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The Trends Kids Want for the Back-to-School Season + Why DIY is Key

With the vast majority of American kids set to return to in-person learning this school year, new shoes and clothes look poised to be an important part of back-to-school shopping once again.

This season will be a crucial one for retailers, with back-to-school spending expected to reach $32.5 billion for K-12 students, or $612 per student, according to a new Deloitte survey.

And while parents may be the ones pulling out their wallets most of the time, kids will play an essential role in the decision-making process. In an online survey of 1,000 U.S. parents and their children conducted by OnePoll for the online retailer Zulily, 99% of parents said it was important to involve their kids at least somewhat in back-to-school shopping.

Kids, for their part, are looking for personalization and throwback styles to add to their carts this season. 70% of respondents said they customize their outfits with personal touches, while 87% said they would be excited to take an art class that gave them the opportunity to dye, sew or customize their own clothes.

“We’ve seen significant growth in the DIY category over the past year, which is no surprise since kids want to demonstrate their individuality,” said Sheila Nugent, Zulily’s director of merchandising for kids accessories and DIY, in a statement. “You’ll see this trend of personalization when it comes to kids’ top three essential needs for school success: new supplies, shoes and backpacks.”

Shoes ranked second among the gear kids say is most essential to their success at school, coming only behind new school supplies and beating out backpacks and cool outfits. Several footwear brands already offer kids styles with customizable features: Crocs, for one, has found runaway success with its Jibbitz charms, while Converse has teamed up with stars like Millie Bobby Brown and Issa Rae for customizable Converse By You styles.

Trends from decades past are also a go-to reference point for tweens and teens, with 64% of 9-to-18-year-old respondents saying they love retro fashion and use it as a source of inspiration for their school outfits. Keep in mind, though, that “retro” doesn’t necessarily mean Woodstock-era for Gen Z: 47% of kids said the 2010s were the best decade for style, followed by the 2000s and 1990s, which tied for second place.

As for where kids seek out outfit inspiration, 70% said they find it on social media, while 61% look to their friends and 51% turn to television shows.

The NPD Group recently noted that the back-to-school shopping season could be “drawn out” due to the timing of Labor Day. Many school districts won’t go back until after the long weekend, which ends September 6, while others begin as early as August 2.

“Some larger school districts are not reopening until September, so there’s a good chance that the traditional back-to-school season could be elongated,” said Goldstein. “Depending on how the June promotions play out, we could see both an early and a late boost this year.”

On the other hand, supply chain snarls are prompting many parents to get their shopping done early. Half of all shoppers surveyed by Deloitte are concerned about out-of-stock items, and the research firm forecasts that 59% of back-to-school spending will occur by the end of July, compared with 40% in 2020.

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