retail giants

Pumping Gas Inspired Forever 21’s CEO to Get Into Fashion

Forever 21 has been sued more than 50 times over the past three years for allegedly knocking off other people’s clothing designs. Not too long ago, Trovata’s high-profile case against the company was brought before a jury, in what was hoped to result in a landmark ruling in knockoff regulations. But the knockoff fight is a hard one for a victim to legally win, and the weary Trovata ended up settling. The genius mind behind Forever 21’s practically iron-clad designer-imitation design business is CEO Don Chang, and The Wall Street Journal shares his story today. After moving to L.A. from Korea in the early eighties, he pumped gas, among his many first jobs as a new immigrant. The gas led him to his calling: After he noticed that clothing-store owners had the nicest cars, he knew where he belonged. After all, L.A. is a place where nice cars really matter.

So Chang opened Fashion 21 in L.A. in 1984. He enjoyed sales of $947 million in 2005, more than doubled those to $2.3 billion in 2009, and expects to do $3.2 billion in sales this year. Most of his 480 Forever 21 stores are in the U.S., but he hopes to open 100 eventually in Japan, where he just opened his fourth store. And don’t forget that a Forever 21 that is so massive it’s terrifying is about to open in Times Square. But Chang’s personal touches remain:

The Los Angeles fast-fashion retailer famously has “John 3:16” printed on the bottom of its yellow shopping bags, a reference to a New Testament scripture.

“That’s my purpose of life,” said Mr. Chang, a lifelong Christian.

We are curious as to when Chang decided to change the store name from Fashion 21 to Forever 21, which is pretty brilliant since it encapsulates that thing so many women want, which is to look 21 years old forever. And no matter how much its purported shoddy labor practices and knockoffs bother us, we all shop there anyway.

Forever 21’s Japan Plans [Japan Real Time/WSJ]

Pumping Gas Inspired Forever 21’s CEO to Get Into Fashion