Walking past my husband’s computer screen last night, which showed a page from CNN.com, I literally did a double take. There was a photo of an in-store display at Forever 21 and an article announcing the chain’s introduction of a maternity line of “sophisticated styles for moms-to-be”. Huh?? For those of you not familiar with Forever 21 (also known as XXI), it is a chain of stores (usually found in malls) that attracts legions of teen girls for its low-priced yet stylish clothing and accessories. The new maternity line, called “Love 21”, is debuting in five states, three of which have high teen pregnancy rates (which of course, with its abstinence-only sex ed programs, includes Texas). So it’s easy to conclude that the folks at Forever 21 are marketing to pregnant teens (or those just thinking about it). Some may say it’s a brilliant move in these tough economic times toward a previously untapped “niche” market, but I say it’s…well…downright creepy. Do we really need one of the leading teen clothiers making pregnancy look hip? It’s bad enough we’ve had smiling teen celebrities in the spotlight showing off their babies, like Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin. What’s next? Special magazines? (“Seventeen and Pregnant”? “Mama Tiger Beat”?) A school backpack that doubles as a diaper bag? An Iphone app called Teen Pregnancy Journal?
Forever 21 Executive VP Larry Meyer told CNN it’s just a coincidence that the line is being introduced in those states. He says the majority of Forever 21’s customers are over 18. Yeah, Larry, guess you can slime by with that remark, since no doubt the majority of those who fork over their credit cards to your cashiers are MOMS long past the age of 18 who are buying the clothes picked out by their teen daughters. What kind of fools do you take us for, Larry? And that in-store display showing a poster of a pregnant female looking lovingly at her peach-colored-cotton-clad belly—are you going to tell us it’s just a coincidence that she looks like she’s still in high school?
I don’t know which of his stores Larry has visited recently, but the ones here in the Dallas area are literally exploding with teens (and their music). It’s a favorite shopping destination of my own teen daughter, and I’ve spent a lot of time wandering through its racks in the last three years while waiting for her (“Mom, do not sit by the dressing rooms and please do not call out my name in front of them, looking for me!!!”). I’m not sure I’ll be spending time there any more.
Maybe retailers just lose their common sense when they get into the world of maternity. I once had a job interview in the late 80’s for a special events/PR position with the then-newcomer “A Pea in the Pod”. At the time, it was the only retailer to feature trendy, designer maternity wear for women, with a flagship store in Dallas and a couple others in upscale places like Beverly Hills. I had previous retail PR experience, so they were interested, and so was I. But during the interview, they informed me that if I took the job, I’d be required to purchase and wear their clothing while working, even if I wasn’t pregnant, to show customers that their clothes were so fashionable and “belt-able” they could be worn all the time, before, during, or after pregnancy. Huh??
In addition to being 25, not married and no kids on the horizon, I was 5’2” and about 115 pounds, wearing sizes 6-8. I looked over the clothing as I walked through the store after the interview— I would have drowned in it.
Let’s hope Forever 21’s new line doesn’t become so chic that teens will want to wear it all the time. Or create a reason to wear it.