A fashion retail Forever 21 store is pictured in in London on September 30, 2019. Fashion retailer Forever 21 has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US.

Alberto Pezzali | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Forever 21 is asking landlords for a break on rent as the legacy fast fashion player’s sales decline and it struggles to keep up with savvier competitors, CNBC has learned.

The retailer, which has more than 380 stores in the U.S., has asked some landlords to cut its rent by as much as 50%, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. 

While the company is facing financial difficulties, it has yet to hire advisors and isn’t considering a second bankruptcy filing, the people said. It’s working to restructure its many leases so it can cut costs, they said. 

Forever 21 faces a range of issues that have long plagued its business. It operates in the increasingly saturated fast fashion market, and struggles to manage inventory and understand and respond to its consumer, one of the people said.

The retailer’s struggles come after it filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and was later bought by a consortium including brand management company Authentic Brands Group and landlords Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners.

When the company sought bankruptcy protection, it had more than 800 locations globally.

Similar to many retailers, Forever 21’s massive store footprint weighed on its balance sheet when it first filed for bankruptcy. The retailer had expanded too quickly during its growth phase, leaving it unable to invest in its supply chain and rapidly respond to changing trends. 

Closing hundreds of stores after filing for bankruptcy has not resolved its issues.

Forever 21’s financial position has also hurt the performance of its operator Sparc Group — the joint venture that includes Authentic, Simon and as of last summer, Chinese-linked fast fashion behemoth Shein. Sparc runs Forever 21’s operations, as well as a number of other formerly-bankrupt retailers, including Aeropostale, Brooks Brothers and Lucky Brand. 

Sparc declined comment to CNBC. Simon didn’t return a request for comment.

Forever weighs on Sparc 

Racing to compete

In the past, Forever 21’s top rivals included H&M and Zara. These days, its biggest foes are ultra-fast fashion retailers like Shein and Temu. 

“The speed is almost impossible to compete with. So if you juxtapose any brand that was around 20 years ago to these new, on-demand manufacturing fast fashion companies… it’s like comparing a mobile phone from 2000 to the newest iPhone. The speed, the quality, everything is just different,” one of the people said. “As soon as someone goes viral in a new outfit on TikTok, Shein is immediately making it and no regular brand can keep up with that.” 

Shoppers walks past advertisements on the opening day of fast-fashion e-commerce giant Shein, which hosted a brick-and-mortar pop up inside Forever 21 at the Ontario Mills Mall in Ontario on Oct. 19, 2023.

Allen J. Schaben | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

At the ICR conference in January, Authentic Brands CEO Jamie Salter said acquiring Forever 21 was “probably the biggest mistake” of his career, adding he also erred when he failed to recognize the competitive threat posed by Shein and Temu earlier. 

He recalled a conversation he had with Simon’s CEO David Simon, who asked Salter why he wanted to partner with Shein. 

“I said, ‘David, it’s the right decision, we cannot beat them. Their supply chain is too good. They know what’s going on. They’ve figured this out. We need to partner with them,'” Salter recounted. “So I was the brave one that said, ‘Let’s go partner with these guys.'”

As part of the two retailers’ partnership, Shein will design, manufacture and distribute a line of co-branded Forever 21 apparel and accessories that will be sold primarily on Shein’s website. Forever 21 has also hosted Shein pop-up stores and begun accepting Shein returns, both of which have driven positive foot traffic to Forever 21’s shops, one of the people said. 

The two originally linked up last August and under the terms of the agreement, Shein acquired about one-third of Sparc while Sparc took a minority stake in Shein. 

Given the concerns that Forever 21 is having with its leases, and the success of Shein’s pop-up shops, some industry observers questioned whether the digital giant could soon take over Forever 21’s stores. However, one of the people said that’s unlikely because the retailer lacks experience in physical retail and its business model involves small-batch production and an inventory that constantly shifts based on trends.


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