Skip to main content

Let the Back-to-School Wars Begin

After the pandemic largely sidelined the back-to-school shopping season last year, retailers aren’t wasting any time in courting consumers’ dollars.

And Customer Growth Partners is projecting a 16 percent year-over-year increase in retail sales, sending volume to a record $780 billion for the July-to-September back-to-school frame.

JCPenney unveiled Thursday the launch of a new adaptive kids’ apparel brand, following Walmart’s announcement Wednesday that its shoppers can now purchase the tween-focused Justice brand, which changed hands last year amid Ascena Retail Group’s bankruptcy collapse. Kohl’s and Target also touted their offerings for the critical retail period.

JCPenney’s new Thereabouts private-label brand serves the approximately 6.2 percent of children ages 5 to 15, or 2.8 million kids, who have disabilities, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

“Fulfilling the wants and needs of our diverse customer base is the foundation of our business,” said Michelle Wlazlo, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer at the Texas-based retailer. “That’s why we relied on research and feedback from parents and kids throughout the design process. We are proud to say that the Thereabouts collection is our most inclusive kids brand ever.”

All children, she added, “should feel confident and capable in the clothes they wear, and parents should feel good about the clothes they buy.”

Available in “super soft fabrics” and sizes 2T–22, including plus and husky, Thereabouts offers a range of kids’ staples, including basics, uniforms, sleepwear, outerwear and footwear styles, tapping into trends like sneaker-friendly dresses, color-splashed head-to-toe looks, and the prairie-esque Cottagecore aesthetic. According to JCPenney, tagless garments, sensory-friendly seams and easy-to-open clothing make the collection accessible for children of differing abilities.

Related Stories

The retailer also partnered with Patti + Ricky, which runs an adaptive fashion marketplace for adults and children with disabilities, to offer an expanded selection of accessories from brands including PunkinFutz, BeedleBug, Max & Me, and Myself Belts. While those accessories are available on, the full Thereabouts line is shoppable in stores and online.

JCPenney launched the adaptive Thereabouts private-label children's apparel brand on July 15.
Thereabouts caters to children of all abilities Courtesy

Walmart, meanwhile, is banking on Justice to drum up back-to-school interest and traffic.

In a collaboration with the tween brand, the retailer is offering its line of trend-inspired designs in tween fashion, jewelry and accessories and home items including bedding and bath in 2,400 Walmart stores and on its website. New styles will be added seasonally, with footwear options and pet accessories launching in September.

Over 140 items from Justice’s collection are available for back-to-school.

“Justice is a popular brand our customers know and love, and with the back-to-school shopping season underway, this new collection comes at the perfect time for our customers looking to elevate their style,” Denise Incandela, Walmart’s executive vice president for apparel and private brands, said.

The fact that Justice is now available at physical doors, beyond its current e-commerce presence, elevates the brand’s profile.

“Bringing Justice to Walmart is such a natural fit,” said Ralph Gindi, president at Bluestar, which acquired Justice after the Ascena bankruptcy. “Justice connects to so many girls in an incredibly impactful way, we wanted to make sure even more consumers would have the opportunity to grow up with the brand. Justice was previously available in 1,000 brand stores and now it is carried in 2,400 Walmart stores nationwide. This is truly an exciting moment for Justice and its core consumer.”

The tween market, also referred to as juniors, has become hot lately as retailers including MangoOld Navy and Francesca’s invest in the sector in hopes of stimulating growth.

Justice has expanded its reach to tweens through a presence at 2,400 Walmart stores and website, in addition to its own online platform.
The collaboration with Walmart brings the tween brand to 2,400 stores and the discounter’s online platform. Walmart Corporate Newsroom Clip

Target on Thursday said it too was preparing for the back-to-school and college season. The retailer said it was bringing back its Teacher Prep Event and tax-free weekends to offer customers “affordability” throughout the season. Customers placing orders online have the option of using the chain’s Drive Up, Order Pickup and same-day delivery with Shipt fulfillment options.

“Last year, we had our biggest back-to-school and college season ever, with an increased demand across our entire assortment. We know this year will be met with great enthusiasm from our guests as they prepare for a new school year, and we’re ready to meet every family’s needs,” Jill Sando, Target’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, said.

Target is also including other ways to save for BTS, including deals starting at under $1. For the Teacher Prep Event, teachers can sign up through the Target Circle loyalty program to receive a one-time discount of 15 percent off select classroom supplies and essentials from July 18 to 31. And Target also noted that over 80 percent of this year’s BTS collection are under $10, including graphic tees from fashion brand Cat & Jack for $5 and pillows from Room Essentials starting at $4.

Target also said that as part of its commitment to inclusivity, the discounter has expanded its adaptive assortment with offerings such as Cat & Jack backpacks and girls’ jumpsuits, providing customers with sensory-friendly, functional style designed with their unique needs in mind.

Kohl’s didn’t announce specific back-to-school initiatives or specials, instead reminding consumers of its casual, active, denim, outerwear, footwear, basics and uniforms offerings, and options for adult shoppers, too.

“Everyone is gearing up for a return to a more normal year with kids heading back to school and adults beginning to socialize more with friends and families,” Kohl’s chief marketing officer Greg Revelle said. “As both kids and adults look to update their closets with casual and comfortable apparel that can take everyone from the classroom or office to after school activities, Kohl’s is making it easy for everyone to get the apparel they are looking for, at a great value, no matter when and how they choose to shop both in stores and online.”