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Introducing tote bags into the high-end market as they make a periodic comeback

When it comes to carrying accessories, should they also be carrying a message? JW Anderson, Dior, Celine, Hermès come under the roof of reinterpreting tote bags

Since canvas was used in the past for taints, paintings, and sails, with the mass market, other materials such as cotton, linen, denim, twill, upholstery, and drapery fabrics became a commonality for tote bags. The Strand BookStore has introduced the latest design of the tote bag in the eightieth to hold books, and around 2012, expanded its merchandise with bags that besides utility served as a message carrier; in this case, a text was written on its surface to show that the customer enjoys reading books. This idea spread to the point where the bag’s exterior acted as a canvas for a painter or paper for a writer; hence, customers could personalize their text or images on their handbags to either make a statement or consider their fashion item a mode of self-expression to declare their preferences regarding politics, social issues, or favored shopping destinations. According to the British Retail Consortium, in 2007, the UK used 10.6 billion plastic bags. In 2010, after the I am not a Plastic Bag by Anya Hindmarch was created, the numbers dropped to 6.1 billion, saving 13,200 tonnes of virgin plastic. This means that one of the tote bags’ purposes is to decrease waste and become a replacement for those accessories that are hardly recyclable. 

The Tote bag’s history takes its roots circa from the Seventeenth century. The verb to tote was transformed into a noun only in 1944 when L.L.Bean – the brand specializing in outdoor recreation equipment – produced a bag for carrying ice from one place to another. Before the mid-twentieth century, it was used as a verb: to tote meant to carry. It took time to repurpose the bag as the carrier of ice. As a result, the accessory has integrated into household chores and groceries. When the function met fashion, L.L.Bean and other companies producing the tote bag experimented with leather handles, zippers, and prints, playing with the accessory’s original canvas version. After years of re-interpretation and trend evolution, an unfastened parallel handle bag has reached the high-end market with brands such as Dior, Stella McCartney, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermès, Celine, and JW Anderson. 

LOUIS VUITTON 1
CARRY IT TOTE BAG BY LOUIS VUITTON, STYLING BY ALISON BIZZI, PH. GIOVANNI VARLONGA

The canvas does not provide the element to the high-end tote bag reinterpretation. There is a need to apply leather, velvet, and a design that can fit the catwalk. The story of a high-end tote bag originated in 1984, from the Paris-London flight encounter between model Jane Birkin and Executive Chairman of Hermès Jean-Louis Dumas. The latter put Birkin’s straw bag on the overhead compartment of her seat, and the inside fell off on the deck. Birkin complained she couldn’t find a bag large enough to carry multiple objects inside. Inspired by this coincidence, Jean-Louis Dumas designed the Birkin bag that bore the tote concept and became a status symbol and an iconic piece from the Hermès collection. Hand-sewn in black leather using the traditional saddle stitching brought the Birkin Faubourg with 3-D effects and the Cargo piece that comes with multiple outside pockets defining functionality. The concept of a tote bag from the mass market has managed to appear on Chanel’s shelves in around three designs. Chanel made the bag in cotton aside from the other two designs in leather: one, a black rectangle-shape with crystal pearls realized with iconic stitching and the other in the form of a small sack. 

Released in 2007, the Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull was akin to the Goyard’s The Saint Louis tote bag until the time has reshaped the design that became one of the signature bags of the brand. As the name suggests, it has a vast space for carrying numerous objects, made of Damier Ebene coated canvas with an inside zipper pocket and a printed textile. In 2014, when it included an internal pouch, it also began increasing its price each year. In comparison to Louis Vuitton, Prada’s evolution of tote bags in canvas to nylon and leather materials changed its design notedly, from straight rectangular shape body to the latest white interwoven leather with a hot-pressed logo on the front. Its latest design stepped aside from the all-carry bag item and transformed a shopping bag into a luxury concept. Celine presented the same aesthetics of the bag in a Cabas Tote bag with a plain black calfskin leather handbag with parallel holders and a golden hot-pressed logo on the front. While displayed its products on the website, the brand does not refer to their designs as totes or shopping bags but backpacks, handbags, shoulder, and cross-body bags. 

In 2018, during the ready-to-wear show, Dior brought the tote bag design with a texture on its surface created by Marc Bohan in 1967. The bag Catherine Tote originally came in with a blue Oblique Dior pattern, and later was also embroidered with toile de Jouy motif. The product was presented multiple times during the subsequent collections. The same year, JW Anderson introduced its Belt Tote bag made out of wool felt fabric with leather belt handles. Two years later, it re-entered the collection with an updated color palette and an internal zipped pocket. This time it was transformed into an eco-conscious bag made from recycled plastic bottles. The announcement of merging the brand’s menswear and womenswear shows during London Fashion Week was the brand’s response to fast fashion. During summer 2020, when the lockdown was negatively impacting the operations of specific brands, JW Anderson came up with a non-traditional approach in presenting his 2021 collections as a Show in a box. This drive, to introduce alternative solutions for waste reduction and curate shows to reconsider values in the fashion industry during the post-pandemic, has subsequently combined into the brand’s latest initiative. Made in canvas using recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles, the JW Anderson eco-conscious Belt Tote bag is equal to around nine half-liter plastic bottles and carries a Global Standard Recycled certification.

The tote bags were meant to decrease the plastic waste deriving from the numerous plastic handbags used while doing the grocery. As the aesthetics are fixed in the product, the environmental impact becomes a topic for brands to delve into. Stella McCartney, known for its sustainable approach to redesigning fashion values, keeps in its archives the black leather Tote Bag Stella Logo and variations of Falabella designs with a diamond-cut silver chain. The Falabella from Fall 2017 is entirely composed of polyester lining and Aquafil’s ECONYL yarn, while Tote Bag Stella Logo is half polyurethane and polyester. The objective is to use recycled synthetic materials in production to promote less-plastic bag usage and lean towards the environmental philosophy of producing a repurposed bag to repurpose the industry. According to 2018’s Life Cycle Assessment of Grocery Carrier Bags report by the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, classic plastic bags, known as low-density polyethylene (LDPE), handed out in the stores have the least environmental impact. Organic cotton must be reused multiple times to meet the positive ecological impact (20,000 versus 7,000 times) compared to plastic bags. Besides, because of little infrastructure for textile recycling, it is challenging to recycle cotton. 

Several brands tend to bring back the past tote bags with new features in the upcoming collections. The pragmatism of the product forecasted its position in the market. According to the Global Tote Bags Market 2019-2023 research published at ResearchAndMarkets.com, the market will register a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of over 5% by 2023. Kering, LVMH, Tapestry Inc., Capri Holding Limited, and Samsonite International S.A. focus on consumer engagement and accentuate its awareness as demand for luxury handbags rises. 


IMAGE GALLERY

A Tote bag is a large bag made of cloth, with two handles. There are no interior or exterior pockets.
It is made to tote (carry) things around while shopping or traveling

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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