development experts.


Thanks also to 39th and Broadway for resources and inspiration.