As every young generation grows up, it eventually finds itself on the outside of pop culture looking on in a state of confusion as a new generation rises to put its own stamp on society. Certain signifiers solidify this feeling among the older cohort—think, for example, of Gen Xers’ love for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that Boomers simply couldn’t understand or Millennials’ passion for YouTube celebrities that Xers still don’t quite get. These inflection points mark the beginning of a changing of the guard among the keepers of youth culture. Millennials, the oldest of whom are well into their mid-30s, may be having such a moment as they hear from their younger counterparts about Shop Jeen, the online storefront and brand that “should come with a seizure warning,” according to New York magazine.
As Millennials look on in awe at the throwback web graphics and seemingly random collection of goods that populate Shop Jeen, Gen Z salivates. It is not only a curated store of things they love but also a relatable lifestyle brand that feels as if it were made specifically for them. The online store itself looks like an evolution of Urban Outfitters, merging clothing, accessories, home goods, and random knickknacks, but with a distinctly Gen Z vibe. Our research finds that 64% of 13-to-17 year olds would rather have a brand that is just for them versus a brand that everyone has, and Shop Jeen offers just that. The site is filled with fake fur, four-letter words, innuendos, and emojis, and it even features random hip music videos playing in the background. The brand challenges the status quo while it simultaneously serves as a lesson for marketers and companies that hope to succeed with Zs.
Shop Jeen is the brainchild of Erin Yogasundram, the 23-year-old CEO whose prominently displayed personality is part of the brand’s allure for young shoppers. Zs have come to expect that brands display their human side, and they reject those that feel like faceless, inanimate companies. They like to support brands that evoke a persona, complete with a backstory and attitude, because it feels like they are to contributing to the success of a real person. Yogasundram and her best friend and creative director, Amelia Muqbel, appeal to Zs as they leave their fingerprints all over the brand. Caricatures of the two grace the site’s homepage, along with their favorite items of the moment. Hanging out on the site or its social media feeds feels more like being a part of the club than being at the mall.
Such personal brands also can naturally blend their marketing strategy with their social media communications, whereas corporate efforts more often run the risk of feeling forced. In fact, Shop Jeen began as an Instagram account created to market goods; Yogasundram ran it out of her college dorm room. The brand’s frequent posts are equal parts sales and pop culture commentary. As the company’s following has gotten bigger, putting it on the radar of both major media and established brands, its tone has stayed consistently provocative rather than caving to pressure and beginning to play it safe. Social media is further key to Shop Jeen’s cool as Muqbel continually scours the likes of Instagram and Tumblr for new designs and undiscovered creators to bring into the fold. This tactic also helps Shop Jeen stay on the bleeding edge of culture.
The resultant lifestyle brand that blends social media content and a broad range of products speaks to Zs in their language, giving them a fun and relaxing break from their busy lives. Spending a few minutes on Shop Jeen (whether the site or one of its social media feeds) is a treat and an escape for teen consumers. While selling product is a core mission of the brand, so is serving as a source of entertainment. As Gen Z establishes itself as the new harbingers of youth culture, marketers and companies will need to shift their strategies accordingly or find themselves, like older generations, on the outside looking in.