Time to Get Back to the Pack

Back-to-school often means choosing a new backpack.
By Sara Arthurs -The Courier Newspaper
The end of summer means it’s almost time to head back to school, which means it’s time to buy backpacks. What kids and parents look for when shopping for a new backpack changes each year.
Take, for example, a pocket for an iPod. 
“Ten years ago, that was unheard of,” said Ken McCartan, backpack buyer for Dunham’s corporate office. “This day and age, that is a given.”
At Kohl’s, the character backpacks, those with characters from movies or television, are popular for the younger children, said Steve Brunner, one of the store managers at Kohl’s in Findlay. Characters from “Toy Story,” “Spider-Man” and “Dora the Explorer” are among the popular ones, he said.
Jansport backpacks are popular for the older children and college age. Many have pockets for things like iPods and water bottles, Brunner said. 
A recent trend is the “Yak Pak,” a brand which offers bags in colorful patterns and a variety of styles.
Bright colors are always popular and high school students tend to favor school colors, Brunner said.
“It’s definitely a lot of color… It’s not just the traditional black or navy,” McCartan said. “There’s a color pop.”
Kids like patterns such as leopard or zebra, he said. Another trend is a bag that is mostly black but has colorful trim.
“Black is still very dominant because it doesn’t show dirt,” McCartan said. “It kind of goes with anything that the child might be wearing.”
McCartan said Dunham’s backpack season runs from Aug. 1 until mid-September.
“If mom’s making the purchase, they’re probably going to go for something small and inexpensive,” McCartan said.
But, he said, sometimes the child can convince the parent he or she wants a trademark. The Nike swoosh is popular, and Adidas is another brand that sells well, McCartan said.
McCartan said that backpacks are designed these days to hold up pretty well, which means people need to purchase them less frequently. But this time of year there is always a spike in sales.
McCartan said when his son was in elementary school he would bring home a lot of items in his backpack such as books, his lunch and a towel for “quiet time” at school.
“He stuffed a lot of stuff in there,” McCartan said.
But, he said, backpacks are fashion statements as much as they are utilitarian items.
“They see the cool factor, even at a young age,” McCartan said.
The proliferation of technology has changed the design of backpacks. Nearly every backpack Dunham’s carries has an iPod port so the child can put his or her iPod in the backpack and feed the earbuds through an outlet. A mesh pocket for a water bottle is also standard. As for computers, McCartan said just about every backpack has a padded separate sleeve for a laptop or netbook, and some have a bag within a bag. 
McCartan said backpacks are like clothes or shoes. Children look for different patterns.
“Kids can individualize themselves,” he said.
For some children, this may mean different backpacks to wear with different clothing. Perhaps it might be a neon backpack to go with certain outfits, he said.
McCartan, as an adult, said it’s easy to speculate on what a 12-year-old boy or girl might want to carry to school but it can be a challenge to get it right. As a backpack buyer, he relies on demographic research done by the companies that make backpacks for Adidas or Nike. He said these companies will put different designs in front of children and do blind studies to see what tests well.
Similar research is done for clothing and McCartan said they’re finding a similar trend.
“Individuality really is what’s doing well,” he said.
Whatever backpack a child chooses, schools usually don’t allow him or her to carry it around all day.
Barb Schick, community relations coordinator for Findlay City Schools, said children must store their backpacks in their locker or elsewhere and cannot take them to class.
“Nobody carries them in,” she said.
She said this has been a policy in place since at least the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 and possibly longer. “Nothing that can conceal anything” is permitted, she said.
Van Buren High School principal Michael Brand said that there, too, students can carry their backpacks to and from school but cannot carry them around during the school day.
Brand said students often bring electronics such as laptop computers and iPods to school. Van Buren issues netbooks to all students in grades six through 10, which they carry from school to home each day. 
Think back-to-school shopping is expensive? Things could be worse. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen introduced a croc backpack that costs $39,000, according to a July article on Slate.com.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 saraarthurs@thecourier.com
Photo Caption: RANDY ROBERTS / The Courier KATHERINE BLUM, a sales associate/cashier at Dunham’s, takes down one of the backpacks on display at the store. Kids can be picky when it comes time to choose a new backpack. Parents don’t want to spend too much and want something that’s sturdy and will last a year or two. Almost all backpacks now feature special pockets for laptop computers and music devices.
*To receive Dunham’s coupons and information on new products, events and sales, sign up for Dunham’s Rewards.