Back to School, Back to Cool: The Trends That Ruled at ASD Market Week

by • September 15, 2016 • Merchandising + TrendsComments Off on Back to School, Back to Cool: The Trends That Ruled at ASD Market Week9930

It’s the (other) most wonderful time of the year: for retailers, back to school has risen to become the second busiest season after the holidays. And a wide array of on-trend items geared towards back to school were on display at this past ASD Market Week. Discover the products that will be ruling in 2016 and how you can get in on the trend next year — and cash in on the high-traffic season.

#ICYMI (In Case You Missed It): ASD Market Week August 2016 was a veritable showcase of the top trends in Fashion, Accessories, and Gifts & Novelties. And many of these products are already making a strong impression for Back-to-School 2016.

After all, back to school is an important season for retailers — second only to the holidays. And its importance in the retail world seems to only be on the upswing, as Back to School 2016 promises to be bigger than ever.

Take note of these stats: According to the National Retail Federation and its “Back-to-School/College Spending Survey,” conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, back-to-school and college spending is projected to reach $75.8 billion this year (up from $68 billion last year!). The NRF also found that total back-to-school spending has grown 55% over the past 10 years. And, they also project that back-to-school spending per household has increased from an average of $630 last year to $674 this year.

With these kinds of dollars, back to school has become serious business, especially combined with the surge in popularity of stationery products and desk accessories (also on display in the Fashion & Accessories and Gift & Novelties sections at ASD Market Week).

Who’s Buying?

Before we dig into the trends, there is an interesting factor to consider: the target audience of back to school for K-12 and college has become more vast in recent years. Between the 5-year-old kiddos trotting off to Kindergarten, the high school seniors, and the college crowds, we’re looking at shoppers from the millennial, Gen Z, and Gen X generations.

For starters, today’s Kindergarteners likely have millennial parents. According to the Digiday article, “The mother of all generations: 5 things brands should know about millennial moms,” millennial moms now represent almost 90% of the 1.5 million new mothers within 2015, up 50% from a decade ago. (Interesting side note: this summer’s hit comedy, Bad Moms, can likely attribute some of its success to the fact that it targets millennial mothers.)

Then there’s Gen Z, which deserves a shoutout as well: Generation Z (also known as “Edgers”) range from ages 2 to 19, but the target range for marketers is from about 11 to 16 (according to an AdAge piece about Gen Z). And what they see on their Snapchat and Instagram feeds is essentially what they want for back to school.

Takeaway for retailers: Be active on social media to attract this demographic.

The Highlights

We’re pretty sure students currently in grades K-12 and college are stocking up on the supplies and accessories spotted at ASD Market Week.

Here is our rundown on what will surely be at the Head of the Class in 2016 (and spill over into 2017).

Trend #1: Emojis All Around

back to school emojis

No surprise here, right?

Ever since Instagram and Snapchat exploded onto the scene, emojis have become a standard communication tool. They’re quick, quirky, and universal. So we knew that emojis were likely to be among the top trends at ASD Market Week.

Emojis are making their mark on backpacks, totes and pencil cases, as well as iPhone cases, patches and pins (more on the latter in the next point…).

The most popular emojis this year? For starters, unicorns, unicorns, unicorns. It’s no myth: these legendary creatures are soaring towards the stratosphere of style.

The other popular emojis include the “100” sign, ice cream, the blazing fire (how else can you explain that something is “lit”?), and of course the wide range of emoji expression faces.

Trend #2: Pins & Patches

pins patches back to school

Here’s a throwback trend from the ‘80s that’s enjoying time in the fashion spotlight. Pins and patches were on display at several ASD Market Week booths.  

Pins and iron-on or sew-on patches are a quick and easy way to personalize an outfit of the day — basically, they add swag to bags, denim jackets, and baseball caps (or, as the cool kids say, “snapbacks”).

Junk foods like ice cream and donuts, hand gestures like “peace” and “A-OK,” and expressions like “Squad” and “girl gang” were among the most popular designs for pins and patches (vendor Odin had a wide array of these).

Trend #3: iPhone Cases

phone cases back to school

Tech accessories like laptop and iPhone cases are other easy ways for students to personalize their gear — while protecting it, of course.

We loved the cool design aesthetic of The Casery’s iPhone cases, serving up #trending sayings like “Thug Life” and delicious prints such as pineapples and donuts. Yum!

Trend #4: Retro-Inspired Lunch Boxes

back to school lunch boxes

Insulated fabric lunch bags are popular today thanks to their functionality, but the old-school metallic lunch box has also made its return. Between the emoji patterns and city postcard inspo (New York City and Paris, for the win), these “back to basic” lunch boxes are perfect for students and for those of us “adulting” at the office (even ideal for storing bits and bobs at home).

Trend #5: Cool Water Bottles

ASD Market Week Day 3

Speaking of food-related gear, we spotted some funky toy pets doubling up as insulated water bottles on the Gift & Novelties floor. Besides, why should stainless steel bottles and tumblers be watered down by a basic shape when they can be eye-catching and slightly kitschy?

Trend #6: LED Sneakers

LED SL1366

Light-up sneakers with LED soles were shining bright at ASD, and attracting a lot of attention. The ‘90s throwback sneakers are back and likely in the spotlight in classrooms and college campuses. We love the 2016 twist on these kicks, as they feature a more futuristic vibe.

And for dorm rooms…

Trend #7: Wall Decor


This 3D wall art stopped us in our tracks! From unicorns and sharks to a fierce T Rex, these conversational pieces are guaranteed to attract customers to your shop if used in your visual display — and they make for great dorm room decor.

And again, it’s all about unicorns… We weren’t kidding when we said these were everywhere!

Trend #8: Whimsical Graphic Pillows

decorative pillows back to school

We also spotted a collection of pillows that were anything but stuffy. Featuring trending designs like a pitbull and “collegiate bear,” these pillows are sure to add a fun touch to any dorm room. They also make fun gifts for the college-bound.

Trend Forecasting

What can we expect to see in the next wave of back-to-school and school-age merchandise? If pop culture is any indication, we anticipate a hefty dose of deja vu. Following a retro-resurgence trend with ‘80s hits like Jem, My Little Pony and Care Bears readily available to today’s kiddos, we anticipate the ‘80s influence to continue in school supplies, backpacks, lunchboxes, and apparel, with the show logos and characters featuring prominently.  It also helps that these shows likely played a role in the millennial moms’ school days!

This summer also saw the  all-female Ghostbusters reboot hit theaters; while it didn’t necessarily yield movie ticket sales or positive reviews, it did resurrect a blockbuster comedy from the ‘80s and made it relevant once again.

In addition, Netflix’s Marvel partnership is capturing young audiences, so we also anticipate characters like Daredevil and Captain America making a strong comeback on everything from backpacks to lunchboxes.

And speaking of Netflix and ‘80s nostalgia, the Netflix original and runaway hit Stranger Things is having a major moment and influencing merch as a result thanks to its heavy dose of 1980s pop culture references. The retro font treatment of the Stranger Things title has already crept its way onto Facebook newsfeeds and memes — and will surely influence upcoming back-to-school collections.

Perhaps this will lead to more ‘80s science fiction cameos in 2017’s back-to-school season? Maybe E.T. will be phoning home again!

The Takeaway

These standout products spotted at ASD Market Week are effective ways to attract shoppers before back to school. But as we uncovered in our guide to Crossover Buying, many of these items can also be considered high-margin products to add to your product assortment, for a more lifestyle approach.  

You never know: you might attract a whole new target audience in the process. And a new lucrative audience can mean more sales for you!


The vendors:

Emoji bags: 3AM

Patches & pins: Odin Fashion Corp.

iPhone Cases: The Casery

Lunchboxes & water bottles: Ufindings

LED sneakers: LED Walk

3D wall art: Streamline

Decorative pillows: Happy Show

Get your free buyer’s ticket to the next Fashion + Accessories show at ASD show here!

And Get Your Gift + Novelties ticket here.

See you in Las Vegas!

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