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New shop puts text in textiles

by a staff reporter

Click to enlarge

West End new­comer: detail of a Forever 21 bag

West End new­comer: detail of a Forever 21 bag

A CHAIN of fashion stores in the United States, whose signature touch is printing “John 3:16” on the underside of its fluorescent bags, has opened its first shop in London.

Forever 21, based in Los Angeles, opened to volleys of cheers from waiting teenagers and students last week. The company specialises in producing high-fashion clothes at low prices: nothing in the new store in Oxford Street is priced at more than £40. The chain describes its philo­sophy as “the first price should be the right price.”

The company is still owned and run by its founders, Don Chang and his wife, Jin Sook, who are Korean immigrants to the US. They opened their first store in Los Angeles in 1984, and have turned it into a global business of more than 500 stores, with revenues of more than $3 billion (£1.84 billion) each year.

Their daughter, Linda, was in London last week for the opening of the store. She told BBC Radio 4: “The biblical verse on the bags is a statement of our family’s personal faith. I would think of it as no dif­fer­ent than a favourite quote of someone’s.

“For us, faith is a very important component in our personal lives, and, therefore, that is something we stand for. Our personal faith is separate from the business. Forever 21 as a company, a business, is a separate en­tity from something the owners stand for; so I wouldn’t say that it neces­sarily overlaps too much.”

But Professor Jenny Harrow, of the Cass Business School, said that by printing a verse from the Bible on their bags, Forever 21 was open­ing itself and itself practices to more scrutiny. She said that the verse would be interpreted as an impera­tive for the company to love the world, too. (John 3.16 is: “For God so loved the world . . . but have ever­last­ing life.”)

“Firms should expect to be scru­tinised in terms of their wage levels, in terms of their relationship with supply chains, in terms of the ex­pectations they put on their em­ployees, and the logic is they are open to scrutiny — as is anybody who makes a declaration of faith,” she said.

Forever 21 has faced several law-suits, including one brought by garment-workers protesting at work­­ing conditions and pay; the com­pany eventually settled this out of court.

Its prospects in the UK, however, are for the moment bright. The opening of the London branch fol­lowed on the heels of one in Bir­mingham. Forever 21 plans to open three more stores in the South East in the next few months.

The company has not responded to our requests for comment.

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