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Nothing Lasts, Forever 21 Discovers, As Another Clothing Chain Files For Bankruptcy

Forever 21, an early player in the fast-fashion movement, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Andy Wong
Forever 21, an early player in the fast-fashion movement, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Forever 21 — the ubiquitous mall-based fashion retailer aimed at teens, tweens and young adults — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, joining a growing list of apparel outlets to fall victim to competitive online market pressures.

The California-based company may close up to 178 U.S. stores, according to court records.

In a statement to customers Sunday night, Forever 21 said the bankruptcy move was necessary so it could take "positive steps to reorganize the business so we can return to profitability."

"This was an important and necessary step to secure the future of our Company, which will enable us to reorganize our business and reposition Forever 21," Linda Chang, the company's executive vice president, said in a statement.

The company stressed it's not going out of business, adding that people who come into its stores will have a shopping experience that "will continue to feel like a normal day."

In the records filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, the company detailed possible store closures but emphasized that it does not expect to fully exit any major U.S. market.

The company's leaders also plan to keep operations in Mexico and Latin America, while shutting down stores in Asia and Europe.

"Forever 21's restructuring will focus on maximizing the value of our U.S. footprint and shuttering certain international locations," the company said in a separate statement to the media.

"As such, and as part of our filing, we have requested approval to close up to 178 stores across the U.S.," it said. "The decisions as to which domestic stores will be closing are ongoing, pending the outcome of continued conversations with landlords."

The company reports it has secured $350 million in financing, which includes $275 million from JPMorgan Chase. An additional $75 million in new capital from TPG Sixth Street Partners will allow the company to continue daily business such as processing gift cards, exchanges and reimbursements.

Forever 21 will continue to operate hundreds of stores, according to court records. Many of its current 549 U.S. stores are anchors in malls across the country.

However, the Forever 21 website makes up just 16% of its sales.

The chain, founded in 1984, is a major player in fast fashion but has seen its growth stall in recent years as foot traffic in traditional malls continues to dwindle and rent for retailers continues to climb.

The chain saw its biggest boom in the 2000s, when Forever 21 would offer en vogue stylings for bargain prices. Forever 21 bet big on the mall-based business model, going for bigger and better store footprints in nearly 800 locations.

Forever 21 now joins other troubled stores of the mall-going teen culture of the 1990s and 2000s such as Wet Seal, Aéropostale and American Apparel. But several, like American Apparel, have found a way back.

Forever 21 received approval to continue employee benefits alongside pay and reimbursable expenses, according to the documents.

The chain has around 28,500 employees, 23,500 of which are part-time and seasonal. During the upcoming holiday season, the company is expecting to hire 4,000 more employees and 700 temporary staffers.

NPR's Alina Selyukh and Peter Talbot contributed to this report.

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Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.