Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

So, What Are The Beloved School Supply Brands of Our Youth Up To Now?

New, 1 comment

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

We've already discussed the fate of 2006's bedazzled jeans and our beloved beauty brands of the '90s, so seeing as it's back-to-school season, we thought we'd turn our reporters lose on the cherished school supplies of our youth. Welcome to the Where Are They Now: Back to School Edition.

So much Jansport, via Jansport

Once upon a time, you routinely judged your peers by whether they chose to schlepp their books around in an Eastpack or a Jansport; and you probably could tell whether your neighbor's Five Star was a generic imitation. It was high school—and middle school, too—and your self-worth directly correlated to how much or how little mom or dad spent on your before the first day back in class. What happened to all those backpacks and binders and notebooks? In the true spirit of September, we bring you Wear Are They Now: Back to School Edition.

Jansport: Not having a Jansport backpack—circa '90s, circa eighth grade—was akin to not having a face. The cool, rich, pretty, popular kids all carried Jansport bags and everyone else didn't exist. Frankly, this is probably still the case. Not only is the California-based Jansport very much still alive and kicking—you can check out their litany of available styles and colors on their website, including the classic suede-bottomed Right Pack (in Viking Red or Navy, obviously)—but they're aiming upmarket. In the fall of 2010 the brand launched classic and exclusive styles at Bloomingdale's; and since then they've begun producing a Heritage Series of bags based on the original Jansport pieces created by the brand's hippie founders the late 1960s. And, you're their core demographic: Steven Alan, emporium of easy-chic Americana, is proudly carrying the line.

Kris Van Assche for Eastpack, via Eastpack

Eastpack: The kids who didn't have Jansport backpacks had Eastpack backpacks—and they all acted like they were fine with that. Despite that perceived second-fiddle reputation amongst suburban kids, Eastpack was never a bad backpack. The company, with roots in the 1950s and a history of Eastpack-branded backpacks since 1976, was the first to introduce color and pattern on a basic consumer bookbag. They're also well-known for their lifetime warranty (certainly you remember ads depicting mint condition backpacks on the shoulders of the skeletons of supposed former long-dead Eastpack-carriers). Like Jansport, Eastpack—now Belgium-based—hasn't gone anywhere. All the classics are still available—including the Orbit and the Large Padded; and like Jansport, they too have gone after a higher end, older customer. After several seasons of Raf Simmons-designed Eastpack backpacks (seriously), the company is now working with Kris Van Assche and Wood Wood. As for the token heritage line, check Authentic Returnity—a Made in the USA collection of re-issued bags available on ASOS. Fun fact: Eastpack and Jansport share a parent company: The VF Corporation.

L.L.Bean, via At Carmel

L.L.Bean: Yes, most kids had Jansport or Eastpack backpacks—but there was always that klatch of hippie-ish preppies (Upper Crusties) whose parents drove Volvos and phone-ordered them those gigantic monogrammed L.L.Bean backpacks (in Royal Blue). Obviously, L.L.Bean hasn't gone anywhere—and they still outfit those same kids who show up to school bedecked in madras and Ralph Lauren Polo ponies. The good news is they're still affordable ($29.95 to $39.95 in three different sizes); still come with a lifetime warranty; and are still made in Maine. The better news is they now come in prints! And while you're ordering yourself a brand new backpack you can also shop L.L.Bean Signature—the brand's contemporary collection of heritage basics in relevant fits as designed by Alex Carleton (of Rogue's Gallery fame).

A Little Black Backpack circa now, via Orange Juice in Bishops Garden

Prada's Little Black Backpack: In 1985, Miuccia Prada introduced her mini backpack fashioned from army-grade heavy duty nylon. An entire suite of Prada nylon goods followed—in assorted shapes, sizes, and colors. By the mid-'90s, the mini backpack—or Little Black Backpack—had become completely quintessential. The trend culminated with the song "Little Black Backpack," a hideous 1999 one-hit-wonder by a band called Stroke 9; along with every girl in your school carrying around a micro-pack. Of course, none of those were actually Prada (except for the one that girl Bianca in 10 Things I Hate About You had)—they were by Guess or Skechers or Express or Wilson's Leather. Finally, they became a punchline. These days, Prada is one of the most profitable and critically-lauded designer labels around. And while they still produce some classic nylon items (and backpacks!), we couldn't find any non-vintage (eBay, Etsy) or non-close-out (ModaQueen) mini backpacks from the label. That said, backpacks are definitely having a bit of a moment—can a splashy reintroduction of the Prada baby bookbag be forthcoming?

Lisa Frank via Lisa Frank Party

Lisa Frank: Further back than high school and middle school (hopefully), you certainly remember Lisa Frank. All the girls (and probably a handful of the boys) had stationery and pens with rainbow-colored glitter ponies, floppy-eared pups, expressive penguins and grinning narwhals frolicking among friendly skies and smiling seas in not-found-in-nature shades of pink, purple and turquoise. While you may be far removed from your days of Lisa Frank collecting, the company continues to charm the tween-set and is, apparently, still thriving. Headquartered in Arizona and spearheaded by a reclusive artistic mastermind actually named Lisa Frank, the line is still all about ponies and porpoises—with a touch of Bratz meets Disney Princess glamour thrown in (you gotta stay modern!) Further, the prices are still tween-friendly, they have an extensive array of e-commerce offerings, and extended apparel options might be on the way. Better yet: The rarely photographed Lisa Frank herself granted an extensive interview to the Daily earlier this year—during which she compared herself and her fame to Michael Jackson and admitted to wearing a lot of brightly colored Missoni.

Vintage Trapper, via Tamerlane's Thoughts

Trapper Keeper and Five Star: Around the same time you were hoarding Lisa Frank stickers and gel pens, you were using a Trapper Keeper binder—probably laser- or Lamborghini-bedecked; or featuring small white kittens. You likely also had matching (or coordinating, if not exactly matching, you always were a style trailblazer!) folders and pencil cases to slip into said binder. Those kittens kept you organized, and were the precursor to the ultra-durable Five Star multi-subject notebooks all the smarter-than-you and more-organized-than-you kids used in junior high. None of these items were exactly cost-prohibitive—but there were significantly cheaper options out there. And you'd better believe the kids with the designer imposter Five Stars (who invariably carried them around in "Eastsport" and "Janspack" backpacks) were not on the homecoming court. Both labels are still thriving and produced by the same parent company: Mead. That said, Trapper seems to have taken a backseat to Five Star; and the whimsical Trappers of our youth have been replaced with solid colors and stylized graphics. But, hey—better to color code your life for easy locker stops, right?

· What Are Our Beloved Beauty Brands of the '90s Up to Now? [Racked]
· So, What Are 2006's Most Googled Denim Brands Up To Now? [Racked]