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This product image released by MadPax shows the Whirlpool Nibbler backpack. The average family with kids in kindergarten through 12th grade will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up five percent from last year, according to the trade group’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey. (AP Photo/MadPax)
Back to school: Fun and fashion lead the way in school supplies
Gearing up » Average family will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics this year.
First Published Aug 14 2014 10:31 am • Last Updated Aug 15 2014 06:08 pm

It’s school supply time and there’s no shortage of nifty backpacks, pencil cases, erasers and more for kids young and older.

"Most people are looking for something unique," said Larina Lin, founder of the site Coolpencilcase.com, which sells supplies imported from Japan.

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The sum families will spend on supplies this year is up slightly over last year, according to the National Retail Federation, based on a poll of 6,178 U.S. consumers conducted in July.

The average family with kids in kindergarten through 12th will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent from last year, according to the trade group’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey.

Requests from teachers for classroom contributions is a possible factor in increased spending on supplies, according to the survey, which predicted a 12 percent hike in such spending this summer over last — to an average of $101.18 from $90.49 in 2013.

Since 2009, the retail federation has been asking how the U.S. economy plays out in school supply shopping. While spending has loosened up slightly this year over last, more families are going for store brands or generic items for school — 34 percent when compared to 32.8 percent last year, the survey said. And 25.6 percent hope to get along with last year’s items, up from 23.7 percent last year.

Nearly 20 percent said they shop online more often to save money, up from 18.5 percent last year and the highest percentage ever noted by the retail federation.

"Back-to-school is the second-largest sales driving season that we have as a company. It’s second only to the holiday season. It’s critically, critically important for Target," said Jenna Reck, a company spokeswoman.

Here’s a look at what’s cool for school:

PARTNERSHIPS AND LICENSED PRODUCTS


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Staples and Teen Vogue have teamed up this year for a collection of notebooks, pencils, erasers and folders appealing to teen girls with florals, plaids and hearts. For younger boys, SpongeBob and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remain hot among licensed characters, the latter about to get a boost with the August release of the latest "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie, said Alison Corcoran, a senior vice president at Staples.

"What we’re seeing this year that’s an evolution is this mixture of fun and fashion together," she said.

GIVING BACK

Target is committed to donating one school supply item to a student in need for every item purchased through Aug. 1 from the company’s "up&up" brand, up to $25 million. The program was inspired by Yoobi.com, also available at Target, featuring funky new items using the same nonprofit partner, the Kids in Need Foundation, to distribute supplies to needy kids on a one-bought, one-donated basis.

PENCIL CASES

Lin and other sellers point to the enduring popularity of the wide-eyed owl on pencil cases and other supplies. Lin’s site designed Hootie the Owl for vinyl cases with: "I will be by your side wherever you go." They come in blue, red and yellow with a mesh compartment, elastic bands for chunky highlighters or markers and a roomy main compartment.

"Owls are definitely back," agreed Reck. "They started in the baby space and then bled into homes and now for school."

PENCIL ERASERS

The pink kind might still rule, but Lin offers a way to make your own erasers. She sells kits for creating them out of special clay that can be molded like putty then dipped into boiling water for 10 minutes.

Each set includes a Kawaii-theme mold and 12 pieces of clay in bright green, yellow, red, blue and white. Head to YouTube for how-to videos and ideas for freehand designs. (Kawaii is a Japanese term for cute or unique.) Silicone molds work with the material to broaden design options.

BACKPACKS

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