In 1981, Jin Sook and Do Won “Don” Chang emigrated from South Korea to Los Angeles in pursuit of every entrepreneur’s greatest aspiration: The American Dream.
The husband-and-wife duo, both 26 at the time, landed in California penniless, speaking broken English, and without college degrees.
They were determined to strike it rich in the coffee industry, but it wasn’t the cash cow they’d envisioned.
For three years, Don worked as a janitor, pumped gas, and served coffee to make ends meet. Then, a simple observation sparked a monumental shift in their direction, which would eventually make them billionaires.
“I noticed the people who drove the nicest cars were all in the garment business,” Don told the LA Times in a 2010 interview.
This realisation led them to open a 900-square-foot clothing store in LA in 1984. They called it Fashion 21.
Unlike the three failed businesses that had previously occupied the space, they raked in $US700,000 in sales in the first year.
After this initial success, they began opening new stores every six months and eventually changed the name to Forever 21.
Forever 21 remains a family business, with Don serving as CEO and Jin Sook as chief merchandising officer. Their two daughters also play an integral role in the company. The elder, Linda, manages marketing, while Esther oversees the brand’s visual elements.
“It’s important my daughters learn from the hard work my wife and I put into this company,” Don told the LA Times. “Who better to look out for your best interests than family?”
Their daughters aren’t the only ones drawing inspiration from their rags-to-riches story.
“Forever 21 gives hope to people who come here with almost nothing,” Don told the LA Times. “And that is a reward that humbles me: the fact that immigrants coming to America, much like I did, can come into a Forever 21 and know that all of this was started by a simple Korean immigrant with a dream.”