Your Tote Bag Says Much About You – WSJ

Someone I love is working with tote bags!

THE DECISION ON which of the 29 tote bags stashed in your closet to bring on your Saturday afternoon stroll can spark a minor identity crisis.

Kyle Chayka, a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y., says he owns somewhere between 12 and 20 tote bags. He favors a red one with both long and short straps, from clothing brand Freitag (acquired as a conference freebie) and an especially roomy Christie’s bag which he likes on the weekends.

“They’ve become visible status symbols,” Mr. Chayka says. “It’s like the equivalent of wearing a sports jersey.” A tote shows what style and brands you affiliate with, he says.

Totes are conversation starters, the way noticing the book someone is reading on the subway used to be, he says. “Sometimes when you see a tote bag, you know that person is one degree of separation from you.”

Sturdy, canvas, waterproof or made of recycled material, tote bags take up an expanding part of our lives (and car trunks) as cities, counties and states continue to im- pose fees or bans on plastic bags. Stores either give them away free with purchase or sell them for a couple bucks in the hopes that consumers will like them and carry them—and that others will notice.

“They are walking billboards,” says Ty Haney, founder of Outdoor Voices, an athletic-leisure clothing brand that emphasizes recreational play over performance. Its tote bags, which come free with an instore purchase, carry the slogan “technical apparel for recreation.” Ms. Haney says it is a more cost effective way of advertising than buying online ads because it gets the brand name into neighborhoods and scenes where there are lots of potential customers.

The company’s investment is $5 a bag, and it says it distributes thousands in its stores each month, but declined to specify a number.

Jonathan Hochman, an internet marketing consultant in Cheshire, Conn., says that “for $5,000 worth of bags, you could probably buy 3 to 5 million online impressions.” It takes five views of an online ad for the brand to really register with someone, he says. A real-world logo on a bag, however, “is actually a testimonial,” he says.

When totes are durable and reusable they become longerlived ad campaigns. Swimwear label 6 Shore Road’s founder, Pooja Kharbanda, says that she made 1,000 tote bags to distribute at pop-up stores in Montauk, N.Y., and Newport, R.I., this summer. She estimates the cost is 2.5 times what it would be if she had just chosen paper bags. For a customer who might forget about the brand over the winter, “they could pick it up again and think ‘maybe I should check out what new things they have,’ ” says Ms. Kharbanda.

Some retailers sell the bags to help cover the cost. H& M’s tote bags cost $2 to $4 and help spread the word about its garment recycling program. Customers who trade in old clothing or textiles can get 15% off their purchase. The bags proclaim: “There’s only one rule in fashion: Recycle your clothes” or “Bring it: The lonely sock, the stained shirt, the washed-out dress and it will be reborn.”

“We know that word of mouth is the strongest kind of advertising,” says Marybeth Schmitt, communications manager for H& M North America, which operates 477 stores in the U.S. “And, this is like a form of word of mouth.”

Catherine Depret’s black, Honest Co., glow-in-the dark, Halloween-themed tote has become the daily day care bag for 5-year-old Alexandre, says the Washington D.C., attorney. She originally got the tote with a shipment of diapers.

“The canvas is sturdy and I like the design,” she says. “If it was a brand I didn’t like, I wouldn’t like it as much.”


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