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Forever 21 joins raft of fashion retailers entering Australia

Melinda Oliver /

Apparel brand Forever 21 is the next retail giant set to hit Australian shores, with the launch of a flagship store in Brisbane in mid-2014.

The US-based fast fashion label for young women follows international brands Zara and Topshop to the domestic market, with Japanese company Uniqlo and Swedish label H&M also set to open flagships next year.

Forever 21 will establish a 1900 square metre retail space at the new hotel venture, NEXT Hotel, in Brisbane, operated by SilverNeedle Hospitality.

The hotel space was formerly occupied by Chifley at Lennons Hotel, with the new venture by SilverNeedle to focus on business travellers. The Forever 21 store will be the sole tenant in the retail space, covering two floors in the Queen Street Mall.

Forever 21 director of real estate and development Jatin Malhotra said the business viewed Australia as a “terrific market”.

“We are satisfied to have a strong landlord help us embark this journey. We will be penetrating the market in a sustainable manner,” Malhotra said.

Forever 21, like Zara and Topshop, is a pioneer of the fast-fashion model. It launched in Los Angeles in 1984. The brand rapidly expanded across the United States and now reports it is one of the 50 largest privately held companies in Los Angeles. It now operates in numerous countries including the UK, opening around 90 new stores each year. 

Retail and fashion consultant David Bush told SmartCompany this morning that the increased competition from overseas retailers can actually be a good thing for local brands.

“The local brands need to realise that they are no longer dealing in a local market, but a global market,” he says.

He says the competition is a chance for local retailers to review their product offer, ensure their service is up to a high standard and to make sure their delivery is efficient.

“It’s a good thing if they don’t just say ‘woe is me’ when the big brands come. They have to say, ‘great, I can do just as well at the same time’.”

However, Bush says local retailers shouldn’t assume that it will be an easy ride for Forever 21, as it is the brand’s first foray into the southern hemisphere. He says the company won’t know the local consumer as intimately as the well-established Australian labels do, and it will take some time to get its marketing approach spot on.

Bush also says the youth market pitched at by Forever 21 is well covered here, with Australian brand Sportsgirl a leader in the sector.

A Life of Style founder Connel Chiang agrees that the Australian youth apparel market is a tough sector to enter, with Australian brands such as Supre and Dotti firmly loved by teenage girls.

The stylist and fashion consultant thinks the sunny Brisbane lifestyle will be a good fit for Forever 21, with the apparel style fun and trend focused.

He says other international retailers often don’t give Australia their full product offer and size range due to logistics and the smaller size of the market, which can leave local customers feeling uninspired.

“With Forever 21, I’m not sure that this matters so much, as the youth market may be less discerning,” he says.

Like Bush, Chiang thinks local brands should take the new competition as an opportunity to review their approach, prices and service.

“They could return to the design table, and use that element to be unique and stand out,” he says.

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