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JCP Makes Play for Gen Z With Forever 21 Fashion

JCPenney has been in the middle of a merchandising revamp this year, overhauling many of its private brands and bringing in new partners alike. The department store’s latest addition targets the coveted Gen Z demographic in an effort to get teens and young adults back to its stores and e-commerce site.

For the first time, Forever 21 is launching merchandise in 100 JCPenney stores across the U.S., as well as on jcpenney.com. The department store is offering a range of products from the fast-fashion brand including shirts and tops, dresses, pants, coats and jackets, with the assortment riffing on “West Coast style” and composed of trending design aesthetics like velvet and florals.

“Forever 21 and JCPenney share a mission to make the latest trends accessible to all while inspiring unique style and confidence,” said Michelle Wlazlo, executive vice president, chief merchandising officer at JCPenney. “The addition of this brand to our portfolio rounds out our Young Minded assortment and brings an exciting new element of in-the-moment fashion.”

Behind the deal is Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the brand house that co-owns Forever 21 equally with Simon Property under the SPARC joint venture. ABG, alongside Simon and then-25 percent stakeholder Brookfield Property Partners, acquired Forever 21 out of bankruptcy for $81 million in 2020.

After flirting with going public earlier this year, ABG was acquired in a private equity deal that values the Eddie Bauer and Aéropostale owner at $12.7 billion. The brand management firm, which also acquired brands such as Barneys New York, Brooks Brothers and most recently Reebok among others, has sought to reinvent its new stable of labels by introducing them in different channels and getting in front of digital-savvy consumers.

ABG also happens to be a partner in the joint ownership stake of JCPenney, which is led by the two real estate investment trusts (REITs) Simon and Brookfield. Given the existing SPARC venture prior to the JCPenney deal—Forever 21’s entrance onto the department stores shelves felt inevitable.

Last  year on a November earnings call, Simon Property CEO David Simon said the landlord was examining ABG’s collection of brands to determine which could be introduced in JCPenney stores. Simon called Juicy Couture a label with “store potential” on the call, and less than a year later, the brand’s newest loungewear collection was introduced in more than 500 JCPenney locations and online.

Like the Juicy Couture introduction, introducing Forever 21 at JCPenney further establishes the retailer as a generational shopping destination. The companies are leaving no stone unturned as far as getting the message out, with the marketing campaign encompassing in-store, e-commerce, social media and direct mail promotions.

“Forever 21’s relationship with the Generation Z customer is a perfect alignment for JCPenney, who is also committed to bringing innovation, excitement and fashion to a young consumer that understands the quickly evolving trends in fashion,” said Jarrod Weber, group president lifestyle, chief brand officer, lifestyle at Authentic Brands Group, which owns Forever 21. “We are particularly pleased to bring both companies together for the launch of this creative brand and marketing opportunity.”

Forever 21 and Juicy Couture aren’t the only popular labels that ABG has recently introduced to JCPenney shoppers.

The department store recently unveiled new merchandise from the Shaquille O’Neal XLG brand, expanding beyond suits and formalwear into casual wear with staples like polos, crew necks, outerwear and denim. The collection, designed for “big and tall” male customers, is available now in 500 stores and on online. O’Neal sold the rights to his name brand to ABG in 2015, and is now a minority shareholder in the brand house.

The department store also is offering an exclusive performance-driven clothing line from Sports Illustrated for men, women and kids rolling out at JCPenney online and in-stores on Jan. 6.

Forever 21 itself is in a bit of a brand overhaul as it seeks to regain some relevance in a post-pandemic world. Earlier this year, the fast-fashion brand launched exclusive collections in both select Hudson’s Bay stores and the Canadian retailer’s recently launched online experience, The Bay. Additionally, the brand unveiled its first-ever home line, which includes more than 200 product SKUs across bedding, kitchen, dining, lighting and stationery.

As it finds its way into new retailers and channels, Forever 21 is in search of something else—a new CEO. In October, Daniel Kulle left the fast-fashion seller after serving as the company’s chief since February 2020 in the wake of its acquisition.

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