Trend Alert: Backpacks

A popular accessory in the '90s, the backpack has made a powerful comeback, with labels like Louis Vuitton, Nike and Ed Hardy updating the style and comfort of the schoolyard staple. "The backpack is not gender- or age-oriented; it is stylish and fits into so many niches," says Eileen Flanagan, sales manager at Rothco (asi/83708). Backpacks are both an accessory and reflection of personal style, according to A.J. Dickson, bags senior category manager at Leed's (asi/66887). "People are beginning to own more bags because they can change them with the season, their mood or their style – just like their clothing," he adds.

A backpack serves as a functional piece, while still adding a fashionable and edgy look to an outfit. "The trend is so popular because Gen Xers are entering the workforce and challenging the notion that you can't mix fashion and function with professionalism," says Alex Morin, executive vice president for sales and marketing at Debco (asi/48885).

With so many styles out there, the backpack can be used to stow much more than just schoolbooks, camping gear or gym clothes. "Fashion is being driven by a rucksack style of backpacks, but there will always be expansion and exploration of new silhouettes, materials and styles," says Dickson. "We're really seeing two extremes – one is the rucksack style that has both vintage and outdoor appeal, while the other is the slim and structured tech bag." Aside from your typical schoolbag, other styles include slingback, day-hiker and messenger bag.

The backpack has been recreated and redesigned with a more modern look. "The latest styles have padded compartments for laptops, pockets for charging devices and grommet holes for ear buds or speaker wire," says Morin. It's a practical and efficient way to organize your belongings. These added features make a backpack ideal because it's fashion with a purpose.

When it comes to a backpack's target market, it ranges from a younger demographic to an older one. Backpacks that are very colorful and have print designs on them are popular among millennials. Rotcho sells to screen and promotional firms, fashion houses, army-navy businesses and hardware stores, while distributors have sold Leed's products to the finance and health-care industry.

Backpacks are easy to decorate with screen printing or embroidery, making them a useful and effective way to grab attention for a company, sports team or charity. "Given the fact that a backpack has a natural billboard component to it, it's clearly a promotional winner," says Morin.