How two penniless Korean immigrants launched an apparel empire now worth billions


Next Shark:

This is a story of success. This is the unbelievable rags-to-riches story of how Do Won “Don” Chang and his wife, Jin Sook, immigrated from Korea to California with nearly nothing, how Chang had to hold down three demeaning jobs at the same time to support his family, and how they opened up their first fashion-forward store, which, three decades later, has become a coveted international brand with 600 stores in the U.S. and overseas bringing in around $4.4 billion in sales each year.

That company is Forever 21, the No. 1 brand favored by millennial “it girls,” beating out heavy hitters such as Sephora and H&M in a recent Teen Vogue-Goldman Sachs poll.

From Rags to Riches

Chang, 57, and Sook, 53, moved to the states from Korea in 1981. Chang worked as a gas station attendant, janitor and coffee shop waiter to make ends meet. According to a Business Insider profile on the dynamic duo, they were broke, had no college degrees and spoke broken English. They had planned to go into the coffee business until Chang noticed something that would change their lives. Chang, in a 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times, said:

“I noticed the people who drove the nicest cars were all in the garment business.”

They had only been settled in the Los Angeles area for three years before that observation became a reality. In 1984, the Changs decided to open their first clothing store, which they called “Fashion 21,” in a 900-square-foot space in Highland Park, which is about five minutes north of downtown Los Angeles. They took in a measly $35,000 upon opening, but sales jumped to $700,000 by the end of their first year. That success led Chang to go out on a strategic limb by opening up new stores every six months in different locations across the U.S. and renaming their chain “Forever 21.”

Somehow the husband-and-wife team found more success with each opening. Today, there are over 600 stores worldwide that employ more than 34,000 workers. The Chang’s personal net worth is estimated to be around $6.1 billion. That high net worth is perhaps due to the fact that the Changs own 100% of Forever 21.

The chain remains a family business, with Chang holding the CEO position while Jin Sook approves the company’s merchandise designs as chief merchandising officer. Daughter Esther manages the company’s visuals while daughter Linda is in charge of marketing.

Forever 21’s Recipe for Success

koreanWhy is Forever 21 so successful? The company keeps prices low. It lives up to its motto, “Shop Chic Styles for Less,” by continually updating its merchandise to remain fashion forward. As Chang put it:

“We keep changing. We are always thinking about [the] customer, not just for the company. That’s why we are successful.”

It’s hard to pull off, but Forever 21 has remained relevant and popular in a fickle environment where trends quickly go out of fashion, often just after they’ve taken off. Chang adds:

“Women’s fashion is very difficult because it is changing everyday. Fashion changes so fast, so time is the most important thing. If you are too late, you are too late. If you are too early, you are too early. So timing is very important.”

So is being grateful. Chang might be a billionaire now, but he’s always been grounded and aware of how he got here, as well as where he came from. He told the LA Times:

“Forever 21 gives hope to people who come here with almost nothing. And that is a reward that humbles me: the fact that immigrants coming to America, much like I did, can come into a Forever 21 and know that all of this was started by a simple Korean immigrant with a dream.”

adidas Originals Seoul flagship store features crowd-sourced art in the Supercolor Studio

maharishi Spring/Summer 2015 “DPM: Bonsai e Alighiero” Collection


High Snobsiety: 

British label maharishi have released a number of camouflaged pieces for their Spring/Summer 2015 collection. Included in the military designs are upcycled Vietnam-era gear and apparel, taken from the maharishi archives, that have been repurposed for modern fashion sensibilities. In keeping with designer Hardy Blechman’s philosophy, the pieces have been ritually cleansed of their former violent purpose.

Since the ’90s maharishi has quietly gone about reclaiming camo for civilian use, citing the proximity to the earth that it suggests. Some of the patterns in this collection date back to the inception of countershading in camouflage, first used widely by Italian forces in the late ’20s.



Five things expats wish Japan had, and why it’s sometimes a good thing it doesn’t

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RocketNews 24:

For the most part, Japan is a pretty great country to live in. Among a host of other positives, it’s clean and safe, with good infrastructure and reliable transportation.

Still, some people move to Japan and find that even if they like the overall package, it doesn’t quite have all the comforts of home. Today, we’re taking a look at a list compiled by blogger and internationalist Madame Riri of five things expats wish Japan had, plus adding our own explanation of why it’s sometimes a good thing that it doesn’t.

1. More convenient ATMs

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Starting off with the most legitimate complaint, and one that featured on our own list of 10 things Japan gets horribly wrong a while back, Japan does lag pretty far behind many other countries as far as letting you get to your cash. As you can see in the above photo, ATMs are often located inside banks, meaning that once the building closes up for the day, there’s no way to get to the machines. And while 24-hour ATMs are slowly becoming more common, you’ll often be charged a service fee if you make a withdrawal outside of normal business hours, even if you’re using your own bank’s machines.

So how do Japanese people deal with this? They just carry a lot of cash. The laughably low crime rate means there’s very little chance of someone swiping the yen you’ve got in your pocket, and the ubiquity of cash payments means you can walk into any convenience store, whip out a 10,000-yen (US$84) bill to pay for a 100-yen bottle of tea, and no one will ever make a fuss about making change for it.

As an added bonus, using cash comes with a couple of psychological influences that can help you make more responsible spending choices. It makes the financial ramifications of a purchase feel much more immediate, and can act as a safeguard against the sort of irresponsible splurging that many feel illogically comfortable engaging in with a credit card. Likewise, not being able to draw money out of your bank account whenever and wherever the impulse strikes you can be helpful if you’re trying to stick to a budget, since you can’t spend any more than have on hand until the next time you’re able to get to one of Japan’s less-than-convenient ATMs.

2. Central heating and air conditioning

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Another major complaint from expats living in Japan is that homes aren’t designed with central heating and air conditioning. If you’re used to the convenience and uniform temperatures of such systems, it can be a shock when you’re relaxing comfortably in your toasty living room with the heater on full blast, then get up to grab a snack and discover that your kitchen is freezing cold.

Except, centralized heating is really only a plus when everyone in the home wants it the same temperature. Got a house with one side that gets a lot of sun, and the other that’s shady during the winter? Sorry, with centralized heating that pumps the same temperature air into both areas, one of them is always going to be too hot or too cold.

While Japanese homes do have the drawback of needing to install a separate compact unit for each room, the upside is that you can set each one to whatever temperature you want, independent the others. The smaller, non-connected units also mean you’re not wasting energy (and money) heating a room no one’s currently using, and many Japanese homes are designed so that rooms can be completely closed off from one another. Not only does that make them easier to defend in the case of a zombie outbreak, it also means you can heat a smaller room up pretty easily with a compact space heater, since the warm air isn’t seeping out into the rest of the house.

3. “Skinship”

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Japan isn’t a touchy-feely society, so it’s kind of strange that it has its own catch-all term for signs of physical affection, “skinship.” For foreigners dating a Japanese national, the skinship discrepancy isn’t much of a problem, as most international couples establish a mutually amicable middle ground during the early stages of their relationship.

Where the real complaint comes in is the almost complete lack of casual physical contact between platonic friends. Used to giving your pals a hug when you see them for the first time in months? Feel like that awesome home run the Hiroshima Carps’ cleanup batter just hit deserves a high-five with your buddies you’re watching the game with? Probably not going to happen in Japan.

On the other hand, this cuts both ways. So while you may feel a little lonely at not having the skinship from friends you’d welcome it from, it also means your creepy, perpetually sweaty coworker probably won’t be looking for a good-bye squeeze at the end of the company New Year’s party.

4. A bigger selection of large-size clothing and shoes

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Obviously, not everyone in Japan is the same height and weight. Walk into Uniqlo, Beams, or any other clothing store, and you’ll find the standard small, medium, and large options.

On average, though, these tend to be smaller than their equivalents in the west. And while there are retailers that specialize in extra-large fashion (which in the case of men is often given the regal-sounding title “king-size”), they’re not as numerous, nor their options as diverse, as similar outlets overseas. If your need for large sizes is the result of being, by Japanese standards, particularly tall or muscular, or in possession of a large skeletal frame, this can make shopping tough, especially when buying business wear, as the fitted look is generally the most popular in Japan.

On the other hand, if you’re having trouble fitting into Japanese clothing options not because of your height or bulging biceps, but because you could stand to lose a few pounds, having your clothing options otherwise become severely limited is a pretty good incentive for getting in shape. And if everything still feels snug, you can at least take solace that once summer comes, you’ll be able to spend at least some of your time in a light, loose-fitting summer kimono, provided you brush up on how to tie the sash.

5. Inexpensive pizza

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Finally, we come to the last item on the list. Pizza is actually pretty popular in Japan, and you’re unlikely to find anyone outside the elderly who actually dislikes it. That said, pizza, and Italian food in general, occupies a slightly different part of the culinary landscape in Japan than it does in, say, the U.S.

While Italian food isn’t considered full-on ethnic cuisine in Japan, there’s a certain Continental cachet Italian restaurants enjoy here. This can in turn translate to higher prices, albeit with the payoff of high-quality pizza, often prepared by chefs who trained in Italy before coming back to Japan and opening their own restaurants.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have delivery outfits like Domino’s and Pizza-La. While neither tastes bad for delivery food, here the price can be a deal-breaker, with large pizzas often costing over 3,000 yen (US$25) a pie. So why are Japanese customers willing to pay so much? Well, pizza, especially in the home, is considered sort of a special occasion food. It’s much more likely that a Japanese family is calling up Domino’s because it’s someone’s birthday or some other celebration is going on than because no one wants to cook, which makes them that much more willing to splurge.

But while Japan may often assume that high price must equal high quality, the stigma that low price is the sign of a poor product is rapidly eroding. In recent years, a number of budget-priced casual pizzerias have opened up, such as Sempre Pizza and Napoli’s. Both have a wide variety of perfectly tasty individual-sized pizzas costing less than 1,000 yen, with Sempre’s starting at an amazingly low 380 yen.

Still, it’s true that finding reasonably priced pizza can require a bit of searching in Japan. Of course, while you’re searching, you’re also going to be surrounded by the biggest selection of authentic, inexpensive, and delicious Japanese food on the planet, and the fact that your go-to comfort food is looking a little pricy can just the push that gets you out of your dining rut and lets you discover a new favorite dish.

So to recap, would we sometimes prefer if these five things were more common in Japan? Sure, but with a willingness to adapt and look at things from a new perspective, sometimes you’re better off without them. Besides, if your primary goal was to get some cheap pizza and you ended up in Japan, we’re pretty sure you got on the wrong plane at the airport.

Nike to collaborate with Commes des Garçon pattern cutter Chitose Abe’s innovative label Sacai

Nike has unveiled its plans to release a womenswear collection in collaboration with Sacai, the innovative Japanese label helmed by former Commes des Garçon pattern cutter Chitose Abe. Constantly reinventing her signature runway looks with exciting textures and material, Abe has garnered an impressive fanbase within the fashion industry, including the beloved Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld.

The Japanese designer will now lend her dynamic designs to Nike Sportswear, crafting an eight-piece collection with inspiration from the sportwear giant’s extensive history. “Our excitement to work with Chitose was really born from her unique understanding of form and silhouette. Many of her collections have inspired the design team at Nike, through her elegant and graceful application of materials” said Kurt Parker, vice president and creative director of Nike Sportswear.

For more information on this collaboration, visit Business of Fashion.

Disney Store is all grown up with new branch designed for adult women opening in Tokyo

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RocketNews 24:

Disney enjoys broad popularity with Japanese children, with tykes across the nation regularly getting excited for the studio’s animated films and begging their parents to take them to Tokyo Disneyland. This isn’t a recent development, though. Disney’s been a hit with kids for decades now, and while the age of many fans who grew up watching Mickey, Minnie, and their pals has changed, that doesn’t mean their love for the cartoon characters has.

That’s why this spring a new branch of the Disney Store is opening up in Tokyo, and while the staff won’t be turning away little girls at the door, it’s really being designed for adult women.

There’s no arguing that Disney’s characters are cute, so what better place for the new shop than in Harajuku, the Tokyo neighborhood that’s the capital of kawaii culture. This spring, Harajuku is getting a new retail and entertainment center in the form of the Harajuku Alta complex, which is now under construction on the district’s famed Takeshita shopping street.

What sets this branch apart, though, is its focus on providing an enjoyable experience for adult women. In contrast to the vibrant colors of most Disney Store locations, Harajuku Alta’s makes use of sophisticated, subdued tones. The shelves will be stocked with jewelry, bags, and smartphone accessories, instead of the plastic toys of all-ages Disney Stores. Judging from the promotional stills, it also looks like everything will be arranged in a spacious layout that allows mature customers to comfortably navigate the shopping space and easily peruse all of its wares.

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In exchange for having you bypass closer Disney Stores and come all the way into Harajuku, the new branch will be selling a selection of items you can’t find anywhere else, such as this special 2,500-yen (US$21) set of Tsum Tsum stackable plus interior accents.

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Similar to what the Ikebukuro Pokémon Center did for its grand opening, the Harajuku Alta Disney Store will also be selling a number of commemorative items when it opens its doors for the first time. Quantities are limited though, so get there early unless you want to pay the markups on the inevitable Internet auctions to come.

▼ Harajuku Alta exclusive frilled T-shirt (3,900 yen, limited to 700 units)

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▼ Harajuku Alta exclusive backpack (4,900 yen, limited to 400 units)

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Disney has also released a photo of the Harajuku Alta branch opening commemorative pin. The company has said it isn’t for sale, and since we doubt they’d show off an employee-only item, we’re guessing they’ll either be giving them away on opening day or including them as a gift for paying customers while supplies last.

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The Harajuku Alta Disney Store is set to open on March 7. It’s sure to make Disney-loving ladies across Japan jealous of Tokyo, at least until the second Disney Store for adult women opens in Osaka’s Lucua 1100 building on April 2.

Uniqlo vows reforms as NGO Human Right Now deplores factory conditions in China

uniqloJapan Times:

A Hong Kong-based nongovernmental organization that discovered poor working environments at two Chinese factories who supply goods to Uniqlo said Friday it plans to continue investigating more Chinese factories that partner with the casual clothing giant.

The Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (Sacom) shared its findings, including low wages, excessive overtime work and unsafe labor conditions, earlier this week.

Responding to the Sacom’s report, Fast Retailing Co., which runs Uniqlo, announced on Thursday steps it plans to take to improve working conditions at the plants, admitting some of the points in the report were true.

This is just the beginning of the campaign. We see a lot of promises from Uniqlo’s statement . But it won’t just stop us at this stage,” said Alexandra Chan, a Sacom project officer, at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

She said Sacom and Tokyo-based NGO Human Rights Now will meet a Uniqlo executive next week to discuss the issue.

Sacom has been looking into labor situations at Chinese suppliers that serve big international firms like Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. It sent undercover investigators to a factory run by Pacific Textiles Ltd. and one owned by Dongguan Tomwell Garment Co. Both are leading players in the industry who employ thousands of workers, Chan said.

If they do something like that, what about other smaller-scale factories. They do not have adequate resources compared to these factories,” she said.

The poor working conditions described at the factories include one at Pacific that lacks air-conditioning, causing many of the men there to go topless when it gets hot, which is unsafe.

It also said the factory has a poor sewage system that leaves wastewater all over the floor, including chemicals used to dye fabrics, which could pose a health risk to employees.

Long working hours are an issue as well, since Pacific Textile employees work 308 hours and Dongguan Tomwell workers 286 hours per month, considerably higher than the China’s standard of 174 hours.

Fast Retailing promised to make reforms within a month.

Fast Retailing has urged the factories to take swift action on the issues identified in the Sacom report, and we will cooperate fully with them to ensure that improvements are made. Together with third parties, including auditors and NGOs, we will check progress within one month,” said Yukihiro Nitta, Fast Retailing Group Executive Officer responsible for corporate social responsibility.

Fast Retailing’s instructions include increasing the number of holidays, making improvements to the working environment, including air quality and temperature checks, and rethinking the use of fines and other penalties used to punish employees. It also promised to carry out more unannounced checks on the factories.

While Chan said she appreciates Fast Retailing’s decision to take action, she still has some concerns.

For instance, while Fast Retailing says it instructed Dongguan to urge its workers to form a labor union, hold elections and its first meeting by March, Chan said it will be tough to establish a truly functioning labor union so quickly, adding there needs to be more time to provide proper education and training.

Fashion For A Cause: Liberty in North Korea (LiNK)


 Audrey Magazine:

We’ve been bringing you on-going news regarding the cancellation of The Interview theater showings under the pressure of recent hacker attacks and the uproar it’s causing, but looking deeper into the terrifying realities of North Korea, one organization strives to aid North Korean refugees on the extremely hard and secret journey to freedom.  Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) takes on the complex, sensitive subject of non-existent human rights for North Koreans by educating others on the history and the underground movements of the country.  So much is shrouded in secrecy, but with changing technology and advocacy, there is a growing fight for a better life for the people under the current dictatorship.

LiNK created this page to help others more clearly understand the challenges and history of North Koreans. Many things that we may take for granted, such as freedom of speech and information, is not available to citizens under the dictatorship. In fact, they face constant famines, lack of public health systems, and even public executions and exploitation. It is a very emotional read, but examining hard truths always is.

What exactly does the LiNK organization do?

“We rescue refugees without cost or condition and ensure their safety and dignity on their journey to freedom…while hiding in China their illegal status forces them to work in invisible industries and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and sex traffickers, as they have no recourse to any authorities.  Although many refugees try to escape many do not have the resources or connections to get themselves out of China.  That’s where we come in.” —via

Below is the breakdown of the $3000 cost of a rescue and resettlement by LiNK, which can also be found here.

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So what can we do and how does this tie into fashion right?

Outside of the traditional donation methods, LiNK has their own shop full of statement making t-shirts.  We already know graphic tops and jackets are favorite trends each season in Asia, but you can own or gift eye-catching tees that carry a more meaningful purpose.  We talk about conversation starters in fashion continuously, but these could create a conversation that educates and can ultimately aid in the rescue process of a North Korean refugee.

LiNK’s graphic designers have created a variety of designs from simple text to pop art styles and with all proceeds funding LiNK’s work and mission. Below are some of their holiday shop designs with prices ranging from $10 to $40.  Also, if you explore their shop you’ll find more than just tops: there’s coffee, canvas prints and even phone covers all made for a great cause.  If you interested more about the traditional donation process click here.

While we settle in with our families for this Christmas holiday, we keep the lives of others nestled deeply within our hearts as well.

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Ippudo Japanese Ramen Brasserie gets exclusive makeover from Engineered Garments

Combining the best of both worlds of Japanese garments and Japanese food results in the crew at Ippudo Japanese Ramen Brasserie getting a makeover by Engineered Garments.

The restaurant staff are outfitted in a stylish navy apron-jacket hybrid combo, instead of the typical all-white or all-black waiters uniform. This collaboration started out as a simple cotton twill jacket, but with valuable suggestions from the Ramen master Fumihiro Kanagae, the project developed into a more complex and heavy-duty jacket with style and functionality suitable for the hospitality working environment.

Check out the photos in the meanwhile and keep an eye out for when Ippudo releases the new Engineered Garments uniform for purchase, priced at approximately $300 USD for the jacket and an extra $100 USD for the apron.

Hello Kitty celebrates 40th birthday


Hello Kitty, Japan‘s global icon of cute, marked her 40th anniversary on Saturday with a human-size version of the feline character regaling fans at an upscale Tokyo department store and a theme park.

The moon-faced creation, who has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry, began her birthday by trying her hand as manager of the Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district. Clad in pink from head to toe with a customary bow on her head, a human-size Kitty showed up at an in-house meeting at the store, drawing cheers and applause from hordes of employees. She bowed to the staff, who bowed back.

The mouthless character did not speak but waved and struck poses, sending many on the floor blurting out “kawaii!“, the Japanese word for “cute”.

As the store opened, she greeted the first wave of customers, many of whom hugged the character and posed for pictures.

Kitty, who adorns everything from pencil cases to pyjamas the world over, also celebrated her birthday with fans at her creators’ theme park Sanrio Puroland in western Tokyo.

Surrounded by hundreds of admirers, she performed dances with other characters including her twin sister Mimmy.

The Keio Plaza Hotel chain, meanwhile, opened Hello Kitty hotel rooms in Tokyo on Saturday, decorated floor to ceiling with pictures of the cuddly character.

On the other side of the Pacific, a Hello Kitty Convention in the Little Tokyo district near downtown Los Angeles has opened for a four-day run through the weekend, expecting to draw some 25,000 fans.

First released in 1974 and appearing on a coin purse the following year, Hello Kitty now features on more than 50,000 products in 130 countries and territories.

Creator Sanrio says cute-loving adults are the main customers driving business.

Despite her years, the timeless character, who insists “you can never have too many friends“, is still exploring new frontiers. Kitty went on a space mission this year aboard a satellite and Sanrio is launching a line of Kitty products for men next year, possibly before Valentine’s Day.

She has also appeared on a dress made for eccentric US pop diva Lady Gaga, while Taiwanese airline EVA Air marked the 40th anniversary by launching a Hello Kitty plane, complete with Kitty-themed airline food and stewardess uniforms.

Fans were stunned in August when it emerged that Kitty is in fact not a cat, but a girl.

Sanrio says it has been saying all along that she is a “happy little girl with a heart of gold” — despite her whiskers and pointy ears.

Kitty was making telephone calls and had a goldfish friend from the very beginning,” a Sanrio spokesman has said.

It is a 100-percent personified character… Barring her cat face, she does exactly what humans do.

According to her official biography, Kitty was born in a London suburb on November 1 to parents George and Mary. She has a cat named Charmmy Kitty.