Nearly three months after Daniel Kulle left the top post at Forever 21, the fast-fashion chain and JCPenney partner named a new CEO Wednesday.
Most recently CEO of Paper Source for the past six years, Winnie Park brings extensive fashion and retail experience to the Los Angeles-based clothing giant, which the Simon Property-Authentic Brands Group joint venture known as Sparc purchased post-bankruptcy for $81 million.
A self-described “admirer of the brand,” Park said she is “honored to join Forever 21 at such a pivotal time of reinvention and reinvigoration.”
Effectively immediately, Park will report to Sparc CEO Marc Miller, who credited her “particular strengths in strategy, merchandising, marketing and branding.” He added that Park’s “fresh perspective and approaches in connecting with the Forever 21 customer” will help grow the company from $2 billion in sales to “new heights of success” as part of Sparc’s growing Fashion and Lifestyle portfolio.
In addition to her role at Paper Source, Park spent nine years at LVMH-owned luxury duty-free retailer DFS and also led women’s merchandising for Dockers. A member of the audit committee for Dollar Tree’s board of directors, she also used her status as an independent board director and compensation and governance and audit committee member to work closely with the Express Inc. management team’s turnaround plan, focusing on merchandising, e-commerce and digital marketing.
Do Won and Jin Sook Chang founded Forever 21 in April 1984 as a single 900-square-foot Los Angeles operating under the name Fashion 21. As sales grew and the company expanded, so did the stores’ square footage. Eventually, Forever 21 operated sprawling stores averaging 40,000 square feet under the Forever XXI name. And with the expanded store network and square footage came an operational structure that was overstored and oversized, leading eventually to its financial distress. The occupancy cost ratio was as much as 30 percent of sales, translating to high and unsustainable overhead store costs. Inconsistent cash flow and declining comparable store sales were believed to have played a role in the retailer’s pre-Chapter 11 financial stress.
There’s been some talk that fast-fashion might be on the way out, particularly as younger consumers focus on sustainability and circularity. But the ongoing popularity of global fast fashion chains Zara, H&M and Mango suggest otherwise.
Forever 21’s new CEO seems to welcome the challenge of ushering the company into a new era of fashion and retail.
“I am looking forward to partnering with this exceptional leadership team to continue the transformation of this brand with a focus on the Forever 21 community including its people, purpose and business priorities across digital and traditional retail channels,” said Park, a Women in Retail Leadership board member.