The clothing retailer aims to get young customers into more than tanks and tees.

Justice, the tween clothing and accessories retailer, works hard to woo young customers, ages 7 to 12. Stores carry all the must-have items: pink camo leggings, unicorn snap bracelets, cat-ear headbands and tie-dyed tees. If you want a gemstone bath bomb or a fuzzy-eared panda alarm clock for your favorite member of Gen Z, Justice is the place to get it. It’s a lucrative market—tweens fork over tens of billions of dollars annually and command even more spending power through mom and dad’s pocketbook—but earning the loyalty of a nascent consumer (and her parents) can be challenging for a clothing brand.

So heart-shaped necklaces and sequined backpacks may not be enough. To foster that all-important devotion, the New Albany-based retailer established Justice Studios late last year through a partnership with Elevate Pictures, a branded content company in Columbus. “We build entertainment properties for the audience they have built up, and we extend the Justice values into storytelling,” explains Jeremy Hughes, founder and CEO of Elevate.

Justice Studios has produced two graphic novels about girl superheroes, a documentary highlighting young ballet dancers and the “Live Justice Awards,” an annual show filmed in Los Angeles and broadcast on Facebook and YouTube. So why would a successful clothing company with more than 900 stores venture into books and movies? To win the hearts of girls everywhere.

Over the past several years, Justice has conducted research through focus groups, home visits and by shopping alongside tweens. The fieldwork revealed that young customers respond to positivity and female empowerment—and that they’re driven by content and technology, says Sara Tervo, chief marketing officer at Justice. Those insights helped shape the entertainment division, with projects that aren’t specifically geared toward the bottom line. Though the inevitable T-shirt and lip gloss product tie-ins are emerging, Justice Studios’ primary purpose is to build trust in the brand.

For instance, after girls and parents both expressed interest in reading, Justice Studios enlisted two locals—middle-grade author Julia DeVillers and illustrator Raphael Rosado—to create “Ultra Squad,” the first graphic novel in a series about four tween girls with diverse backgrounds and talents who become superheroes. Sold in Justice stores, the $8 paperback debuted in November 2018; the second book is slated for release in late March.

The studio also saw the appeal of taking a close-up look at the real lives of tweens. The 87-minute documentary “Finding Clara” follows four Central Ohioans, ages 10 to 13, as they prepare to dance the lead role in BalletMet’s “The Nutcracker.” The movie traces their four-month trajectory from auditions to the Ohio Theatre stage, where each girl plays Clara in different performances. Directed and produced by Elevate’s Nathan Bielski, the movie provides an insider’s view of rehearsals, backstage scenes and candid takes from the girls’ everyday lives. In December, Justice Studios released the documentary on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon, and a three-part Finding Clara web series is also available on Justice’s YouTube channel.

Ultimately, the Justice Studio projects are “an additional way to connect with the customer,” says Tervo, adding, “We’re seeing the cultural importance of empowering girls and women, and we’re proud to say we have been there and are there. It’s not just about pushing product all the time.”

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