From pumping gas to a $6 billion fortune: Here's Forever 21′s co-founders' rags-to-riches story

13 May 2015 / 1 year 5 months ago

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.

According to The Business Insider Singapore, 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 realization 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 $700,000 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.

Today, the fast-fashion retailer brings in roughly $4.4 billion in sales from over 600 stores, and the Changs have an estimated net worth of $6.1 billion, according to Forbes.

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.

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