5 Inspiring Lessons From The Story of Forever 21

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The United States is home to millions of immigrants who travel from all parts of the globe, all for one goal – to have a taste of the American dream.

Originally from South Korea, Do Won Chang and his wife Jin Sook, the road to the American dream was not all rainbows and butterflies, but it was absolutely worth it. Do Won Chang and Jin Sook now own the multi-billion dollar fashion brand, Forever 21.


5 Lessons From The Story of Forever 21

Forever 21 is dubbed as one of the fastest growing fashion retailers in the world. They have 470 stores worldwide and they aim to expand more in the coming years.

For the husband and wife team, their American dream is Forever 21. Jin Sook and Do Won Chang proved that the American dream is not impossible, that it can be done if you work hard and put in the time.

Chang once said, “Forever 21 gives hope and inspiration to people who come here with almost nothing.”

Here are 5 inspiring lessons that you can get from the incredible rags to riches story of the founders of Forever 21.


1) Big Things Start Small

Do Won Chang was born from a low income family in a small district in Seoul. With little prospects and no indication of a better life, at 21, Do Won Chang and his wife decided to move to the US and seek more opportunities.

The couple arrived in the US with nothing. Armed only with a high school diploma from a foreign country, they had to work three jobs to make ends meet.

Do Won Chang explains:

“I tried everything when I first arrived in America: dishwashing, cleaning, working part-time at a gas station. I tried my hand at whatever physically demanding jobs I could get. Then I got interested in fashion and decide to start a fashion business.”

With hard work, the couple was able to save up some money enough to open their first store in Highland Park, L.A., it was initially called Fashion 21. Over the years, the company has grown into a full-blown retail giant.

Before they made it big, the couple encountered many struggles and difficulties. However, they understood the meaning of sacrifice and resilience. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to possess these two qualities.


2) Success Takes Time

In the words of Do Won Chang, “You can’t go into business thinking that success will come to you in just one or two years.”

‘Making it big’ in the retail business is especially difficult if you’re an immigrant. With the possibility of factors affecting your business like language barrier and culture difference, you may have a limited clientele.

Chang and his wife were patient enough and before long, they were able to gain loyal customers outside the American Korean population.

Aside from patience, Chang recommends that entrepreneurs study the industry they’re in and how business works. Knowledge of legal culture is also very important to succeed in any business venture.

Nothing comes easy in business. Chang waited for three years before he and his wife were able to open their first store and even more time for it to progress. Success comes to those who know how to patiently reap results.


3) Get to Know Your Target Population

“Our target customers are people in their 20’s. Old people wanted to be 21 again, and young people wanted to be 21 forever.” – Do Won Chang

The fact that Jin Sook and Do Won Chang moved to the US at 21 may have influenced their business name but the thought behind the number is what’s more important.

One of the secrets to their success is a clear vision of who their target customers are. This is one of the most important things that most entrepreneurs forget about. Walking a thousand miles in their customer’s shoes.

If you are able to determine who your customers are, you can design products and services based on their preferences. Over time you’ll build a solid customer base.


4) Be Persistent

Success for the Changs didn’t come without struggles. From the very beginning, they encountered a lot of hardships and even when they were already established, bigger problems came in.

Forever 21 has repeatedly been bombarded with copyright issues and lawsuits but the company has surpassed them all. An economic downturn also occurred as the company was still on the process of expansion and although they did have to trim down the number of stores, they survived the recession.

For Jin Sook and Do Won Chang, persistence is the key to success. If you persevere anything is possible, even during the most difficult times.


5) Always Be One Step Ahead of Your Competitors

The husband and wife team did not let their limited academic background stop them from closely analyzing their competitors. The Changs understood that for their business to succeed, they had to standout from other retail stores.

First, they noticed that other retail shops sold too expensive garments and they saw this as an opportunity. Forever 21 remade high-end clothes into quality versions but at a much affordable price. People noticed this and soon the company gained a solid following of customers.

To succeed, you have to be a tough competitor. Study your competition, find their weaknesses and use that to your advantage.


Wrapping up

Jin Sook and Do Won Chang are truly inspiring people. They were immigrants who first came to America with dreams and ambitions, now, they extremely successful entrepreneurs who built a company in a foreign land.
No matter who you are or where you’re from, it’s possible to start a successful business. Have a plan, work hard, and believe in yourself.

In regard to the success of Forever 21 Do Won Chang says:

“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.”

Ryan James
Ryan Jameshttp://startupsavant.com
Ryan James is a passionate entrepreneur and founder of Startup Savant, the online magazine that helps entrepreneurs like you beat the odds of an 80% failure rate within the first 18 months. Pick up his free course The 7 Deadly Startup Sins And How You Can Avoid Them and see if you need to repent!


  1. I love that! “Big things start small!”
    Too many times I have found myself talking myself out of starting something like a
    youtube page or a blog.
    However I remembered distinctly a quote like this that gave me that confirmation that
    it’s alright to start small.
    Now I’m growing every month all thanks to that initial commitment.
    Great post!


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