The general Forever 21 consumer sees the retail chain as a trendy affordable place to shop, however radar magazine recently took readers inside Forever 21 and their many piracy disputes. This includes huge lawsuits from Diane von Furstenberg, and Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers.
Does Forever21 look to gain from making making off of other people’s designs?
The company has no famous designers or ad budget, nor a single public relations flack. Yet its revenue topped $1 billion in 2006, catapulting Forever 21 into the ranks of the top 500 privately held companies in the United States.
In just five years, it has quadrupled in size, crushing competitors like Rampage and Gadzooks—and is putting the squeeze on mighty retailers like the Gap. In 2001, the house that khakis built posted a $7.7 million loss, while Forever 21 boasted 64 percent growth in revenue thanks to 36 new stores sprinkled across the country.
How did an operation founded by poor Korean immigrants and headquartered in L.A.’s sweatshop district so rapidly become a player in an industry dominated by huge European conglomerates? Its founders chalk it all up to hard work and a frugal corporate culture. Others allege outright design theft. In the past year, the company has faced more than two dozen federal lawsuits for piracy, brought by labels including Anna Sui, Diane von Furstenberg, and Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers, along with a raft of fabric manufacturers.
Radar also gave a closer look to the owners of Forever21, a religious Korean married couple out of Los Angeles (which would explain the biblical reference on F21′s shopping bags):
At the center of the storm are Do Won “Don” Chang and his wife, Jin Sook, the ferociously private, deeply Christian couple who founded the store 24 years ago. “In L.A.’s Korean community they’re a constant topic of gossip and speculation. Everyone has a story about being screwed by them,” says a local fashion player. “But you have to admire their success. People join their church just to get close to them,” he adds…
Compared to their attention-addicted fashion-world colleagues, the Changs are careful to maintain a low profile. There is exactly one photograph of them available online. Last year, after consenting to an in-person interview with the New York Times, they unexpectedly sent a proxy instead. (The surprised reporter described the substitute interviewee as having “a born-again zeal.”) Still, despite their best efforts, the intensely private pair have become a hotly discussed topic in L.A.’s close-knit apparel industry.
It also explains how Forever 21 can almost get away with making identical designs from other brands:
The variations and permutations that define fashion—hemlines, stitches, sleeves—sit outside of U.S. copyright law; only logos and brand names are protected. “Just about every other area of creativity gets some kind of protection. Fashion design gets next to none.” says Susan Scafidi, a professor of copyright law at Fordham Law School who runs counterfeitchic.com. “And Forever 21′s rip-offs are, in many cases, extremely blatant.”
But while the designs aren’t protected, the original fabric prints may be. Which is why, when Forever 21 produced a rose-patterned dress clearly “inspired” by a Betsey Johnson original in 2007, Betsey Johnson, Inc., didn’t sue. Instead, Carole Hochman Design Group, the Johnson vendor that actually created the pattern, took Forever 21 to court.
In a bid to curtail copycats, Representative William Delahunt introduced the Design Piracy Prohibition Act in 2007. As president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Diane von Furstenberg is a key proponent of the legislation. Oddly enough, though, she’s also one of the few claimants to have settled with Forever 21, under undisclosed terms in September.
It’s a nice length piece but, a great read for fashion heads and/or those who shop at the store. It may even change your outlook on shopping there – or maybe not. Read the full article here.