Forever 21 Names Marketing Star To Advise Rebrand

Forever 21 Inc. recently named marketing star Marisa Thalberg as an adviser in its efforts to freshen up branding and the image of the troubled Los Angeles–headquartered retailer, said Linda Chang, Forever 21’s executive vice president.

“As an iconic brand, we are always looking at ways to evolve with our customers to provide them not only with the fashion they have come to expect from Forever 21 but also a message and brand identity that aligns with the customers of today,” Chang said. “Marisa’s experience in brand positioning and strategy is an invaluable resource as we transform our brand identity. She has an incredible reputation for inspiring teams to take brands to new heights of cultural relevance and business performance, and we look forward to working closely together to do just that.”

Thalberg also serves as a strategic adviser to Yum! Brands, the Irvine, Calif.–headquartered parent company of fast-food restaurants Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut. In August, Thalberg stepped down from serving as Yum!’s full-time chief marketing officer. Forbes magazine named Thalberg as one of the most influential CMOs in the world. She received industry acclaim for experiential campaigns such as the Taco Bell Hotel & Resort in Palm Springs, Calif., in 2019.

Taco Bell enthusiasts got to stay at a hotel in the desert resort town and surround themselves in branded items such as Taco Bell hot sauce container–shaped bath soaps, as well as shirts and bikinis bearing Taco Bell graphics. Thalberg was one of the executives who worked on a fashion collaboration between Taco Bell and Forever 21, which was released in 2017. Thalberg also is known as the founder of the social network Executive Moms.

On her Twitter profile, Thalberg seemed to confirm that her Forever 21 gig would be short term. “Happy to be jumping in to give some quick but hopefully meaningful help to this brand that has been so key in making fashion accessible to everyone,” she said in a Dec. 20 post.

Forever 21 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019. Its filings revealed that the company owed between $1 billion and $10 billion to its more than 100,000 creditors. The bankruptcy was a low point for a company that had been the fast-fashion industry leader.

Syama Meagher, chief executive officer for the consultancy Scaling Retail, said that Forever 21 is considered something of a pioneer and a legacy brand in fast-fashion retail.

“They were the first ones to market and the first to scale,” Meagher said. But legacy companies run into major problems if they do not innovate, she said. “Customers age out, and the company loses relevancy.”

Thalberg also has been considered an innovator in the digital space, Meagher said. “That is one of the biggest areas that Forever 21 was lacking and needed guidance in,” she said.

Meagher recommended that Forever 21 develop a new role. “One strategy would be to reposition themselves as a retailer that spins off diffusion brands,” she said. “Forever 21 would become a parent company to help launch and spearhead brands geared to a Generation Z clientele.”