Once-Boring School Supplies Now Sport Updated Look

SUNDAY, AUG. 3, 1997

When it comes to buying this year’s back-to-school supplies for area elementary and middle-school students, keep in mind that theirs is a “feel-good” generation.

If it doesn’t feel good to the touch, explains Jeri Fox, Wal-Mart’s back-to-school supply department manager, the kids just don’t want it.

Gone are the days of the uninspiring hard-cover three-ring binder and the lunch box tough enough to turn into a piece of artillery during playground skirmishes.

From thick, padded cordura-like nylon binders to aerodynamic pump-pencils that precisely fit the human grip, this year’s back-to-schoolers want supplies that are user-friendly to their smaller hands. Younger buyers are discerning consumers who appreciate the feel of hefty zippers that glide consistently, binder pockets large enough to hold massive stashes of new high-tech pens, and cushy lunch boxes with plenty of insulation to keep those meals hot - or cold.

And if it’s new and different, said one 12-year-old scanning the shelves, then it’s really cool.

Under the category of new and different this year will be anything carrying the brand name Yikes, which puts out a wide range of pens, pencils, erasers and pencil sharpeners. Fox says you’ll recognize them by their wild colors and designs - plenty of psychedelic lime green and grape and tactile-titillating textures.

Reptile Riters looks like it will be the gotta-have-it writing tool of the ‘97-‘98 school year with chameleon-style pencils ($2.94 for package of 3) that change colors once they hit the body-heat of students’ hands.

Stuart Hall, long known in the stationary business, introduces this year’s heavy-duty binders wrapped in retro-colored neoprene-type materials ($14.88) that literally seem to melt in your hands. The Pro division of Pen Tab has brought out a binder cover that young athletes are sure to love. It looks and feels like a real basketball, complete with black seam lines ($13.88). And Reebok ($17.88), Coca Cola ($14.88), and Harley Davidson ($24.99) have each produced binders loaded with mesh pockets, folders, and tough Velcro closures for the older middle-school set.

Salespeople from ShopKo, Target and Fred Meyer to Kmart and Wal-Mart all agree that Hollywood’s marketing will not be lost on even the youngest students. Payless Southgate back-to-school supplies manager Nelson Lund confirms that this year’s elementary classrooms will see plenty of Star Wars, Lost World, Jurassic Park, Hercules, and Rug Rats theme characters gracing pencil boxes, portfolios and lunch carriers. Lisa Frank illustrations, the rainbow-hued fantasy characters with the big eyes, are an even bigger hit with the female elementary sector.

Lunch box, it seems, is a misnomer for the ‘97 school year, as most of this year’s lunch totes are anything but boring boxes. With options as creative as the lunches that are bound to wind up in them, they come decked with pockets, dividers, sandwich-holders, freezer-gel packs and insulated juice bottles that are a far cry from yesteryears’ plain-jane thermos.

To carry all this loot, students will be toting book bags and backpacks stout enough for all but the kitchen sink. A favorite of the ShopKo shelf-stockers is the new Tour d Force backpack ($39.99). It comes complete with attached bungee-cord netting that’s perfect to secure awkward loads like gym shoes. For smaller students, there’s a companion backpack that has its own insulated water bottle carrier ($14.99).

So, while the “feel-good” generation shops up a storm for the coming school year, there’s one thing Mom and Dad are likely to find out about their kids’ choices: This year’s products are built with their kids in mind. They’ll find quality, creativity, and prices that give a lot of bang for the buck.

Now that ought to make Mom or Dad feel good, too.

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