In elementary school, Christina Martin loved the bright colors and whimsical animals of artist-entrepreneur Lisa Frank.
There were leopard prints and animals with big eyes, dolphins jumping out of a teal or purple ocean. As a self-described "weird kid," Martin was drawn to the fantasy of it all. But while her classmates toted binders with the iconic characters, Martin's mother couldn't afford to buy her any. (A friend eventually gave Martin her hand-me-down Lisa Frank things when she got new ones.)
So about 30 years later, when Martin, now 40, saw an ad on her Facebook feed for Lisa Frank Crocs, she knew she had to have them — even though she had vowed she'd never wear those round rubber shoes. Her sister bought them for her as a birthday gift, and she's worn them every day since they arrived.
"It's so silly, they're just shoes but just, the nostalgia bone," Martin, a Rosamond, Calif., resident, said with a laugh. "That's where they get you."
The '90s are back, and brands that millennials loved as children or young adults — Lisa Frank, Paul Frank with the wide-mouthed monkey face, Caboodles plastic cases and more — are now banking on their old customers wanting to relive their childhoods.
In addition to the Crocs partnership and one with BlendJet blenders, Lisa Frank also has a collaboration with Glendale-based children's clothes maker Posh Peanut for highly sought-after onesies, dresses and other products that sell out online in less than an hour. The round-edged Caboodles are marketed for holding grown-ups' makeup. Jelly shoes now come in adult sizes.
Although these brands are trying to capitalize on Gen Z's zeal for all things '90s, they're also clearly trying to re-engage their original customer base — and "growing up" their products to make the buy a little easier to sell.
"It's almost like you get to relive your nostalgia in the present day, whether it's through you or your child," said Danielle Sponder Testa, assistant professor of fashion at Arizona State University. "Who doesn't like a brightly colored kitty cat or puppy dog on their children's items, particularly in times that are stressful?"
Nostalgia marketing isn't new, but the '90s resurgence comes at a particularly tense time in America. The stresses of the pandemic, political strife and economic uncertainty all weigh heavily on consumers and can encourage yearnings for a simpler time, marketing experts say.
"For the past 10 to 15 years, there's been a lot of instability in the world," said Jannine Lasaleta, associate professor at Yeshiva University who studies nostalgia's effect on consumer behavior.
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