Back to school is taking on a whole new meaning this fall. The mobile accessory maker Kensington, in partnership with the school supplies and stationery brand Mead, is set to bring students way, way back – to the 90s and even the 80s. Its time machine? The "Trapper Keeper." Sort of.
The fellow ACCO brands have reinvented the iconic classroom staple for today’s digital-minded students. It’s called the Trapper Keeper & Mead Collection Universal Tablet Case and unlike the traditional Trapper Keeper, which is designed to keep loose-leaf papers, binders, and vertical folders (aka "Trappers") organized and secure for travel, this one is made to encase 7” and 10” tablets.
“Introducing this new line of tablet folios is especially fitting when you consider how quickly students are choosing digital tools,” said Greg Agustin, Global Product Manager at Kensington.
The tech-friendly Trapper Keepers look strikingly like the vintage variety. Invoking nostalgia is a big, if not the biggest, part of the marketing strategy behind the product launch.
Back in June when it issued a press release announcing the Trapper Keeper & Mead Collection Universal Tablet Case, which started shipping this month, Kensington opened with: “Remember how neat, organized and cool you felt when you roamed the school halls with your backpack slung over one shoulder and your Trapper Keeper tucked inside?”
Kensington is referring to the golden age of the Trapper Keeper, when, in the few years after launching the product in 1978, the Mead Corporation sold more than $100 million worth of them annually. Almost every kid had one. Beyond the basic solid colors there were a plethora of designs. Kitties. Lamborghinis. Unicorns. Flying geometric landscapes.
The product was so successful other manufacturers introduced similar ones, like the Lisa Frank "Tri Fold" binders featuring the colorful images for which the iconic children's design brand was known.
Slideshow 34 photos
34 of the most radical Trapper Keepers ever
A typical one featured a doe-eyed seal in a rainbow-hued reef. How empathetically he watched you through the horrors of math class. How much he needed you to save him by stuffing him with homework assignments. Your papers were still in utter disarray, but they were in disarray in one place, a pretty place, where a psychedelic marine mammal kept them safe.
"Trapper Keepers and similar products were a simple pleasure that kids could enjoy; they were functional and well-designed,” Lisa Frank, who is a real person, told TODAY in a rare interview. "The artwork allowed kids to express themselves, be stylish, and they actually looked forward to Back to School shopping."
The nostalgia factor isn’t lost on Frank, who, like Trapper Keeper has become something of a cult figure herself.
“These days, millennials reminisce on our Facebook page all the time about their favorite Lisa Frank school supplies and they tell us they’re using them in the workplace,” said Frank.
Unlike Lisa Frank’s products and the original Trapper Keeper, the new Trapper Keeper for tablets features a magnetic flap closure. There is no Velcro to be found. This past July, Mead reissued the regular Trapper Keeper for papers and folders, using a similarly wistful approach in its marketing, but also highlighting “fresh features.” Apparently, one of those fresh features is a snap closure. No Velcro on this product either.
They didn't have a choice.
“Due to the noise created from the Velcro when students would open and close their Trapper Keeper, teachers were banning Trapper Keepers from classroom and school supply lists,” said Jessica Hodges, Mead's Senior Director of Marketing. “Now, the updated Trapper Keepers have a super sturdy (and quiet!) snap closure.”
Aging sentimentalists aren’t Kensington's and Mead’s target audience. It’s the kids, teachers, and parents that the Trapper Keeper for tablet needs to attract.
And there's the potential snag. A tablet cover by its nature is a step away from Trapper Keeper's populist past.
David W. Harrington runs after-school writing programs for high school students at an educational non-profit. There’s seldom a tablet in sight.
"The [kids] use mostly traditional notebooks," he said. “They’re mostly poor.”
Meanwhile, Brian Chu, an English teacher at an elite independent high school in Brooklyn, sees plenty of tablets on campus. That's because the school gives every student one.
“The school issues generic rubber covers, but the kids who buy their own [tablets] have nicer leather ones that can hold a stylus, or, better yet, have a keyboard,” said Chu. (The new Trapper Keeper doesn't.)
If today’s kids aren’t going to be drawn to this product, then Kensington and Mead need to keep working the nostalgia angle. If they can’t bring back the Velcro, then at least bring in Lisa Frank so girly-girls can have a more apt reminiscence.
“I would love to design Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers for tablets!” said Frank.
Nicole Spector is the author of “50 Shades of Dorian Gray” and a contributor The New Yorker's "Goings on About Town." Follow her on Twitter @nicolespector.