Forever 21 is Struggling to Pay its Bills, According to Recent Reports

Forever 21 is in financial trouble. The Los Angeles-based fast fashion giant, which was launched in 1984 and has since made a name for itself with dirt-cheap runway knockoffs, is making headlines in connection with its failure to pay its accounts in a timely manner (read: at least a month late, per sources close to the matter). According to the New York Post, “The tardy payments are spooking vendors and lenders who were already edgy, having witnessed Forever 21 take the unusual step of closing two massive California stores” earlier this year and in light of the retailer’s talks with Wells Fargo & Co. and TPG Capital about a $150 million loan last year.

It seems the company’s massive global expansion efforts over the past couple of decades are at least partially to blame. We have seen the company grow from a single location in Los Angeles to a globally recognized brand, with 700 stores in the U.S. and abroad. Such rapid expansion seems to have finally caught up with the company, which, according to its owners, Don and Jin Sook Chang, was on track to bring in $4.5 billion in revenue in 2015, up 15% from the previous year. However, “like many teen retailers, they were drinking too much of their own Kool-Aid and over-expanded the store fleet both in terms of units and square feet — with new stores averaging over 35,000 square feet and some stores over 100,000 square feet,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, told the NY Post.

Case in point: Lenders are withholding credit on Forever 21 orders. “We are unable to get timely financial disclosures from the company,” said Gary Wassner, chief executive of Hilldun, a New York lender in the retail industry that recently pulled its credit lines for Forever 21. Wassner further stated that Hilldun is only working with Forever 21 and approving credit “on an order-by-order basis,” which has not always been the case.

A SIGN OF THE TIMES?

There may be more at issue here than expansion woes, though. On the heels of significant garment manufacturing tragedies, such as at Rana Plaza; the subsequent increases in awareness about the realities of fast fashion manufacturing; and the rising availability and convenience of ethically made alternatives to fast fashion, shoppers are growing tired of Forever 21’s low quality and inexpensive wares, the vast majority of which are priced between $4 and $20.

Such disenchantment is evidenced by vastly decreasing traffic in Forever 21 stores and its e-commerce site. “After having a great 5 to 10-year run, they probably don’t have the cash flow they had before when they were the ones taking market share,” said RBC Capital Markets analyst Brian Tunick, adding that “our contacts in the channel have estimated that they’ve had negative same-store sales for the past several years.”

There seems to be quite a bit of merit to the argument that consumers want slightly more expensive garments and accessories that are of greater quality – both on a micro and macro level. Like a number of other similarly situated retailers, Forever 21 has begun introducing more expensively priced goods to its shelves – both online and in their brick and mortar stores. In a move that includes stocking other brands’ wares, as well as in-house designs, fast fashion retailers are not only aiming to reach out to new customers: Ones that may not be tempted by $25 cut-out frocks.

Yes, on the heels of opening a new concept store, F21 Red, which stocks $2 tops and $7 pairs of pants, Forever 21’s main collection is offering an array of “Web Exclusive” garments with relatively hefty price tags. The $220 printed Collosal Dress by Ministry of Style, an Australian label known for its trendy wares, and the $190 Maurie & Eve Ribbed Bodycon Dress, for instance, join a moderate amount of other similarly priced garments. While not even remotely rivaling the prices of high fashion garments, the brand’s more upscale offerings are certainly at odds with its $3.90 V-neck tees, $14 scoop neck bodycon dresses, and $15 linen blend pants.

As for how this new strategy is panning out for Forever 21 and its fast fashion bedfellows, it is likely a bit too early to say definitively. However, such recent reports of its growing financial difficulties suggest that its wear-twice-and-throwaway garments are not cutting it quite like they used to.