News Reader

From rags to riches: The story behind Forever 21 cofounders

Most of us are familiar with Forever 21, the retail giant which is highly popular among ladies.

What most of us are not familiar with is this: What’s the story behind it?

Forever 21 did not start off as Forever 21, but instead, Fashion 21. Founded by South Korea husband and wife team – Do Won Chang and Jin Sook, Fashion 21 was launched in Los Angeles in 1984.

Back then, both of them were immigrants to the States.

The couple had been in the States for only three years when the company opened their first store in Highland Park, California, a neighborhood located about five minutes north of downtown Los Angeles.  The store produced approximately $700,000 during its first year and still remains in the same location to this day.

Since then, Forever 21 has expanded to an international brand, with 480 stores world wide that generates around $3 billion in sales every year.

Of course, the couple didn’t always had it easy: After moving to America from Korea in 1981, Do Won had to work three jobs at the same time to make ends meet. According to Forbes, Do Won Chang worked as a janitor, gas station attendant, and in a coffee shop when he first moved to America. Do Won decided on a retail career while pumping gas, one of several jobs he juggled as a new immigrant. Of course, the retail career later turned into the fashion brand Forever 21.

A few years before Do Won Chang moved to America, he started a coffee delivery business in the Myungdong district in Seoul.

Forever 21 founder Do Won Chang
Forever 21 founder Do Won Chang

Since launching and working on Forever 21, the husband and wife team’s personal net worth has been estimated by Forbes to be $4+ billion. The role is complimented perfectly between the both of them: Mrs. Chang approves the designs of the company’s merchandise, while Mr. Chang focuses on turning Forever 21 into the fastest fast-fashion chain in the business, and in the process he has made the company widely successful.


In an age where innovation is more than ever about being fastest to market, the Changs are faster than anyone.

What’s the secret behind it?

In a video interview, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Do Won Chang shared with Mint his learning about women’s fashion, the brand’s focus on Asian countries and what keeps the company ahead of its competition. The responses are editted slightly.

Where do you see India in your growth plan?

We have a store in Dubai and also in the UK, where we have a lot of indian customers, especially fashionable customers, so I think this is a perfect market for Forever 21.

How has your journey been so far as an entrepreneur? 

I’m always challenged. Passion has always driven me. As an entrepreneur you also have to change always.

What is your focus right now?

The number one population in the world is China plus India, which is one third of the world’s population. They are also very young, so the opportunity there is big.

What is your learning about women’s fashion?

Women’s fashion is very difficult because it is changing everyday. Fashion changes so fast, so time is the most important thing. If you are too late, you are too late. If you are too early, you are too early. So timing is very important.

How do you see Forever 21 as a brand?

I think right now everyone is very similar. Although the looks are similar, we are totally different.

What keeps Forever 21 going?

We keep changing. We are always thinking about customer, not just for the company. That’s why we are successful.

Here’s the full interview if you are interested:

Inspired? The Changs are definitely great example of how success is 1% Inspiration and 99% perspiration. While we often focus on the success, few knew that CEO Do Won Chang worked as a janitor, gas station attendant, and in a coffee shop before starting Forever 21.

Read also: WhatsApp has 400 Million Monthly Users; building a 100 year old company

 

Subscribe to Vulcan Post Newsletter

Stay updated with our weekly curated news and updates.