Forever 21 says it has lowered its costs considerably since it entered Chapter 11 almost four months ago. But now it is on overdrive pursuing a going-concern deal, the retailer told a Delaware bankruptcy judge Friday, though it did not name any potential buyers.
WWD reported Friday that Authentic Brands Group is teaming up with a landlord to look into buying the the fast-fashion chain out of bankruptcy. The retailer has already shuttered 102 stores in the U.S., and secured some $91 million in rent concessions at the stores that remain open, according to a filing Friday by Jonathan Goulding, Forever 21’s chief restructuring officer, who is a managing director at professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal.
“Although the debtors have productively used the breathing room that Chapter 11 provides, important work remains to consummate a value maximizing transaction,” he wrote. “That work is in progress and at a critical stage.”
As it pursues sale options, the company said it will need the next few months, through April, to file its Chapter 11 plan.
When Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy in September, the company described itself as a $3 billion business running 549 stores in the U.S., including 15 Riley Rose beauty stores, and with an overall presence in 43 countries.
At the time, the retailer planned to close up to 178 stores in the U.S. Overall, it was leasing some 12.2 million square feet of space from multiple landlords, logging $450 million in annual costs for its stores, according to court records.
But a significant chunk of the leases are concentrated among a few real estate players — four landlords own nearly half its lease portfolio, according to a declaration by Goulding filed in September, so the retailer’s ongoing presence is an important concern for them.
Licensing company ABG, which purchased Barneys New York’s assets in bankruptcy in November, generally pursues these deals with an eye toward extracting brand value. But its intentions are less clear with Forever 21, where the name might not have the licensing cachet of a Barneys.
“[ABG] might want to renegotiate with lenders and landlords, for the opportunity, I suppose, to reinvigorate this brand as a streetwear-savvy look targeting Gen Z,” said Shawn Grain Carter, associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “But, quite frankly, I think it’s going to be a real uphill climb because you have so much more competition.”
Forever 21 began in 1984 as “Fashion 21” in Los Angeles, founded by husband and wife duo Do Won Chang and Jin Sook, immigrants who had moved there from South Korea.
The retailer embarked on its expansion years in the Nineties, growing internationally in the Aughts to Canada and beyond. At the height of the enterprise in 2014, it had 43,000 employees and brought in $4.1 billion in annual sales, its attorney told a Delaware bankruptcy judge in October.
A representative for Forever 21 could not be reached for comment Tuesday.