After going bankrupt in 2019, Forever 21 faced a harsh truth: The youth-oriented brand was out of favor with its customer base.
But under new owners — Authentic Brands Group and Simon Property Group — and with new leadership, the brand has been turning that around. Jacob Hawkins, Forever 21’s new chief marketing, digital and omni officer, has been instrumental in several of the changes that have helped repopularize Forever 21 with the TikTok generation.
Forever 21 has aggressively marketed on TikTok, gaining over 100,000 followers in the last year by working with popular influencers like Stephany Andrea (174,000 TikTok followers) and Karla Jara (443,000 followers). It’s also done several collaborations with brands like Barbie and Hervé Léger.
“We injected a lot of fresh blood into the marketing [team], while keeping some existing talent,” said Hawkins of the transition period after he joined Forever 21 in February 2022. “We have a new head of social marketing, we hired a new social agency, and we’ve been all over Instagram and TikTok. For a lot of younger consumers, social is where they start their shopping experience.”
But Hawkins attributed another factor to Forever 21’s success in reaching Gen-Z customers: brick-and-mortar stores. Forever 21 has over 500 stores across the country. In October last year, the brand announced a plan to open 14 new stores with smaller footprints and more curated assortments, compared to the multi-floor megastores it was known for pre-bankruptcy.
As chief omni officer, in addition to his other duties, Hawkins led the rollout of new tactics like selecting a store’s assortment based on what’s popular online in the area and marketing the opening of the stores online with influencer partnerships.
“These customers want to be able to get an outfit hours after they see it online, rather than days or weeks later,” Hawkins said. “The speed at which you can get products is crucial, and it’s a part of the marketing strategy now.”
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