Forever Sued: Forever 21 Angers Indie Designers, But Shoppers Still Love It

Forever 21
Forever 21

Forever21, America's only evangelical fast-fashion retailer, enjoys the love of a wide swath of customers: It attracts 10-year-olds raiding piggybanks, cougars scouting for clubbing gear and born-again Christians alike.

And why not? The John 3:16 reference on the bottom of every yellow shopping bag doesn't seem to offend too many customers, and the Southern Californian company knows how to pump out trends faster and cheaper than almost anyone else.

Still, one of its trends that truly seems to have gone on forever is copyright-infringement allegations. Forever21 is being sued yet again, this time by Moriah Carlson and Alice Wu of New York indie-label Feral Childe. The designers say that Forever21 has copied their hand-drawn print of teepees on one of its rompers.

"Forever21's copying and mass production of our original textile design without our permission is just plain wrong," the designers said in their law firm's July 14 press release. "It's frustrating that this enormous company would dare to poach the artistic creations of a small company such as ours, and we are going to make sure it is held accountable."

Forever21 Lawsuits Still En Vogue

Wu and Carlson are the latest in a long line of fashion personalities who have sued Forever 21 for copyright infringement. Anna Sui, Diane von Furstenberg and Anthropolgie all filed lawsuits against the company and all settled their cases out of court. Forever 21 has never actually lost a copyright case, Businessweek reported in its feature on the company in January.

But because Feral Childe is an indie label, this instance of copyright infringement has invoked particular anger from fashion bloggers and designers. Elizabeth Starbuck, a fellow designer from Brooklyn, started a petition against Forever21 last month. As of Monday, the petition had accumulated more than 2,900 signatures.

"The company is . . .undermining the entire eco-fashion movement and its effort to foster a broader sustainable ethic within the fashion industry," Starbuck says.

The company's history probably doesn't help raise its stature with the sustainable-fashion group. Forever21 took some heat for working conditions at some of its factories back in 2001, when workers boycotted the company until it reached an agreement with them in 2004.

Unlike Feral Childe, whose designers hand-draw prints, Forever21 keeps its design process a mystery. And, unlike most ecofriendly brands -- which try to keep production transparent -- Forever21's production is hard to track. It sources its clothes from a group of Southern California manufacturers that work in diverse conditions, both in the U.S. and abroad. (As a result, sizes, colors and origins are never uniform among Forever21 items.)

Shoppers Keep Flocking to the Stores

Starbuck's petition proclaims: "If we raise enough of an outcry, we'll make sure this time Forever21 is held accountable."

If that means winning Feral Childe a small percentage of Forever21's profits for the romper in question, there's a good chance that petitioners might get their wish.

But changing how the Forever21 does business may prove as hard as keeping shoppers from making the pilgrimage to the new and biblically sized Times Square store in New York City. The company's expansion shows no sign of slowing. It's opening more locations across America and -- starting last month, when it opened its first store in London -- abroad.