Style Fashion

Saturday 7 December 2019

Dublin not forever for US brand after losing €44m bet

Forever 21 is closing its store on Henry Street in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Forever 21 is closing its store on Henry Street in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

The battle for the shoppers' wallets in the heart of Dublin has not produced a happy ending for American retail giants Forever 21.

Do Won Chang and his wife Jin Sook Chang founded their chain in LA in 1984, and when Forever 21 arrived into Dublin in 2010, the brand took up position directly opposite the HQ of Penneys, the fast fashion success which works on high turnover.

The scene was set for an interesting head-to-head, California glam versus homegrown fashion - and what a difference eight years make.

On paper, the LA-headquartered brand should have been well placed to succeed here with its catwalk-infused fast fashion aimed at trend-driven millennials.

There certainly was enough hype around its opening in the Jervis Street Centre in late 2010 - but despite the €10m lavish fit-out, its star failed to stay the course.

Contrast that with other American collegiate-inspired casual wear brands like Abercrombie & Fitch on College Green, and Hollister in Dundrum Town Centre.

The busy retail cockpit of Mary Street, where Forever 21 gambled on succeeding here, is home to all the key 'value' fashion players like Primark, H&M, Zara, River Island, Next and New Look.

But things were not always so fashionable.

Primark chairman Dr Arthur Ryan, who launched the first ever Penneys store on the street 48 years ago, recalled how the original two-storey, 35,000 sq ft store "was all glass windows at the front, and they were broken every weekend".

In the latest issue of 'Drapers' magazine, Primark CEO Paul Marchant discusses with his predecessor, Dr Ryan, how the retailer went from a single Dublin store to a worldwide force.

"To build the brand, we worked in the Mary Street store all day, then the deliveries would come in in the evening and we would allocate the goods to the branches; then at night we cleaned the stores, as we couldn't afford cleaners," recalled Dr Ryan.

Putting clothing into supermarkets with their sister firm Power Supermarkets was a master stroke. Dr Ryan says he saw "a big opportunity in picking up grocery leases and rental prices, and selling clothing there".

"We had a cheaper grocery lease, and all our competitors had a textile lease and were paying big bucks. We were on our way then," Dr Ryan told 'Drapers'.

Forever 21 is now shutting down its only Irish operation after making a €44m bet on Dublin - and losing.

Penneys, or Primark, expanded operations and now has 335 stores and 70,000 staff in 11 countries - the most recent being in the US.

Irish Independent

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