Winnie Park, Forever 21: “In terms of sustainability, GenZ favours authenticity”

The C.E.O. of Forever 21 was the guest at the latest FrenchFounders meeting in New York. After working at Levi Strauss and LVMH (DFS), and tasked with restructuring the PaperSource stationery group for 6 years, she took over the teen fashion retailer in January 2022, 2 years after the business filed for bankruptcy. She shares her vision with mind Retail on the importance of innovation to win back Generation Z.

Through et Sophie Baqué. Published on 03 February 2023 à 11h35 - Update on 03 February 2023 à 17h15

Forever 21 is facing strong competition from Shein, but also from new sustainable consumption patterns. Why is Gen Z so important to you?

Winnie Park: As a brand Director, it is essential to understand our customers, I would say to become intimate with them. This is something more powerful than data. This means that before selling anything, we must fully interact with potential customers and develop a real curiosity about what drives them. At Forever21, our priority is to understand GenZ, i.e. those aged 9 to 24. This generation represents 70% of our customer base, with the remaining 30% being Millenials. This age group loves brands, stores and the experiential aspect of shopping. They are both more diverse and highly educated. They know what they want and what they do not want. For them, fashion is a way to express their identity.

What makes this GenZ so different?

Winnie Park : Some of our target customers come from tough economic backgrounds and have a strong sense of value and a real pragmatism about money. They don’t hesitate to mix and match branded clothes with pieces they find in thrift stores. Moreover, GenZ is very aware of the climate challenges and integrates this into their fashion choices.

These young people, informed and in search of authenticity, decide to prioritise responsible fashion, in line with their commitments as global citizens. They really have the power to “cancel” brands. This is the case for my daughter Annabel, who is an activist teenager who wants a career as a marine biologist. GenZ is also informed and persuaded by mental health issues, which are increasingly addressed by brands.

How do you play the sustainable responsibility card with them?

Winnie Park : As a brand, you must be very transparent because GenZ doesn’t forgive any “faux pas”. We must remain humble in communication. We are clear that this is a work in progress, and we are not perfect. This target generation values authenticity. Each brand must find an individual voice to reach the GenZ, whilst seamlessly integrating into the circular economy.

What is your track record on the metaverse?

Winnie Park : We entered the metaverse in 2021 with Roblox, with a collection for avatars. In the summer of 2022, we partnered with Virtual Brand Group, a creative company for the metaverse, to build a “Forever 21 Shop City”, which is a retail experience on Roblox. Following the Barbie collection in partnership with Mattel, we launched our “Forever Beanie” at the end of 2022, both online and in stores. It was a remarkable success. We sold 1 million beanies in the metaverse. These projects are shaping a new way of innovating, designing and selling fashion globally. Roblox is a phenomenal platform and I can’t wait to reveal the next developments in Shop City.

What are your priorities for 2023?

Winnie Park : While our online sales remain strong and are a key part of our strategy, we believe that the future will see more synergies between the virtual and the physical channels. We will also focus on meeting the young generation’s desire for self-expression, with collaborations in the music and film sectors and with GenZ designers. Stay tuned !

Read more : Landlord Simon Property saves tenant Forever21

Forever 21 : Key figures

Net sales 2021: US$267.4 million

580 stores worldwide (end 2022)

Owner: SPARC (joint venture between Simon Property Group, Brookfield Property Group and Authentic Brands)

Winnie Park

  • 01-2022 to present: C.E.O., Forever 21
  • 2015 to 01-2022: C.E.O., Paper Source
  • 2006 to 2015: E.V.P. Marketing, DFS Group
  • 2008 to 2012: Global V.P. Fashion, DFS Group
  • 2004 to 2008: Director of Merchandising, Levi Strauss & Co