Forever 21 Has Filed for Bankruptcy, Here's Where to Shop (Ethically) Instead

Guys, it’s going to be OK

An image of a Forever 21 store
(Photo: iStock)

Looks like Forever 21 may not actually be *forever.* On September 29 the fast fashion company filed for bankruptcy protection. In a statement, the company announced that the retailer will close most of its international locations in Asia and Europe and all 44 locations across Canada.

The Chapter 11 filing—which allows the company to keep operating while it closes underperforming stores, pay debts and attempts to turn around the business—concludes months of speculation about the future of the fast fashion favourite. According to Bloomberg, the company has long been struggling to pay vendors and landlords and has been seeking out ways to “revive its business.” CNBC notes this may be due to the L.A.-based retailer being located in malls, where fewer shoppers are spending their money as they’re opting for online retailers like Lulus and Fashion Nova instead. Leading up to the filing, Forever 21 reportedly brought in a team of advisers to help restructure its debt and was in talks for additional financing before negotiations stalled.

While the news may seem shocking at first, it makes sense. Many fast-fashion brick-and-mortars are having difficulty keeping up with online and direct-to-consumer brands—U.K. retailer Topshop recently filed for bankruptcy and closed all of its U.S. stores as a result. Additionally, as the L.A. Times notes, Forever 21 lost its “cool factor” when it widened its range of merchandise too broadly. And let’s not forget all those times Forever 21 caused outrage for numerous copyright lawsuits for ripping off designers, culturally insensitive imagery, controversial graphics on T-shirts and questions about fair labour wages. Sure, shopping at Forever 21 is easy on the wallet, but it isn’t exactly ethical.

We recognize that Forever 21 was a trailblazer in making fashion accessible to the masses by offering trendy styles at extremely affordable prices, but fear not—we did some digging to find other places to shop for great fashion finds that are both affordable and ethical.

If you’re looking for somewhere to get fashion-forward shoes…

… try ALDO or Call It Spring. Both (Canadian) retailers are under the ALDO Group, which has been making great efforts to become socially and environmentally conscious. It is the first fashion footwear and accessories company in the world to be considered climate neutral and boasts a sustainable campus, smart and sustainable packaging, prioritization of low-carbon shipping methods and ethically-sourced materials. Call It Spring announced earlier this year that it was going fully vegan, and Aldo just released its first-ever sustainable shoe collection called RPPL (pronounced ripple), made from recycled materials. (Note: Aldo is pricier than Call It Spring, so if you’re really looking for discounted prices, opt for the latter).

If you’re looking for somewhere to get sneakers…

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… try Allbirds. The “world’s most comfortable shoe” (and yes, we stand by this accolade) is made with renewable materials like ethically-sourced merino wool and eucalyptus tree fibre, as well as laces from recycled water bottles (!). The company went carbon neutral in 2019 (meaning that for every tonne of carbon they emit as a business—from the sheep on their farms to the lightbulbs in their headquarters—they’ll pay to take a tonne of carbon out of the atmosphere) and is further reducing its carbon footprint by maximizing ocean shipping instead of air shipping, increasing energy efficiency and purchasing renewable energy. Note: These sneakers do run a bit on the pricy side ($135 a pair), so think of them as more of an investment piece if you’re on a tight budget.

If you’re looking for somewhere to get cute accessories…

…try ALDO or Call It Spring, yet again. Both retailers have a wide range of sunglasses, jewelry and handbags that are wallet-friendly and fashion-forward.

If you’re willing to shell out a bit more for wallets and handbags, try MATT & NAT. The Canadian brand, which stands for mat(t)erial and nature, is fully vegan and uses recycled plastic bottles for its handbag and accessories linings, in addition to sourcing sustainable materials such as cork and rubber for its designs.

For slightly more expensive jewelry pieces, try Artisan & Fox or 31 Bits. Both sell pieces from local artists in developing regions and the items are made from locally-sourced materials with a low ecological and carbon footprint.

And if all else fails, Etsy is always a great place to to source sustainable or eco-friendly jewelry.

If you’re looking for somewhere to get cheap makeup…

…try NYX and e.l.f. if you’re going the cruelty-free route. They’re both affordable, effective and Leaping Bunny-certified. For makeup brushes, Eco Tools is a great pick as it’s also cruelty-free and uses recycled materials, such as aluminum and plastic, as well as renewable bamboo.

When it comes to finding makeup with sustainable packaging, that’s where things get a little bit more tricky. If you’re willing to invest in more eco-friendly beauty products, RMS does use minimal, recyclable or reusable packaging, but a lipstick will set you back $28.

If you’re ready to ditch fast fashion and slowly invest in a capsule wardrobe…

…try Uniqlo, Frank And Oak or Universal Standard.

Uniqlo (a Japanese retailer that has gained popularity worldwide) offers both great basics and trendy items that are made with ethically-produced materials that minimize environmental impacts. Their clothing is affordable and great quality (in other words, it’ll last you much longer than an item from a typical fast fashion chain would) and have recently become more accessible to the masses thanks to an e-commerce launch in Canada.

Canadian brand Frank And Oak is another retailer with stylish basics that is making a long-term commitment to more eco-friendly practices. Their initiatives include recyclable packaging, using sustainable materials like Tencel (a wood-based fibre made from eucalyptus trees), minimizing the number of metal components that go into their clothing and introducing manufacturing techniques to reduce its carbon footprint. They’ve also partnered with an eco-certified facility in Dubai that produces denim pieces with 95% less water, 79% less energy and up to 50% fewer chemicals—and have introduced a denim line made from completely recycled fabric.

Universal Standard is the label your favourite cool-girl influencer probably can’t get enough of. Their clothing is classic, minimalist, size-inclusive and you can feel good supporting them because everything is made with ethical manufacturing practices. The materials are high-quality and meticulously sourced, plus all returned clothing is repurposed and donated to charities supporting women in need. Oh, and they make boots now, too

If you feel like you can’t give up on fast fashion just yet…

…try shopping H&M’s “Conscious” collection, Zara’s “Join Life” line or Smart Glamour.

H&M Conscious is an environmentally-friendly capsule collection made out of sustainable or recycled materials. The pieces are extremely fashion-forward and are priced similarly to regular H&M items.

Zara’s Join Life line is similar in that its pieces are made from organic cotton, recycled wool and Tencel, and the price points remain true to the rest of Zara’s pieces.

It’s not really fast fashion (and its prices aren’t as low as Zara or H&M), but Smart Glamour is another brand worth your hard-earned dollars. It’s run by designer Mallorie Dunn, and all the pieces (running up to a 15XL) are hand-made to order in NYC, which reduces waste. Another environmentally-friendly bonus is that Dunn doesn’t discard unused fabric, instead turning it into other, deeply discounted clothes.

With files from Blythe Hunter 

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