Forever 21 Honda

LOS ANGELES Marketers’ infatuation with collaborations to generate buzz is something Forever 21 understands, but the reason behind its latest tie-up has more meat to it.

Thursday’s launch of the retailer’s collaboration with Honda, round two of the two companies’ partnership, aims to help it attract more men, particularly in stores, via streetwear.

The collection, which includes both men’s and women’s sizing, features 33 stockkeeping units of Eighties and Nineties motocross-inspired looks that are a nod to some of the conglomerate’s powersports division’s archival pieces. There’s cropped hoodies, bodysuits, racing jackets and pants, shorts and T-shirts bearing the Honda logo, check pattern and bright colors. Pricing starts at $4.90 and goes up to $69.90.

F21xHonda’s coming on the heels of some more unlikely, downright head turning mash-ups between the fast-fashion retailer and, for example, Taco Bell, MTV, “The Grinch” and “Stranger Things.”

“First and foremost, we’re a trend-first company,” said Forever 21 vice president of merchandising Linda Chang. “We’re looking for a brand [to collaborate with] that we feel is on trend that resonates with the consumer.…We try to get out of the box as much as possible. We’re interested in bringing something new and exciting to the consumer. Something they might not have seen before, which is how these different collections come about, like Taco Bell or like Honda.”

The Honda collaboration follows last year’s first collection launch, which was prompted after the company’s creative team attended a 2017 motocross convention.

“We were really interested in the fashion aspect of what was happening in motocross,” Chang said. “That’s where we met Honda, and for this particular collection that we did this year, they allowed us to look at their archives from the Eighties and Nineties.”

The company enlisted 21 Savage to be the face of the campaign for his music and fashion sense after seeing him riding bikes.

Forever 21 also continues to finely tune its retail fleet of more than 800 stores worldwide, adapting the strategy to not only focus on playing up high-profile collaborations but also highlighting men’s. The Honda collaboration will get greater play on the selling floor in higher-profile doors where Honda is even providing bikes for merchandising displays.

“Historically, we haven’t been known as a men’s wear brand, but it is something that is fast and growing for us,” Chang said.

In fact, there have been times, she went on to say, where the men’s pieces in a collaboration or collection end up outselling the women’s, which is what prompted the greater interest in bolstering the merchandising of certain collections at retail.

“We don’t market ourselves as unisex necessarily, but we do see and have seen our consumer buy across both men’s wear and women’s wear,” she continued.

A few more collaborations, the details of which Chang declined to share, are in the works this year that will continue the spotlight on men’s. Whether there will be a third Honda collaboration depends on sell through, she said.

“We take it year-by-year and collection by collection,” Chang said, “but I definitely think there are more legs to [Honda].”

Outside of merchandise strategies, Chang said Forever 21 will continue to open stores this year.

“We’re focusing definitely on store openings as well as collaborations,” she said. “I think in the industry you’re hearing a lot about how there’s a lot of store closures, but for us we feel like we have good momentum going for us and we just want to continue to tell these interesting stories to continue to drive the traffic into our stores. We’re seeing that traffic isn’t dead as much as people were saying it was going to be dead and it was the death of malls. This [past] year has really proven that it hasn’t.”

The competition only continues to increase within fast-fashion and also more broadly. Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing, both owned by Manchester-based Boohoo.com plc have recently opened U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles with influencer-dedicated spaces to amp their reach on social. Chang acknowledged the competition.

“I would consider that in our competitive landscape,” she said of those companies. “I think anything that takes a share of the wallet from our consumers can be part of that competitive landscape, so it’s not even necessarily just apparel retailers. It’s also other areas. People are spending money on music and different things. So we’re keeping our eye open for all of those things.”