Forever 21′s Maternity Line: What About Corporate Responsibility?

It doesn’t really matter whether discount clothing retailer Forever 21 is specifically targeting pregnant teens with their new trendy maternity line, Love 21 Maternity. With 65 percent of their clientele under the age of 24, the real issue here is the normalization of teen pregnancy.

The blogosphere has been awash with speculation about the company’s decision to launch Love 21 in Arizona, California, Texas, Alaska and Utah first, since the first three regions are among the country’s top 15 states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. However, the two states with the highest teen pregnancy rates, New Mexico and Nevada, won’t be getting the maternity line any time soon. Whatever their calculations, obviously  the corporation thinks there’s a market. But are trendy clothes what pregnant teens most need?

How about information on pregnancy options, counselling and pre- and post-natal care? Not trendy clothes. The U.S. ranks number one among industrialized nations for teen pregnancy, and just 12th worldwide for post-secondary degree completion. Linda Chang, Forever 21′s senior marketing manager, can claim they’re simply trying to appeal to a new demographic, and not exploiting the outrageously high number of teen moms with little money in the U.S., but the point is that a 20-something model in maternity clothes isn’t even shocking anymore. It’s an integral part of the “raw-capitalism-as-spectacle-a-go-go” model that F21 has founded its business on. It doesn’t matter who’s shopping, only that they’re buying.

Carol Doss, a family therapist, said of F21, “They’re there to try to sell to a certain market and the fact that there is that market there is not really their problem or their issue.” But as a company whose audience is made up mostly of girls under 24, Forever 21 has the option to behave responsibly and not perpetuate a very destructive norm. How about we offer proper sex ed to American youth? How about we talk about what it’s really like to be a mom–the money it takes, the time it takes, the effects on a young woman’s body–instead of making teen pregnancy a mere fact of life in the US with shows like 16 and Pregnant?

It’s too bad F21 prints bible verses on their shopping bags. It would be awesome to see baskets of free condoms in the Love 21 maternity section of every store instead.

Photo from Flickr user Polina Sergeeva under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Okay, enough… Stop lumping adults in with teens, or change your language. A “girl” in her majority is a woman, enough said. I may not be as “wise” as my 62-year-old mother, but I’m certainly do NOT appreciate being lumped into the same category as a teenager. MS. needs to start recognizing “young adults” ages 18-30 as REAL adults, not as some psychotic transitional phase.
    Wonder why there aren’t more young adult feminists? This kind of BS certainly contributes to it.

  2. Why should a 20-something model in maternity clothes be shocking? A twenty-something-years-old woman is an adult, perfectly capable of having and caring for a child. She is not a teenager.

    As for the clothing line in itself, trendy maternity clothes do not glamorize teen pregnancy. Do you seriously think teens look at those clothes and think it’s cool to be pregnant because you can look fashionable? This line isn’t even aimed at teenagers in particular. Women of all ages shop at Forever 21, and there’s nothing wrong with catering to those who are pregnant.

  3. While I agree that there should be better pregnancy support services for teens, I’m not convinced we’re doing them any favors if we say they oughtn’t have nice clothes while they’re pregnant. Given that there are already so many pregnant teens, is it really productive to shame them and disallow them from dressing nicely?

  4. It’s not Forever 21′s job to provide teenagers with sex ed. That should be reserved for parents and educators. I think many people, including feminists don’t give young adults enough credit. We aren’t all just brainwashed morons who will fall for everything that is spoon-fed to us by the media. Some of us do indeed have a brain and intellect that could rival that of some adults. Just because Forever 21 sells maternity clothes, doesn’t mean that all of a sudden any girl under 24 will be dying to have a baby just for the sake of fashion. Pregnant teens are already under so much scrutiny, and I’m sure that they’ve probably thought about the consequences that are to follow. Now we shouldn’t allow them anything that seems to promote teen pregnancy? Big whoop, they’ve already been there, done that. How about we just give these teenagers who are having to grow up at a faster rate options as to how they want to spend THEIR money and THEIR time. I thought being a feminist was all about ensuring that all women had freedom of choice and were given options and opportunities.

  5. Sara, I have to agree with you on this. When I had my first child I was stopped on the street (in a wealthy area of Oakland CA) numerous times and informed that I was too young to have a baby. I was 27 at the time. Although I did look pretty young, it’s still an assinine thing to do even to a teenager. Being 21 and pregnant doesn’t need to be “normalized” by the fashion industry any more than hurricanes need to be normalized by the weather forecasting industry. It happens, probably because 21 is an absolutely biologically normal time to be pregnant. 20-something models in maternity clothes are not shocking because 20-something mothers are not shocking. Some of them are even feminists! Who knew?

    It would have been nice to have some maternity clothes that looked good on my short 20-something self.

  6. And I’d be intrigued to hear if Ms. actually thinks that programs which allow pregnant teens to stay in high school and finish their degree also contribute to this ‘normalization’.

    Because they provide on-site daycare for the students, why is the magazine not ‘concerned’?

    Count me another third-waver who is really concerned about the quality of blogging and/or research for this blog.

  7. Catherine says:

    I think you’ve identified the wrong foe here. It’s a fact that a large proportion of Forever 21 customers are young mothers — if you’ve ever shopped there, you’d notice that there are always a ton of strollers around. Forever 21 began selling children clothes long ago, undoubtedly in recognition of that market, and their decision to manufacture maternity clothes doesn’t seem like an assault on young women so much as it seems like a way of catering to existing customers, and generating a profit.

    The fact is: there are quite a lot of pregnant young women out there in need of maternity clothes. Providing them more options for that doesn’t have any impact whatsoever on the reasons that young women become pregnant.

    Instead of vilifying Forever 21, you could have written a more sensible post, using this event ask WHY there are enough pregnant young women out there to justify the launching of this line.

  8. The photo of the young woman with the bible really weirds me out, too. It’s a powerful photo that is saying a lot of things, certainly it has some artistic merit. It’s pretty heavy handed for this piece, though. If you’re going to use an image like that I’d think the post should relate more directly to pregnancy and religion, or be about the image. Does the author want to say something about teen pregnancy and religion? I thought this was about teen pregnancy and fashion, or the normalization of teen pregnancy. Bringing the bible into it leads to some head scratching. Great image, not really appropriate for this piece.

  9. Nectarine says:

    As a woman who WAS pregant at 19/20, I can tell you it would have been great to buy some maternity clothes that looked like my normal clothes, and that were in an affordable price range.

    However, the fact that I was uncomfortably and unfashionably dressed did not make me regret being pregnant. I wanted my baby, and at 20, I was a capable young mother – NOT a teenage suffering from lack of education about my choices.

    This post really missed the mark.

  10. Sarah Andrews says:

    You know this is about a clothing store. Clothing stores are not responsible for educating young teens about sex ed. So, when you argue about teens needing advice rather than clothing, you should be talking to your representatives and local community instead. I highly doubt one store making a maternity line will have the effect of “normalizing teen pregnancy.” To be fair, all teens want cute clothing so what is the big deal about having a trendy maturnity line? It is JUST clothing and everyone needs to relax about this company. The hard realty is, there ARE teenagers who are pregant, and what is so wrong about having a few cute clothes while you feel like the scum of the earth being shunned by all the “christians” and “moral” people? Also, may I remind you, plent of women who are married and prego that are between 22-28 may actually want this clothing line.

  11. Thank you for your comments and feedback on this post, they are much appreciated. I’d like to offer a reply as the 23-year-old author of this article.
    I’d like to say firstly that I did not, in any way, intend for this post to be a criticism of teen mothers, or to bring into question their capabilities, choices or decisions as young women. My intention was to bring under scrutiny the notion of corporate social responsibility, and to question the decision of Forever 21 to capitalize on a population that could be deemed vulnerable. I am interested in pushing for a world in which corporations ARE socially responsible and not just out to make a buck. Why shouldn’t Forever 21 want to/try to empower its market of girls under 24? Make teen moms subjects of their pregnancies? With a clientele of mostly very young women–though I take your point, Sara, that it’s not productive to lump together women under 24 with those under 18 and I acknowledge your critique– the decision by this company to introduce a maternity line and use models who look about 17 years old does not demonstrate a commitment to the empowerment of young women, but a commitment to profit in any way possible (see photos of Love 21 ads here): http://thegloss.com/fashion/forever21-maternity-line-the-ads-and-6-people-who-couldve-used-this-line/
    Pregnant women need clothes, yes, cute clothes, absolutely (I write a fashion blog, after all) but I’m looking to stretch my critique beyond the “simple facts” of a capitalist economy.
    @Catherine – I agree with you in many ways. My intention with this post was to offer a way into the issue of teen pregnancy, and to point to one of the many institutions that function to prevent women from making informed choices. Of course Forever 21′s maternity line is not the cause of teen pregnancy. And I am absolutely not interested in shaming teen mothers by asking them to wear hideous sacks to hide their pregnant bellies instead of fashionable frocks. But the fact that a corporation can actually stand to profit off of young women, many of whom are impoverished as a result of their pregnancies, indicates a larger systemic failure in the form of abstinence-only sex ed, inhibited access to contraception and abortion and a culture of sexual shaming (please see this article on teen pregnancy as a poverty issue): http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/why_teen_pregnancy_is_a_poverty_problem Teen pregnancy needs to remain an “issue” with real consequences with roots in real systemic failure-and not become a norm. Blog posts offer only a limited number of words, but I hope this reply can contribute to further discussion on this issue and shed some light on my position more broadly.

    • katiee93 says:

      1. Please explain why offering clothes to pregnant women does not empower them and/or disempowers them.

      2. Also, please explain why teenager's getting pregnant are the one's causing consequences, not the society that hates them, and how exactly you think holding the former belief is not shaming pregnant teenagers.

      3. I still fail to see how F21 is "taking advantage" of pregnant teenagers. Many pregnant people need really cheap maternity clothes, and they might really, really appreciate this. To deny this reeks of the privilege that comes with never having been a poor, pregnant teenager.

    • What sort of "consequences" does teen pregnancy need to have? Don't you think that the fact these mothers have to grow up before all of their friends and leave their care free years behind is a consequence? How about the fact they need to figure out a way to provide for themselves and a new addition? How about the fact that people probably stare at them every where they go? The list goes on and on. The consequences follow them for many many years after their pregnancy. So again I ask, what other consequences do they need to suffer?

  12. I agree with sara from jul 23rd, plus– “forever 21 makes teen pregnancy normal”? i thought this was a feminist publication, and this is the first article i have read online since i joined the group last week. it is a shame that the first title i see is a total contradiction of feminist ideals, like we should be ashamed for getting pregnant as a teen (even if it is 19), and the only way it can be acceptable is if you spend your money on a mass produced maternity product that was probably made by a child in cambodia. unsubscribe, please!!!!!

  13. Holden Steady says:

    Perhaps some commentators aren’t familiar with the concept of a blog? See, first someone (“the blogger”) will post their thoughts or opinion on a particular subject. Then, in an ideal world, the people reading the blog will contribute their thoughts on the subject (“the comments”), resulting in a series of words and sentences that add up to something approaching a “conversation”.

    Apologies for being pedantic, but jeez. People need to relax.

  14. simplicio says:

    @Stephanie:

    You say pregnant woman should be able to get fashionable clothes, but you accuse the company trying to make said clothes of “trying to make a profit in any way possible”. I guess some woman could make their own clothes, but barring that I don’t really see how they’re going to get them unless some terrible money-grubbing capitalists manufacture them.

    Plus, for the record, teen pregnancy rates have been plummeting since the 1950′s, they’re currently about half what they were a half century ago. Of course efforts should still be made to further decrease that rate, but teen pregnancy isn’t being “normalized” its becoming less and less common.

  15. Stephanie, should stores that carry plus-size clothing be required to distribute information on diet and exercise with every XXL item they sell? Are they “normalizing obesity” otherwise?

  16. As a married, gainfully employed, “young mother” (I was 23 when I gave birth to my son) I would have loved to have available to me reasonably priced, fashionable maternity clothes and not over-priced, un-returnable, and “marm-y” looking clothes! When NOT pregnant, I shop at Forever 21, as do many of my married female friends, some of which happen to be mothers also. Like many other commenters on this post, I don’t think that it is fair to automatically lump “24 & younger” demographic with teen mothers. Last I checked, the teen years end when you turn 20, so I personally don’t have a problem with them targeting “young mothers” with their maternity line.
    Why should a “20-something model in maternity clothes” shock anyone?! Should I have shocked people when walking around my job with my “young-ness” while walking around my office and checking on my employees? Come on, if you’re going to write an article like this and criticize a company for “normalizing teen pregnancy”, do your homework, I bet if you realized how many non-”teen” mothers would love to have trendy maternity clothes, you would maybe rethink the aim of your blog.

  17. I love how the dig at teen moms is followed by the “Free condoms for y’all!” schpeel that’s getting tiring. And I’m not Christian but honestly, what’s wrong with bible verses on totes? Don’t like them, don’t buy them; as long as they aren’t saying offensive things.

  18. may y sol says:

    Forever 21 has the option to behave responsibly and not perpetuate a very destructive norm.??? How is that supposed to make me feel if I am a teen mom or the child of a teen mom. Should teem moms hide out in order to not encourage "a destructive norm"? This post operates under several classist assumptions, for many low income women there is no benefit in waiting until their older, for middle class women it is the norm to get pregnant when they are older which makes sense if parent are subsidizing your education but that may not make sense for me. If your trying to build unity with all women but think some of them should be hidden, or are deficient or destructive in their very existence I just don't understand.

  19. may y sol says:

    I also don't like the way the woman in the picture is looking ashamed and holding a bible and a fashion magazine as though all young moms are pro life or ignorant. I really think you should check out the book "You look to young to be a momj"

  20. Carolina Constituent says:

    Beyong ages, Forever 21 is obviously targeted at females, with this said, part of being a women is in many cases being a mother. Customers sometimes go out of their way to be loyal to their favorite brands, shouldn't the brands do the same? I approve of Forever21's choice to expand their label into the maternity sphere, it lets women know the designers care about all facets of the female life. It is always unfortunate when a teen takes on motherhood, however the best we can hope for is that the girls hold their heads up high, I feel that with this new line, Forever21 is responding to the ever evolving population in an appropriate manner and I hope to see other manufactorers do the same.

    contents:17, not pregnant, feminist, Brain Included

  21. This whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. First off, Love is the woman's line for Forever 21. So the Love Maternity line is technically for women. I work at a Forever 21 and have only seen older women buy from our maternity line and they love it. They are so excited to have fashionable and comfortable clothes. I was a teen mother as well, and have done lots of outreach for prevention. I have also helped teen parents realize they can still have a good future, graduate from college, and to get a great career like I did. People need to be supportive of such sensitive issues and not so condemning. Lastly, as a Business Administration graduate I can point out that it is merely target market for the company. Forever 21 is only filling a need – they aren’t creating it!

  22. As a 16 year old girl, I don't walk into a store see maternity clothes and think "I guess it's time to get pregnant" or "I suppose it's alright to get pregnant because they're selling clothes for pregnant women in a store targeted at my age group."

    Just saying.

  23. Holy condescension batman. First, the store is called “Forever 21″, not “Forever 16″. Of course teenagers shop there, but so do young adults, including myself – although, being 20, you’d probably consider me a statistic and a poor example, something to be discouraged, if I elected to have children within the next four years. I can also tell you that were I to magically give birth next week, I’d still make a better mother than mine was at 38 with a college degree. Once you’re 18, you are an adult and your reproductive choices should not be subject to public comment and certainly not public shame. People have always had children around their early-mid twenties, and this is also the biologically healthiest time to do so. Struggles faced by younger mothers are indicative of the struggles faced by ALL mothers in a society where family and parenthood are not considered worthy of value and support. that’s where the problem lies.

  24. Although they are a business trying to make money like everyone else I think it is bad to encourage these girls to get pregnant.

  25. I am 36. All my friends and I shop at Forever 21. As the name suggests, clothing for if you’re 21 at heart forever. If want to stay trendy even as you get older. This store is not specifically for teenagers! It is a trendy store for anyone who wants trendy. Like H&M. I had a baby last year and their maternity line was a God send! I bought two pairs of jeans for $12.80 each. Gap would have cost me $80 each and a trendy name brand over $200! The economy is not doing well. Why spend so much on maternity jeans? Thank you Forever 21 for making maternity affordable!!! They didn’t increase prices, just because it was maternity. Too bad a few crazy people ruined it. Now with the next baby I’ll be hard pressed to afford maternity clothes. :(

    Get a clue. A clothing store isn’t responsible for teenagers well being. Look to the parents! Ug.

  26. With all the reality shows on tv glamorizing teen pregnancy.. I think it would be best for F21 to stay away from the bad press this will bring etc… just not a social smart business decision.

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  2. [...] “Forever 21′s New Maternity Line Makes Teen Pregnancy Normal”, an article from the Ms. Magazine blog, makes me feel more than just a little bit uncomfortable. [...]

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