Categories: Inspiring

The Inspiring Rags-to-Riches Story of Forever 21, From Pumping Gas to $6-B Retail Giant

A true rags-to-riches tale!

Did you know that Forever 21, the world-famous American fashion retail chain, used to be called Fashion 21? Before becoming one of the highest valued retail companies in the world, Forever 21 started in a humble 900-square-feet space in Los Angeles. And the story of its success is a classic rags-to-riches tale.

When husband and wife Do Won “Don” Chang and Jin Sook emigrated to LA from South Korea in 1981, they were dead set on living the American dream. Despite being penniless, having no college degrees, and speaking broken English, the couple was determined to make it big in the coffee industry.

Unfortunately, their venture into the coffee business did not work out.

For three years, Don took odd jobs, so their family could survive. He worked as a janitor, pumped gas, and served coffee, but he didn’t give up on his and his wife’s dreams. One day while at work, he had a realization. In an LA Times interview, Don said:

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

This Eureka moment led Don and Jin Sook to open a 900-square-feet clothing store in LA in 1984, which they called Fashion 21.


The space housed three failed business in the past, but Don and Jin Sook’s venture had a different fate. Fashion 21, with its offering of fashion-forward yet affordable pieces, raked in $700,000 in sales in its first year. The couple took advantage of this momentum and started opening new stores every six months. They also changed the name to Forever 21, the brand we all know today.

Forever 21 remains a family business today.

Source: YouTube/LA County EDC

Don serves as CEO, while Jin Sook takes the role of chief merchandising officer. Their two daughters, who joined the family business in 2009, also hold key positions in the company. Linda manages marketing, while Esther takes charge of the brand’s visual elements.

Don told the LA Times:

“It’s important my daughters learn from the hard work my wife and I put into this company. Who better to look out for your best interests than family?

“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.”

Today, Forever 21 has over 600 stores in the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, and the UK.

Forever 21 is also the fifth largest specialty retailer in the US. The retail giant brings in roughly $4.4 billion in sales, while the Changs have an estimated net worth of $6.1 billion, according to Forbes.

The couple behind Forever 21 is an inspiration!

This husband-and-wife duo is definitely an inspiration to those who want to make it big in life.

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