Why These Forever 21 Mannequins Wore #BlackLivesMatter T-Shirts

Photo: Courtesy of Never 21.
Whether it's in the form of miniskirts in Turkey, head coverings in Saudi Arabia, or pink suits in the U.S. Congress, fashion has proven to be a powerful tool for political change. Just last weekend, the worlds of retail and activism collided when the anonymous group Never 21 staged a takeover of Forever 21's NYC Union Square flagship for a protest.  Posing as store employees, group members swapped out the window display mannequins' Forever 21 clothes for T-shirts bearing the group's name and "Black Lives Matter." They draped a banner with the same slogan across the upstairs window, and stocked tees throughout the store. Never 21's goal with the stunt is to raise awareness of the young people of color who, due to police violence, will never reach the age of 21.        

As the organization elaborates on its website, "Countless
underaged lives have been lost at the hands of 'vigilantes' and disgruntled
police officers. These youth were never given the chance to see age 21, or any
age thereafter, so we respond by reminding the public of the battle that we
are still actively fighting. We care about the lives of Black men. We care
about the lives of Black women. We care about the lives of Black CHILDREN."  The site features mini-biographies of the underage victims — such as Aiyana Jones (7), Michael Brown (18), Tamir Rice (12), and Trayvon Martin (17) — and promises to "do everything in our power to ensure that their voices continue to be heard." 


The group's strategy — staging peaceful, creative protests and using the universally known #BlackLivesMatter hashtag — appears to be working. Gothamist reports that the recent Forever 21 takeover lasted only 20 minutes, but that was more than enough time for word to spread through passerby photos and Twitter discussions. (Some initially wondered if Forever 21 was actually selling these tees and applauded the retailer for taking action.) But, Never 21 reps told MTV that they have no affiliation with the store: “This is not an attack on Forever
21. In actuality, it is an opportunity for the popular retail conglomerate to
support the #BlackLivesMatter movement.”

Although the Forever 21 takeover got people talking, the protestors aren't ready to call this demonstration a success — yet. As they explained to MTV, "We’re happy that this action has gotten people’s attention, but a lot of actions in this movement have been attention-grabbing and thought-provoking. Success to us is seeing actual change — to not hear about any more Black lives being taken for no reason." Watch Never 21's video of the Forever 21 protest below and find out more about the group's mission here