Forever 21 shutdown quickening 'slow fashion' trend

Forever 21 is the latest large retailer to declare bankruptcy and some smaller retailers and thrift shopping groups says that is having a positive impact on their businesses as consumers become more eco-conscious shoppers.

Consignment stores and thrift groups are seeing a shift in consumers' mentality

Retail store Forever 21 at Toronto's Eaton Centre, taken Aug 29, 2019. (Timothy Neesam/CBC)

In 15 years running a consignment store, Allyson Linklater says she's never seen a boost in buyers like she is seeing right now.

While other retailers shut their doors — becoming sources of clothes and displays for Linklater's shop — she estimates her business has grown 40 to 50 per cent.

"It's a shocking increase actually ... we've had an incredible surge in business. We're seeing younger and younger buyers," says Linklater, owner of Redeemed Consignment store on Academy Road.

Forever 21 is the latest in a string of large retailers filing for bankruptcy. According to filings Monday, it will shut down all 44 of its Canadian stores next year, due to slumping in-store and online sales, and a large retail footprint of 12-million square feet around the world.

But, the court filings pointed to another issue — the decline of shopping malls.

"Many Forever 21 storefronts are located in malls," the chain said. "As its neighbours have closed, the number of customers walking past Forever 21 has declined." 

Where customers once passed up boutique shopping to head to the mall, it appears they are now giving up fast-fashion retailers like Forever 21, for more eco-friendly options such as thrifting or consignment shops. 

"We wouldn't even take their label [Forever 21] ... Not to be snobby but it has to wash and look good and work," adds Linklater.

Owner of Redeemed consignment store has seen a boost in business as more young shoppers are choosing gently used or vintage over fast fashion finds. (Jaison Empson/CBC News)

204Thryft is seeing a rise in popularity as well. The group is hosting one of its annual events, Thryft'd Fall Market, on October 19th that will showcase more than 25 businesses with sustainable, thrift or vintage clothing.

The group started up after thift shopper Christine Bencharski joined forced with fashion stylist Melissa Alexander to promote the concept. 

"Shopping consciously goes with any demographic whether you're young, you're male, female or older generations, too. The quality is just not there anymore on most of the stuff people purchase [from mass producers]," said Bencharski.

Local fashion designer and educator, Sarah Sue MacLachlan has been in the industry for 20 years and said after the collapse of Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013, it prompted many to look at the conditions in which workers were creating mass-produced clothing.

She is now part of the Canadian branch of  Fashion Revolution, a group of fashion designers, producers, makers, workers and consumers who wanted to change the way the fashion industry behaves towards its workers and the environment.

"I'm sorry for anyone losing their job however, I do think there is a lot of new growth in a great sector now. With fast fashion going, slow fashion is here and I really think it's here to stay," says MacLachlan. 

She defines slow fashion as knowing more about fashion in general as well as knowing where your clothes comes from, buying local or handmade versus disposable clothing.

"That's the biggest thing in fast fashion versus slow fashion, it's a consumer mentality. We really don't need to have 10 shirts for 100 dollars. we could have one amazing shirt, made out of amazing fabric, made locally and that shirt will last us forever."

With files from Associated Press and Pete Evans