As a guiding principal of architects and designers in the twentieth century, ‘form follows function’ was centered around the belief that a building or object’s utility should shape its design. In the first few years of this century, there’s already plenty of evidence that belief is being moderated by a more human desire: individuality. From the fashion runways of Paris, Milan or New York, to the items we use daily, individuality is being expressed with a profusion of color and design in an effort to make the hum drum somehow less ordinary. As an antidote to basic black, color is returning to some of the most unlikely products and accessories, at the forefront of where fun and individuality is returning to the world of design.
Color and fashion is a trend on display at many Barnes & Noble College stores this semester, and it represents a big departure from when uniformity seemed to be the prevalent campus style. “It’s all about expression and individuality,” explains Lisa Mazzio, Barnes & Noble College’s Director of General Merchandise for Hard Goods. Helping Mazzio bring that sense of individuality to campus bookstores is a select group of vendors whose products endorse that spirit of personality.
Poppin® is an office supplies provider whose philosophy of ‘work happy’ brings a sense of color and imagination to the usually utilitarian world of staplers, file folders, tape dispensers and desk accessories. It’s a philosophy they’ve tailored to the student market for Barnes & Noble College under the ‘study happy’ banner, with a brilliant color palette and a strong sense of fun. “It’s a very fashion-forward range where our students have the ability to customize, organize and design their dorm or study space, by either picking from a matching range of bright colors, or mixing and matching the individual items,” Mazzio says.
The range of products has proven popular with students and generated strong sales for back-to-school shopping. Working with Barnes & Noble College on store fixtures and displays, the Poppin color range includes lime green, pool blue, aqua and a rainbow of other colors to create highly visible displays in the college bookstores. “We’ve been doing this kind of merchandising for some time — gathering products in a lifestyle collection from different vendors, but with Poppin we have a partner who can put the whole category together in one-end cap,” Mazzio explains.
That colorful influence also carries through with Sakroots, a company that takes its inspiration directly from the world of art and fashion with prints and charm details adorning a wide variety of bags, wristlets, wallets, travel, stationery, home and jewelry products. “This is a range that is all about the artist, and the kind of pattern that artists might be developing for that season,” Mazzio explains. Subtle changes in coloring, or embellishments like sequins for the holidays keep the brand fresh and ‘of the moment.’ “What it means for the customer is if you love a specific Sakroots pattern, you can keep collecting it and it will always look different,” she points out.
And the range isn’t only limited to pattern differences. Body styles can also change, so a fashionable student could wear a cross-body bag one season or carry a tote the next — all grouped around the base design. The range which tested well on 30 campuses last year is being carried by twice as many this semester, with the success fueling a larger footprint in many stores and an even greater range of styles and price points. “We look at these kinds of vendors very carefully,” Mazzio points out, “and learn from what they might be telling us in terms of merchandising, or the lifestyle choices of our students.”
But what makes Sakroots even more appealing to college coeds is its support of artists and charities through its matching donation program. “My favorite product is the Smartphone Crossbody that has a phone pocket on it. I have it attached to my keys!” says Shelby Waddell, a junior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, majoring in marketing with a concentration in social media. “What I like the most about the brand is not only the products, but what the company stands for.”
In the fickle world of fashion, the Barnes & Noble College buying teams are guided by some extensive research on the results of test programs, or new product line introductions, at their campuses profiling the demographics of individual stores to find the best reception for even the most day-to-day products. Mazzio illustrates that point with a range of ordinary shoe socks which debuted in the stores last year. “Every season, a different color or print would come out, and when we introduced a knee-high style for our holiday pop-up zone, they quickly went from becoming a fashion trend to a regular feature in many stores.”
The tricky thing about fashion is trying to stay ahead of the trend and, for Mazzio that means being constantly vigilant to new trends and new lifestyle preferences. “Our buying teams shop the market. We‘re constantly searching for what’s happening at trade shows and in the industry for that sense of ‘newness’ — that sense of fashion — and then bring it to our students.”