Jamie Salter may have built a $30 billion business that owns some 50 of the world’s best-known brands, but he’s still a dealmaker at heart. And the chief executive officer of Authentic Brands Group is especially pumped about the latest one, which he personally orchestrated.
Authentic has signed a long-term agreement with Shein, the global online fashion and lifestyle retailer, for its Forever 21 brand. Under the terms of the partnership, Shein will design, manufacture and distribute a line of Forever 21 apparel and accessories that will include sportswear, activewear and swimwear, among other categories. The collection, which will sport the co-branded label Forever 21 x Shein, will be sold exclusively online on Shein’s sites in the U.S. as well as part of Europe and Australia.
This deal comes shortly after the news in August that Shein had acquired an about one-third interest in SPARC Group, a joint venture between Authentic and Simon Property Group. SPARC is the core operating partner of Forever 21 in the U.S. At the same time, SPARC became a minority shareholder in Shein.
While the Forever 21 deal is seen as a potentially highly lucrative one, to Salter it indicates the beginning of something even bigger. “This one is really important,” he told WWD. “This is the start of building brands within an e-commerce platform.”
Forever 21 already operates a fleet of physical stores and has an online presence, but this deal will bring the company onto the Shein platform, which boasts some 154 million users.
“This is us going on their marketplace,” Salter said. “Look at their penetration in the U.S., Brazil, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world. It’s incredible.”
He added that the deal will also make Forever 21 more competitive with the other global fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Uniqlo because Shein has the technological expertise to produce trend-right merchandise at lightning speed.
Although this deal is for online, it’s actually more far-reaching because of Shein’s investment in SPARC. Salter said that last week, Shein installed a pop-up shop in the Forever 21 location in Ontario Mills in Ontario, Calif., and the results saw more than 7,000 people walking through the space during its four-day stay and comparable-store sales up 62 percent over the prior year.
“It’s a 50,000-square-foot store and we gave them 20 percent of the space,” Salter said. “We more than doubled our volume that week over the prior year, and Shein did almost as much business as we did.
“It’s clear as day that Shein is here to stay and by putting our brands together, we’re going to do a lot more business. They were hurting Forever 21 and other retailers so if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” he said.
Going forward, Salter said the two companies are already discussing how to further enhance the relationship.
“We’re going to open more pop-ups and we’re also working on RTS — return to store,” Salter said. “Right now, the returns go to a warehouse but Shein’s return rate is in the low double digits. They do $12 billion in the U.S., so that’s over $1 billion in returns. If you can go to a store and get credit, it could be huge.”
Salter is also envisioning how the partnership can be expanded to other Authentic brands in the future. But because Shein targets a young customer that is primarily female, it can only work with select brands within the Authentic portfolio.
“They target the younger generation and there are certain brands they gravitate to,” he said. “It can work with Aeropostale for sure, so I wouldn’t put Brooks Brothers there. But as Shein improves their supply chain for mid-tier brands with more-sophisticated manufacturing, we can go up the food chain.”
As a result, Salter estimated that down the road, the deal with Shein could potentially be worth “multiple billions” in sales. “They’re doing $40 billion in sales worldwide and if we build a good, better, best platform with them, it can be a huge traffic driver into the stores.”
He characterized the Shein product line as “good,” and Forever 21 as “better,” and sees an opportunity to one day add a brand at a higher tier for the “best” category. “We own 50 brands at Authentic and we could get into furniture or home with them in a big way. With AI and the data we have, we have a pretty good idea of what would work. But we’re starting with Forever 21 and we’ll prove that out before we add on.”
“This collaboration brings together two brands with a fantastic fanbase and a shared commitment to delivering a variety of on-trend products at a great price,” said Donald Tang, executive chairman of Shein. “This is all about giving customers the best possible shopping experience, and we’re thrilled to bring Shein’s on-demand production model — a model we think is the future of fashion — to our partners.”
Beyond this deal, Salter is continuing to search for his next acquisition. “There’s Champion and for sure, we’re looking at that,” he said. “And if VF sells its brands, we would be happy to look at some of those assets too. Right now we’re focused on entertainment, which is 25 percent of our business and we’d like it to be 50 percent. We’re interested in entertainment in the children’s space so we’re looking at different transactions there.”