My roommate’s girlfriend walked into our apartment tonight carrying a bright yellow shopping bag from the store Forever 21. She stood in the living room while we were watching a basketball game and held it proudly until we asked her what was up with the bag? “It’s for Andy,” she said. I was confused. I’ve never been in the store Forever 21 before and every time I’ve walked past it at the mall I’ve assumed it’s just another place where teenage girls shop for clothes that their parents wouldn’t approve of them wearing. Why would she bring the bag for me? Well, it turns out that all Forever 21 bags have “John 3:16” printed in small letters on the bottom, so she thought I might be interested. She was right.
Seeing that shopping bag got me thinking about how other “Christian companies” (or companies run by Christians) use their influence on consumers to share and spread their faith. Since earlier tonight I’ve spent quite a bit of time “researching” Forever 21’s bags and other stores/businesses that practice similar acts of subtle consumer evangelism. I’ve also been hungry since seeing that bag. You see, Forever 21 isn’t the first business I’ve known about that prints Bible verses on the packaging of their products. The mecca of fast food burgers and fries, In-N-Out Burger (California and surround states), has been printing Bible verses on the bottom of their drink cups and food wrappers since the 1980s. In-N-Out Burger is my absolute favorite fast food restaurant — I once walked from LAX to the closest In-N-Out (probably about a mile away) so I could taste it one more time before returning to Minnesota — and it turns out the former president of In-N-Out was a Christian who wanted to share his faith with customers in a discrete way, and the company has decided to continue the practice today. It seems the president of Forever 21 has decided to do something similar by sneaking a little Gospel message into each customer’s purchase by, as one blog called it, “Bible bagging” their goods.
During my research on all this I found several sites that were neither helpful nor informative (mostly online forums where teenage girls discussed what they bought at Forever 21 during their last trip to the mall and how “like cool” or “totally dumb” they think it is that the store has a Bible verse on the bag), but I did manage to find a few articles that offered credible insight into what appears to be a growing phenomenon in the industries of retail clothing and fast food. For instance, in August of 2006 The New York Sun ran an article titled “Evangelism in Fashion“ discussing the Forever 21 bags. Included in the article were responses from Forever 21 customers who were asked if they were aware of the religious message on the bottom of the bags. The two responses shared in the article are priceless for their own unique reasons. The first was from a 22-year old guy who, when told there was a Bible verse on the bottom of the bag he was carrying didn’t seem bothered at all, but he did offer the insightful comment that “Jesus wore clothes.” I’m going to give the dude two benefits of the doubt by assuming that 1) he was shopping at Forever 21 for his girlfriend and 2) he’s not a seminary student. The other customer response was from a young woman who was shopping for a “black sparkly halter-top to go with a pair of red high-heeled shoes.” She was not as understanding as the young man we met a few sentences earlier; when she found out there was a religious message on the bottom of her shopping bag, she responded by saying “That’s so freaky. It kind of annoys me that I’m carrying this around without even knowing it.”
I learned about a few other businesses that make similar faith statements on their products and/or through the practices of their stores in a USA Today article from 2005. The most notable, in my opinion, being that Chick-fil-A (a fast food restaurant mostly in the southern US) is closed on Sundays so that employees can “focus on faith and family.” I thought that was a pretty cool move for a company to make, but I can’t help but wonder how much money they give up making by only being open 6 days a week.
If you know about other examples like these, please share them.