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Introducing Do Won Chang – The Founder Of Forever 21
When we’re young, we have an amazing positive outlook about how great life is going to be.
But somewhere along the line we forget to dream and end up settling.
Join Up Dots features amazing people who refuse to give up and chose to go after their dreams.
This is your blueprint for greatness.
o here’s your host live from the back of his garden in the UK, David Ralph.
David Ralph [0:27]
Yes, hello here. Good morning to you. Good morning to you and welcome to another episode of Join Up Dots.
This where I tell you a story.
I’ll tell you a story about entrepreneurial venture, persistence, hustle, inspiration, motivation, whatever words you throw at it.
We are bringing you stories about people, that perhaps you won’t have heard off.
But they are extremely rich and extremely successful indeed.
And today’s episode is about a guy called a Do Won Chang.
The founder of forever 21.
Now, as with all the stories that we are bringing to you until I start researching them I haven’t heard of them at all.
You know I’m really not familiar with the name Do Won Chang at all.
But for most of us especially ones we have sort of a young girls and young women in our life we will be familiar with the name of Forever 21.
Now, Do Won Chang is the man behind the store that sells all that trendy, inexpensive clothing that the young girls and young women love.
And even some women who probably should upgrade to a store with a name a little closer to their own age still go for it.
Yeah, forever. 21
Now, what can we tell you about him?
What can we tell you about Mr. Do Won Chang. Well he’s a billionaire..
He’s not the richest guy in the world.
He’s probably about 162’nd billionaire in the world, but he’s got a few Bob.
He got about 5.4 billion Yeah, 5.4 billion US dollars.
But he’s story is a fascinating one.
And it’s one of the stories that when you see you think, “Oh yeah, we all moan we all groan
Oh, it’s so hard.
Oh, I’m not making a living.
And you get to the nuts and bolts of these guys.
And there willing to put the effort in and they’re willing to put the effort in when it’s not a given to get it back.
And I say to all of them, enjoy your billions because you deserve it.
And you really do deserve it, Mr Do Won Chang.
The Early Days Of Mr Do Won Chang
He comes from Korea.
Okay, so he was born in Korea.
And in Korea, he he was very, very poor indeed.
He was born in a village, which was extremely humble, it was called My Own Dong.
Now I might have said that wrong, because I’m not familiar with South Korean.
But that is how it looks like.
And that’s in Seoul, South Korea, and he was born in 1954.
Now, when he was a young boy, no matter what you could say to him, he was willing to work, he had work ethic in him.
And when he was old enough to sort of go out on his own because of course, as little kids, you don’t want to send them out into my own down.
He started working in coffee shops and started his own coffee delivery service. And it was hard work.
But he did what he could to make some money, which is what it’s all about.
Now, he’s most recent endeavour at that time had been delivering copy to the nearby villages, as we say, and he got really familiar with all the different types of coffee, beans and flavours.
And he planned on using this obsession with coffee to find his American dream.
Now that’s the first thing that we got to think about. He was obsessed by it. He wanted to become the best at it.
He really wanted to know the ins and outs. And I think that’s one of the first lessons that we have in an online world in any world. How many of us kind of do enough to get by?
We kind of go, “oh, as long as I’m one page ahead, I’m fine”.
You really gotta focus in on really becoming the best person and an obsession with a subject that you’re passionate about. is so powerful.
It really is, so old, Don Won Chang, he wanted the American dream. So guess where he went?
The Start Of The American Dream
Yes, he went to America.
And he was sitting at the airport.
He didn’t have a lot of money, but he saved up to get his tickets.
And he was waiting to take a journey of a lifetime.
Now no body in his family had ever been on a plane at all? Okay.
This was a dream just getting on a plane.
So the 6000 mile journey across the world was absolutely terrifying to them, or I hadn’t seen anything like it.
But they they landed in Los Angeles and they landed safely.
And as soon as he landed, what did they do?
Did they go off to Disneyland?
Did they go off looking at the Hollywood Hills?
No, of course he didn’t, Do Won Chang went straight out and started looking for work. He didn’t waste any time at all.
Now, where do you think he went?
First of all, now he had an obsession with coffee, the beans and their flavours.
So he went and waiting and waiting. Yeah, course he went to the nearest coffee shop. And he applied.
And he got an interview immediately. And even though he didn’t speak very good English, it was passable English.
He managed to get hired working early mornings at the shop. And that’s that’s what he did.
He’s American dream was starting he had left Korea.
He’s how left his village, his family. And he landed in LA, which is quite a frightening town to be in.
There’s a lot of people walking around the streets that just shout at you. I don’t know why they do.
That was maybe me. But he quickly figured out, but he wouldn’t be able to save. He’s dream of owning his own coffee shop.
Finding A Job In America
With the $3 an hour he was getting paid. And he was also taking care of his parents.
And he had a wife to take care of. And affording the tiny one bedroom apartment they all lived in was already a stretch. He was really he was under the cautious we say over here.
And he was saying, you know, what should I do? What should I do?
But he didn’t mind really because he was in America. And he believed passionately. But his dream was coming true. So he wasn’t going to complain. And he couldn’t understand English to speak English, so nobody could understand it. But what he did understand was the value of hard work.
And he had passion running through his blood. He wanted to make a difference.
And he had been driven to this his whole life. So he looked at that $3. And he thought to himself, I can afford this. And I really want my own coffee shop. So what can I do. So he got a second job. And it wasn’t a glamorous job. It wasn’t a job that perhaps he wanted to do because it wasn’t.
But he found a second job at a gas station, pumping gas for the wealthy people. So they were all coming along in LA. And they were all coming in their big shiny BMW and Mercedes.
And he stood there. And he was quite happy to do that. And when he was done for the day with his first two jobs, he went home and he slumped in front of Netflix, and he ordered in a take.
Now of course he didn’t. What he did, he got another job. And no one cleaned offices. And this was a business he actually started on his own, he decided but he’s effort to bring more rewards into his family. So he’s day soon went from eight hours of work to 19 hours of work.
But he had a plan. So you’d literally coming home, falling into bed, getting up a few hours later and going again.
And he kept on doing it. He’s days started at four o’clock in the morning, every morning, he’d get to the coffee shop at 4am. And he knew that by doing this work and earning this money and he could save it, he would start a business and he would be successful. Now, how many of you out there would do that?
How many of you would actually look at and go 19 hours of work.
Now I was doing that in the beginning of Join Up Dots.
And it really blows my mind how these guys because I was putting so much effort into it. And these guys end up as a billionaire now. Could I end up as a billionaire?
Well, if I can find the thing that people value enough, yes, but I had to give up.
The exhaustion just got me and I just couldn’t keep going.
These guys keep on going and keep on going. Now, as I say every morning, Do Won Chang one would get to the coffee shop at 4am. To start his day. He’s only been in bed a few hours. And he was again, he would prep food and he would do dishes.
And he rarely got a chance to sit. He was on his feet all day, every de and then once he finished, he would leave their go straight to the gas station where he would pump pump pump pump and also there wasn’t a seat.
He wasn’t resting. He’s booty. Oh, no, he wasn’t. He was on his feet again, but a generation of his ship, and he would pump gas and he would keep on pumping gas. And he would listen to the bell ring over and over and over bing bing, bing bing.
And he’d go out and he’d fill up the cars pouring into get their petrol. And over time, he would look at them. And the Mercedes and the BMW and the Audi’s and the Porsches and the Lamborghinis, they were coming into the station, and occasionally, and he’s broken English, he would say to the customers, what do you do?
What do you do a living, which is pretty good Korean accent, I think. And they would tell him, and he start noticing a pattern. Most of the people who are actually driving these posh cars weren’t sort of doing what he was good at. He was he wasn’t they weren’t selling copy.
What they were doing, they were including, they were in fashion, they were in a garment industry. And they were selling clothes. So he looked at him for what, okay, if everybody who’s driving these posh cars are in clothing, then maybe that’s where I should be, maybe I should get a job in retail.
So he decided to leave the gas station and get a job in retail selling clothes, just like the men he was looking at and thinking I’m going to be like you.
But he didn’t just do that. He was smart. He was clever. He was a hard worker and his boss, who signed him up, loved him, and not changed everything.
Because he showed that commitment. His boss wanted to show that commitment back to him, the boss felt protected, the boss wanted to give him the future that he deserved. And he’s boss showed him the ropes. And Do Won Chang soon learn the ins and outs of running a store.
Now, do you want had big ideas, he didn’t just want to sell clothing like the rest of his employees. what he wanted to do, he wanted to know everything. So he found out about the ordering, and the merchandising and the marketing. And he listened. He listened he studied his obsession was was everything he couldn’t learn enough. And but once he learned that, he didn’t just keep on learning, keep on learning, like we see sort of in entrepreneurial land sometime as well.
But people just just kind of want to study, study, study and never actually take action. But he did. Once he got this information, he actually started putting it into into motion.
And within three years of getting to America, and now this is probably one of the most amazing things, bear in mind. But it was only earning very small amounts in these jobs. him and his wife, he was looking after his family as well. And she was only working as a hairdresser.
The Birth Of Do Won Changs Fashion Empire
The why they saved up 11 grand, okay, $11,000 they had gotten their bank account in just three years, even though times were time. Okay. Now, this is an amazing feat. It really is. And for all of us out there have gone we have got enough money, we haven’t got this. Think about that Do Won Chang, was in a strange country, didn’t know the language.
But he still managed to hustle these way and work his way and make a savings of up to 11 grand now that 11 grand gave him a runway that that gave him a chance to start doing something. And so what they did, they took that 11 grand and they invested it and they found a clothing store for sale just a few blocks away from their little one bedroom apartment in Koreatown. And the owner, it was glad to sell it 11 grand for my little shop. That’s That’s brilliant. I’m ready to get out.
Down the profits of the shop wasn’t been doing very well. And the business hadn’t been making more than 30 grand a year. So he saw this as a big win. But the one saw it as a huge win. And he stepped in with his newfound understanding of love and retail and turn the store around. Now it wasn’t just easy.
You know, you can’t just go Okay, I’ve got the knowledge. And I’ve got the premises. Now, I’ve got to tell if you’ve done this with any business, it’s really really hard because you’ve got to start getting people into it. You’ve got to start getting people enjoying it. Word of mouth referrals is not easy. Not one single bit was easy.
But him and his wife who also hustled by work day and night, selling clothes to other Korean Americans. They went niche. You see what they did. If you go niche, you get rich. And that is another part of the master plan. He’s already had the obsession is willing to put the effort in, he’s willing to limit his life and these expenses to get himself a runway. But he’s also decided to go niche he wasn’t looking to sell to all Americans, just a Korean Americans.
And little by little, little by little one started buying clothes out lots of clothes at wholesale prices. So all these kind of shops that were were going bankrupt, were growing, they’re closing and he was buying them.
And soon people started making the five mile drive from LA into Koreatown to buy from this new store, but he called fashion 21 Yeah, he’s doing a white for himself. And you know, within a year, within a year, they turned that store from 30 grand per year into 700,000. powerhouse, okay, you went from no money to 11 grand from 11, Grand 30 grand investment effectively, and babies turned back into a 700,000 powerhouse.
But that was just the start. And little by little again, they changed the name of fashion 21 to forever 21. And within five years, at opened up thousands of more doors, they had found their niche, which was fast fashion, just as quick as it was coming off the runway, he grabbed hold of it, and his team would have a similar looking item for much less on the shelf. So they look at it and go, Okay, let’s find something that looks exactly like that. And we could flog it for a bargain.
Now it would normally have taken designers and producers mums, but he got a team that could have it created and shipped within a few days and people started talking people kept on going, now you got to go down to the store, you know, save yourself a fortune, don’t buy it from there, go down there.
And the clothes became something that people wanted, okay, he found his niche. And he developed way of bringing more value to people by giving them something that they want in that small market. as quickly and as cheaply as possible. I still look good, okay, it’s still a good, it was still stylish. And that really is the core of their business. It’s a most business model they still use today, we’ve over 400 stores in over 50 countries, he and his wife now have a net worth of over 5 billion, and they still own 100% of their business.
They built this forever 21 from the ground up as a family and decided to keep it all in the family. They didn’t get sort of outside investors or whatever. And I also decided to keep the 900 square foot store when I grew up the American dream. You know that first place? I didn’t just move on and say we’re going to forget our history.
That joining up the thoughts. Yes, see what Do Won Chang has done.
Oh, he’s done well for himself. I’m proud of the boy.
And we now if you go in to that store, and you can find it in Koreatown in LA, apparently it hasn’t changed at all since 1984, including the carpet and the smell of sweat.
It’s treated like a museum, where faithful shoppers come to look at where it all began. And how inspiring that you go to anywhere. And we see that we were apple and Disney and Mattel and, and Harley Davidson and most of them started in a very small average or garage and turned it into a multi million billion sometimes business. All of those places there are time peace, there were rumblings that if you work hard, you can achieve great things. And he wants to keep it like that do one wants to keep it light there. They You know, there’s no updates
to the store. They have no plans to change it at all. There’s a much larger one much better one just down the road, you can go down to forever 21, which is just a few miles away in the middle of Los Angeles. But he wants to keep it there.
And after years of 19 hour days, years of do one eventually upgraded from his one bedroom apartment to a $16 million home. Oh, okay, you got a bit flash movies cash there. But it still stayed in that one bedroom apartment for 19 years, even though he was raking it in. He wants a swimming pool. He wants he wants a Jacuzzi. He wants to sit down there. And so he left there. That little place where he raised two daughters. And he sent him to the Ivy League colleges. It was never fortunate enough to attend. And he started spending a bit of his cash bar. His kids also helped with the daily running of his shop forever 21.
And he always reminds them that to treat success, like a marathon, not 100 metre race, gosh. And that’s all of you out there. If you’re doing something and you’re building it, and you think, Oh, I’m not getting enough clients, and I’m not getting enough customers, and I’m not getting anything. And I’ve always been delighted with Join Up Dots, but even where it is now. And you know, I’ve got dreams and aspirations of where I’m going to take it.
You guys have been on the journey with me you guys have seen where it started and where it’s going now. And it’s nowhere near where I want it to be. But it’s a marathon, and I’m willing to do it. So the next time you’re out there and you’re all exhausted and you’re moaning and you’ve done I hours and you had your lunch break and stuff. The next time you’re looking at the AO life is so unfair, that person’s got this back person’s got back.
The next time you just moan about the cup dinners cold and there’s nothing on Netflix and stuff. You got to put this into perspective. Whatever it takes is always what it takes. You have to be willing to go to you willing to believe fight cry, you need to learn you need to get obsessed you need to grow, you need to train you need to improve. And you need to work obsessively, obsessively in pursuit of getting to where you want to be some people will come along and I will help you okay. But there’s no shortcuts. There’s no fast forward, there’s no escaping the struggle.
Hard work works. And stop looking for something else.
Keep on that path, focus, follow one course until success. And then one day, you could well be part of the storey and I could be talking about you instead of do one Chang and the Korean forever 21 making billion pound success and you could be guest on episode on Join Up Dots.
Until next time, thank you for listening to that storey we’re going to be bringing more of those because I think they are inspirational and it gives you a chance to go never heard him. Let me look him up and see what he’s all about. And they’re all there and they will give you inspiration and they will give you the wind beneath your wings to keep going. Until next time I will see again look after yourself is by
Unknown Speaker [21:17]
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