Perhaps you've heard of Forever 21. If you're a college-aged young woman, there is a good chance half of whatever you are wearing right now is from the store. If you're a frat guy, you've probably got a drawer full of vomit-stained t-shirts and skimpy panties ("souveniers") with that name on the tag. But if you're unfamiliar, Forever 21 is a worldwide chain of clothing retailers that opened in 1984, though only in recent years has really hit its stride. And only by God's good graces.
Oh, you didn't know? Next time you see one of Forever 21's trademark yellow bags, flip it over. Inside the fold below you'll find the words, "John 3:16," a citation of the line in the New Testament about how Jesus died for everyone's sins--not a reference to Stone Cold Steve Austin, sorry. So the owners are Christians. Big deal, right? That's up to them, and if they want to hide a bible verse underneath their bags, that's their choice. So long as they're holding themselves to the standards any good Christians would. I mean, selling slutty clothing to underage girls isn't technically a sin, is it? Well, stealing certainly is. And Forever 21 is a real fucking champ at that.
First, from their employees. They're not going into the cashier's purses and swiping their lip balm and iPods or anything like that. But in 2001, the workers at the Southern California plant that makes most of Forever 21's clothes organized and called for a boycott, demanding the company make good on hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to them for overtime and even just to cap out at minimum wage. Not to mention the sweatshop like conditions of the warehouses, with cockroaches and rats scuttling across the floor. Forever 21 settled out of court after a lengthy process, though the company completely denied the claims of wrongdoing.
Second, from other designers. Every year it seems, Forever 21's design department finds themselves at Fashion Week in New York, not just jotting down ideas for what will be hot in the coming season, but blatantly ripping off designs from people like Diane von Fürstenberg, Gwen Stefani and Anna Sui--all of whom have filed lawsuits against the company. Not to mention, this year's lifting of the Minor Threat logo (yes, that Minor Threat), to which Ian MacKaye has also made legal advances the same way he had to against Nike in 2005.
Third, from the community. The famous South Central Farm, an urban farm and community garden in Southern L.A. that had, since the 1980s, been a haven for poor community growers, was bought out from under the feet of the self-governed South Central Farmers (despite the outcry from the community at large, the Annenberg Foundation and Zach de la Rocha) by Forever 21 in 2004. Now, the once lush 14 acre lot stands barren and bulldozed as Forever 21 moves forward on their plans to build a warehouse and distribution center there.
And finally, and most importantly, from its customers, which is what got me riled up enough to start railing on the company in the first place. I don't make much of a habit shopping at Forever 21 (I get all my tattered slut-rags from Wet Seal, thank you very much), but Jess had bought a sweater there recently and today we went to the mall to return it. Or to try to. You see, Forever 21 doesn't accept returns. In fact, if you show up without a receipt, or a day after their strict 30-day return policy, they'll boot your ass to the curb. Luckily, Jess had her receipt and only bought the sweater a week before, so she thought she could get the money refunded to her credit card and we'd be on our way, just like at any other store.
Not the case. You see, when you buy something at Forever 21, it's yours. And that's it. Maybe that's where they get the "Forever" in their name from. You can return the article of clothing, but they won't give you money back--only store credit. Which would be fine if you actually wanted to shop at the place. But with the kinds of clothing they carry, and their less than sparkling moral standards and constant legal battles, is it really the kind of place you want to spend your hard-earned coin? And around Christmastime, get ready to re-gift if you don't care for the place, because you know Mom heard it's a pretty cool store so you're probably getting something under the tree that you can't take back.
I know I can't return swimsuits and underwear and used needles, but pants? Sweatshirts? It would be one thing if there was a huge sign when you came in the door, warning you that you're signing off your soul on whatever you're planning to try on, but the only place you can even find a disclaimer about Forever 21's (lack of) return policy is in tiny letters on your receipt. After you already bought something. Something that will probably fall apart after a couple washes. Good luck getting ahold of an ear to bend on that one.
What about forgiveness? I thought that was what this place was all about. I mean it's printed right on the bag! Nowhere that you'd see it, of course, but it's the thought that counts, right? So what about walking the walk if you're going to talk to talk? What would Jesus do? Tell you that's store policy and he can't do a thing about it, sorry, who's next in line?