The skimpy tops and flirty miniskirts on sale at Forever 21, a cheap-chic mega-retailer known for its runway knockoffs and rock-bottom prices, seem to have more in common with Paris and Milan than the local church.
But the retailer's ultimate accessory - the iconic yellow bags seen dangling from the arms of teenagers at malls across the country - features one unexpected design element decidedly absent from this season's runways: an imprint that reads simply John 3:16.
Owners Don and Jin Chang have built a fashion empire on two principles that don't often get mentioned in the same breath: fashion and faith. The Changs attend church daily, give generously to their church, and attend mission trips. In May they will launch Faith 21, a plus-sized version of their flagship store. This new venture embraces overt language of faith in an industry that generally steers clear of the potentially polarizing issue.
But what does it really mean to be a Christian retailer? Forever 21 is known for producing less-than-modest clothes, though in recent years more professional and mid-market garments have found their way onto the shelves alongside the tank tops and miniskirts that define the brand's image. The retailer has been criticized by the fashion industry for blatantly ripping off runway designs (US copyright law only protects logos and brand names) and their styles often end up on racks before the higher-end originals as they rush the typically months-long process from sketch to store into just a few weeks.
Last year Radar magazine ran a profile of the Changs that highlighted the couple's outspoken faith as well as their questionable business practices. The pair champion young Christian designers: "She plucks young designers out of the companies she's working with," said an anonymous business associate of Jin Chang. "And if they're Christian and religious, she puts them in business." Rowena Rodriguez, a former designer for Forever 21, told Radar, "In the short time I worked with Mrs. Chang, my life was transformed, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Mrs. Chang prayed me into the Kingdom!"
As in any creative industry, the ethics of fashion are complicated for both producer and consumer. Where we choose to shop is not an innocuous decision; our money is supporting the organization behind it. Is Forever 21 to be commended for bringing language of faith into our malls? Or should their controversial reputation give pause to Christian consumers? What does it really mean to be a Christian retailer?
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
Read These Next
- TrendingHillsong Says It Is Moving ForwardNew revelations will require increased accountability, but pastor wants to look to the future.
- From the MagazineIs It Time to Quit ‘Quiet Time’?Effective biblical engagement must be about more than one’s personal experience with Scripture.
- RelatedCompany that Trademarked ‘Worship Leader’ Makes Others Drop the TermPopular meme accounts lose social media pages after being reported by Authentic Media, which says it coined the phrase.
- Editor's PickChristians, Stop ‘Giving Up God’ for LentIn an age of functional atheism, ‘tis the season for traditional fasting and prayer.