Forever 21: Forever Toxic?

The popular retailer Forever 21 is a leader in cheap, fast fashion. It offers one-stop shopping for clothes and accessories which look like they came straight from yesterday’s catwalk but are only a fraction of the price.  This strategy has helped to make Forever 21 stores ubiquitous in malls across the nation and their styles ubiquitous in the closets of tween and teenage girls. The chain’s popularity among young women makes it all the more concerning, then, that it continues to sell purses that contain high levels of the toxic metal lead, despite several actions taken by CEH.  Now, Forever 21 toxic purses are the hot new item–to AVOID.

Forever 21 is one of over 200 fashion brands and retailers that have legal agreements with CEH which set a limit of no more than trace amounts of lead (300 parts per million) in most purse materials. This came about as a result of our 2009 investigation which uncovered high levels of lead in brightly colored leather and faux leather purses of many major brands and retailers.

Given our legal agreement with Forever 21, we are disappointed and angry to find that Forever 21 is still selling toxic purses. Starting in April of this year, we purchased 30 purses and wallets from Forever 21 and tested them for lead. Of those, 10 purses and wallets had high levels of lead in them. That makes Forever 21 one of the worst offenders out of all of the 200 brands and retailers that we monitor, with one of the highest percentages of lead-tainted items as well as one of the highest overall numbers of violations.

Forever 21 certainly is not the only fashion retailer that continues to expose young women to a toxic metal. In June, we announced that many other brands and retailers have sold lead-tainted purses, in violation of their legal agreements with CEH. Other brands and retailers that have sold multiple toxic purses include Target, Nordstrom, Macy’s, TJ Maxx, Ralph Lauren, and Steve Madden.

However, Forever 21 is not just one of the worst repeat offenders; the store continued to sell at least two lead-tainted wallets long after we informed it that those wallets were toxic. In one instance, 11 weeks after we notified Forever 21 of a toxic wallet, we discovered the wallet was still for sale on the website. Not only was the wallet still for sale nearly three months later, but it also was featured in the “Popular Picks” section of the Forever 21 homepage!

The biggest cause for concern is Forever 21’s customer base of tween and teenage girls. Lead exposure is especially harmful to adolescent girls. It can remain in girls’ bodies and during pregnancy can have lasting effects on the child’s mental development. Lead also is linked to infertility, heart attacks, and strokes.

The only way to know if a purse has lead in it is to test it. If you’re worried that your Forever 21 purse or another favorite purse may contain lead, CEH is happy to screen it for you, at no charge (donations welcome!). Just mail it to us and include return postage so we can send it back to you. Also, you can follow our Twitter, @CEHPurseWatch, to stay updated on the latest toxic finds among popular purses.

See photos of the Forever 21 toxic lead purses: