Forever21 and playlist problems

The Forever21 store at 313@Somerset. -- ST PHOTO: BRYNA SINGH
The Forever21 store at 313@Somerset. -- ST PHOTO: BRYNA SINGH

A retail store competes for your attention in many ways - with a smartly curated selection of clothes, personable and helpful staff, and a well-lit space that is easy to navigate, for starters.

The playlist is not something you usually think about, but is part of making the overall experience a pleasant one too. Imagine shopping at a store in silence. The tense and heavy atmosphere would probably send you running.

The music played in a store made headlines recently when entertainer Gurmit Singh’s daughter Gabrielle, 17, posted on her blog about the offensive nature of the rap lyrics played in a Forever21 store she and her family visited.

In the open letter, the teenager wrote about the degrading words and the fact that they were completely inappropriate for a store targeting young, impressionable shoppers.

Ideally, a retail playlist should be something fun or mellow, something that is heard when first entering a store but forgotten once the store wares grab your attention.

Different from a DJ spinning tracks, or even a personal playlist for your morning run, store playlists should be a bit forgettable or bland even so that it can naturally be relegated to the background.

Forever21 obviously failed in that regard. Even before getting to the nature of the lyrics themselves, they were distracting enough to pull a shopper out of their reverie.

That, plus the shocking content, obviously created a negative enough experience and reaction that prevented Singh from shopping and instead compelled her to leave the store and pen the explosive blog post.

Despite the company’s apologies and claims that the song was from a Forever 21 employee’s personal playlist, this gaffe is not a one-time incident, but the latest in a series of problematic happenings for the company.

Last November, blind psychotherapist Cassandra Chiu was unduly stopped by several staff of the Orchard Exchange Forever 21 outlet during her visit because of her seeing eye dog, Esme.

Over in the United States, the clothing chain has battled several copyright suits, as well as claims of hazardous working conditions for employees according to multiple reports from Women’s Wear Daily.

It seems the larger issue is the brand’s company culture, which may see trendy, cheap clothing as the ultimate priority at the expense of employee welfare or training.

Walk into most Forever21 stores here and it seems to be staffed with the very teens - likely inexperienced and needing guidance - the store targets.

It is all a bit ironic because on paper at least, Forever21 expresses a very different set of values.

Global director of communications for the brand Kevin Fegans, speaking to The Business of Fashion earlier this month about his role, highlighted that “relationships and your reputation are what really matter”.

Until the company’s actual practices and actions line up with its purported values, there may be more incidents like Singh’s playlist reaction, that can slowly ostracise its customers.

llim@sph.com.sg