How the tote bag obsession conquered the world

Saúl Guzman bought a tote bag in 2010 which has not left him since. While walking through a small street fair in London one day, he spotted a denim blue fabric tote, sturdy suspenders and a simple illustration from Daunt Books.

Although he loved the bag, Guzman – who was a student at the time – thought that around £ 10 was a bit pricey. But he decided to buy it anyway after noticing “a really cool label” that said the bag was made by a non-profit organization that helps Indians make a living while supporting the environment. For him, this label transformed the tote bag, becoming not only a way to carry things, but a way to express his personal style while helping other communities.

“The tote bag was almost like an investment,” Guzman said, saying he liked how cool it was, but also “that it supported a local bookstore, and that it was made with so much caring and helping people “.

For many of us, bins are more than just receptacles for shopping, and have instead become an essential part of our daily lives, bringing us a sense of comfort and connection everywhere from groceries to our flows. TikTok. Even fashion-conscious Carrie Bradshaw will swap her Fendi wand for an NPR tote bag in And just like that, the Sex and the city to restart.

The tote bag did not become a ubiquitous accessory overnight. Over the past few decades, however, it has become a bag of choice for so many people, in large part because of the simple and functional way it helps to express itself.

The canvas of a tote bag is, well, a blank canvas. Yours can say a lot about you: what posts you read, where you align yourself politically, what you believe in, what you dream of or who you love. It can all live on a single piece of cloth, neutral or brash, simple or complicated. The customizable and mutable nature of this accessory has helped the obsession transcend generations.

There are of course downsides to a tote’s simplicity, which is its lack of nuance, in that it becomes easy to talk without walking. Someone might carry a tote bag that declares her “feminist,” for example, but not really caring about the issues women face in their communities. A tote bag with a slogan will not bring us liberation. But for some of us whose identities are inherently political, the catch-all can serve as an expression of our positions and identities.

Even when they fall off our shoulders every five seconds when we wear our coats in the winter, we still love them. They empower each of us to say who we are, and to do so in a convenient and affordable way. Is it any wonder that we are obsessed?

“The tote bag is part of a larger trend in fashion democratization,” said Professor Dicky Yangzom, a cultural and economic sociologist at New York University. “Originally, these textiles [like canvas] were intended for work. Similar to the fashionable utility clothing with the rise of the jumpsuit, this was not designed for mass fashion. It was more geared towards people who do more manual labor, right? So all of those categories are changing.

Now, tote bags are everywhere: as marketing tools, as merch for artists and for designers to have a more accessible accessory to sell. A $ 6 Forever 21 “avocado” tote, a $ 15 hand-painted bag from an Etsy seller, the free Vogue or New Yorker canvas bag that comes with a magazine subscription and a Dior tote bag at $ 3,250 all fall into the same Category (quite lucrative): According to Technavio market research, the tote bag market is worth $ 334.5 million.

“Luxury brands have picked up the idea of ​​the tote itself, this is how capitalism works,” Yangzom said. From Dior to Marc Jacobs, haute couture brands have designed their own take on tote bags, with their own branding and high price range. “A tote bag is one of those things that has succeeded – like that mundane, humble object – to break through,” she explained. “Tote bags are here to stay. “

Part of the reason for the tote bag’s longevity is the way the item makes us feel. “It’s like ‘oh, I’m an intellectual! “said Nicki Camberg, a junior at Barnard College, referring to the traditional New Yorker tote bag and others used as marketing for literary and journalistic publications.

Camberg calls his own tote bags “Emotional Support Tote Bags.”“The usefulness of a tote bag can be sentimental in giving you the comfort of feeling prepared, but it can also be very literal in that it can hold anything you might need. “I just need a way to have all the possessions I have on me accessible at all times,” she explained, whether she’s shopping or taking a walk. “What if I need 20 headbands and a packet of chewing gum?” ”

When she was in her first year in college, Camberg found herself drawn to tote bags for their practicality as well as the way they showed them to others.

“I was like, ‘Well, my back hurts’” after using a backpack for a while, she explained. “And everyone judges backpacks, but no one judges a tote bag. Also, I felt like I looked less like a child.

For Julles Hernandez, a Puerto Rican fashion writer and stylist, also known as “The Bold Budget”, the tote bags she owns are standout pieces that complement her outfits and hold dear memories. “I have $ 1 and designer bags, probably over 25 in total. It’s my favorite thing in the world, ”Hernandez said. (She even has an Off-White tote named after her best friend.)

The tote bag has symbolic depths. Yangzom explained that the vital aspect of the tote bag is highly valued because of the history of human rituals. In the pre-modern era, she said, people had very strong beliefs about religion and symbols that matched their respective religious practices. These institutions have not entirely collapsed, of course, but the relationship that many have with them, and certainly our collective values, have changed and evolved. However, the human urge to cherish an object is innate.

“What does not change is our need to believe in something and to have our beliefs solidified by an object or a symbol. So before, maybe you revere statues or a photograph or something, right, but how is that different from the tote bag? She explained. The ritual of wrapping our lives in these bags, of taking them daily with us, of feeling their weight on our shoulders, of making their messages visible to all perhaps has become essential to our daily life and to our identities.

As the proud owner of Too Many Tote Bags, I have stories and memories for each one. They represent parts of me and have provided solace in my college and postgraduate life, weaving into my experiences over the years.

My favorite tote bag looks simple, but the words written on it represent everything I dream of for my country of Puerto Rico: República del Caribe: Libre, Mágica, Independiente, which translates to “Caribbean Republic: Free , magical, independent ”in big red letters, designed by an art collective called Macondo Herald. One day, at my godfather’s, I presented myself with the tote bag and his wife said to me: “You are still with this tote bag!” I smiled. It has become an extension of me, a reflection of my identity.

The truth is that this piece of cloth, a simple bag with two straps, can still hug you as you take a walk or when you explore a new place, with all its memories, with the strength to carry whatever you are there. put on and the ability to share a little of yourself with the world wherever you go.

Nicole Collazo Santana is a New York-based journalist and part of the First Cohort of the Vox Media Writers Workshop. His work has appeared in Refinery29, NPR, 9 Million, and more.

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