Surely sometime in the past few years you have found yourself at a Forever 21 purchasing a $5 tunic or a $24 winter coat and thinking, "Where the hell did Forever 21 come from that I now buy half my clothes there, anyway?" (and also: "Fuck, is the sweatshop business actually cutting wages?) A story in the latest issue of Radar attempts to shed light on this mysterious company and its sudden success, success for which it has to thank the age-old practice whereby the fashion industry shows its collections to the public i.e. potential knockoff artists a full six months before they hit stores, and Jesus. Jesus is huge. Church is to Forever 21 what ... taking sexy party photos and doing lines is to American Apparel.There are Bible verses on all shopping bags, designers go on Christian missions around the world, and the company gives shitloads of money to orphanages and churches and Christian educational institutions, etc. "People join their church just to get close to them," a garment district insider says of Don and Jin Sook Chang, the first generation Korean immigrant couple that founded the company in 1984.
(Don worked at a gas station at the time; allegedly he noticed that all the nice cars pulling up to the gas station he worked at were owned by people in the fashion industry. And saw to it no one would be able to make fashion ever again!)
Mrs. Chang, who attends pre-dawn services every day and strongly encourages her vendors to do the same, makes it a piot to give Christians in the industry a leg up, too. "She plucks young designers out of the companies she's working with," he says. "And if they're Christian and religious, she puts them in business." Rowena Rodriguez, a 33-year-old fashion consultant and one-time "unbeliever" who was born again with Mrs. Chang's help, may be one of those lucky designers. "In the short time I worked with Mrs. Chang, my life was transformed, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior," she recalls in an email interview. "Mrs. Chang prayed me into the Kingdom! Rodriguez says she has been approached by executives looking for the secrt to Forever 21's phenomenal success. "I usually say, 'If you really want to know, I'll tell you. But you won't believe me...The Changs love Jesus!"
So anyway, obviously the next question is, hmm, so do I feel more conflicted about supporting this strange, rabid, proselytizing Christian cult? Or Dov Charney's greasy-locked harem of lame unitarded people over at American Apparel? And it's a tough call. Both make clothes in the United States, and though American Apparel sticks much closer to the spirit of JC in offering its lowliest employees decent wages and benefits, Forever 21 does get points for locating its factories in a city where the authorities can actually legally, like, raid them and demand compliance with labor laws etc. etc. Both steal ideas from designers who got rich outsourcing all their shit overseas, but Forever 21 steals more. (Extra points!) And both want to sell employees and shoppers on their lifestyles; Don Chang would have you read Left Behind series; Dov Charney would have you ...um, show him your behind.
Whoa, weird how similar their names are, no? God, when did shopping turn into some insane moral allegory???
Related: Religion in Business: Invoking The Almighty Or Just The Almighty Dollar? [Medill News Service]