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Trend Watch: The Canvas Tote Bag


Museum of Fine Arts, Houston | Bags created by Creative Retail Packaging

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston | Bags created by Creative Retail Packaging

Packaging turned fashion trend?

A sustainable packaging solution has now been coined as the “anti-it bag” according to an article released last month by Who What Wear. This “forever favorite” amongst fashion insiders is a “true classic” with “major staying power.”

This classic is the Canvas Tote Bag.

“No matter which trends arrive on the runways or in the wardrobes of celebs, the tote bag is a practical piece that will always come in handy whether you’re going on a grocery run or need a little extra room for a laptop.”
— Kristen Nicols, Who What Wear

These bags are popping up all over the industry. For example, The New York Times recently gave out a canvas tote bag with a magazine subscription. Austin-based retailer Outdoor Voices went viral with their totes through their recent social campaign highlighting customers wearing their canvas tote bags. And many more brands are jumping on the bandwagon.

Here at Creative Retail Packaging, we like to keep a pulse on industry trends within the retail packaging space, especially those backed by sustainability.

Within this space, we recognize that Gen Z is the market segment leading the charge for this sustainable trend. To gain an inside perspective, we took the time to interview two canvas bag fanatics within this segment, Rachel MacNeill and Jensen Crenshaw.

Rachel is a senior at Miami University studying Photography and Entrepreneurship. She has previously photographed for the Chicago Blackhawks and NHL as Live Social Contributor, and she is currently the Creative Director of the Ross K MacNeill Foundation. Jensen is a senior at Biola University, studying Biblical Studies and Business. She has previously worked as a Development Assistant for Young Life and is currently on their Student Staff.

Rachel MacNeill

Rachel MacNeill

Jensen Crenshaw

Jensen Crenshaw

Here is what they had to share with us during our conversation…

CRP: What is it that you love about your tote bag?

JENSEN: More than anything, I love that my tote bag is reusable. It’s something that speaks to my personality, my brand, my interests and hobbies, while also supporting a green and eco-friendly lifestyle. Living in Southern California there as an expectation and culture surrounding being environmentally conscious, and my tote bag is one manifestation of that in my day-to-day life. I love taking my totes to the grocery store and having it function as my grocery bag. I always get compliments or comments on my bag, sparking fun conversations that would have otherwise not happened!

RACHEL: I love the size, big enough to fit a small grocery run and my wallet inside. I love that it’s unstructured and foldable so I can shove it into my backpack if needed. I love the screen-printed text on it and the casual/stylish-but-not-trying vibe it gives me.

How do you use your tote bag?

JENSEN: I also love how versatile my tote bags are. I use it as my purse (here would be a good time to mention that I haven’t bought a purse for myself in YEARS because I just have totes that function so much better and are way more fun!), it’s my beach bag, it’s my “trash bag” in my car, my travel bags, and have even served as gifts for friends that like the brands that are represented on them! The tote bag somehow fits every outfit, every occasion, and is always fashionable and fun. The versatility and thereby the longevity of a tote bag is one of the best qualities about quality totes!

RACHEL: I use it in place of a purse or my Longchamp bag, especially on campus at school. I use it when I need to carry my laptop but don’t want my whole backpack.

Photo Via Rachel MacNeill

Photo Via Rachel MacNeill

What is the importance of sustainability to you? How does your tote bag tie into your sustainability goals?

JENSEN: Sustainability is incredibly important to me. Since I live in Los Angeles sustainability is something that is consistently pushed to the forefront of my mind. More than anything, I have just become more conscientious of my ethical responsibility to steward this earth well by maintaining its beauty and natural resources. That being said, totes are such a helpful factor in this. From literally never buying a grocery bag again (yes, they cost 10 cents in California), to limiting my purchasing on fast-fashion bags because I am content with my totes, to reusing the material to make other beautiful and unique things, my tote bag has offered me more flexibility and creativity, while also maintaining a small environmental footprint!

RACHEL: Really important. I try to be very conscientious of the single-use waste I do contribute, so I use my tote in place of plastic bags. I always use them at the grocery, and I have a tote in the back of my car just in case. Carrying mine is easy and cute and makes me feel like I’m making a difference by not putting more waste into the world.

What is the association with brand loyalty when it comes to your tote? How has the branding pulled you in? How do you identify with it?

JENSEN: Brand loyalty is incredibly important when I consider my tote bags. Since I use my totes not only as a practical tool throughout my day, but also as part of my branding and fashion choices, I am representing companies and brands that I believe in and love! I think that branding is HUGE when it comes to my tote bag usage. If the totes were not cute / weren’t a representation of my personality, hobbies, interests, or personal goals and convictions, then I wouldn’t be interested in incorporating them!

My favorite have to be my Outdoor Voices totes. They’ve done an incredible job with their branding for their tote bags. Their designs are unique, fun, and cute, which makes repping them exciting. I also love that each city has a unique and specific tote bag color for their store, which makes it an experience to be able to sport certain colors and share the stories behind how you got there! It also makes it a lot more fun to be able to bring certain totes in a specific color back for friends who are also invested in the brand and look that OV represents!

RACHEL: All 3 of my canvas totes are from brands I care about a lot. One is from my family’s foundation with our logo on it. It’s a big colorful circle, so it’s a fun conversation starter if someone’s curious about what the logo is from or where to get a bag like it. Another one I have is from Outdoor Voices. Love their messaging about how moving and exercise is for everyone, is for me!!, and NOT just competitive athletes. Their branding is exceptional, I’m super drawn to their typography and colors. My other favorite tote came with a Harry Styles record I bought. It’s my smallest one so I carry that one most like a purse with just my wallet (sometimes laptop or book inside). It’s simple, another canvas-colored bag but with black “Harry Styles Fine Line” text across the front.

What factors are you looking for when it comes to tote bags? Think brand affiliation, structural design, graphic design, sustainability, messaging, etc.

JENSEN: I love tote bags that are sustainable and strong! Tote bags that are clearly made well last so much longer and are even more versatile. I also love Canvas materials with bright colors that show specific branding of companies that I particularly identify with. So, I would have to say that the brand affiliation, but more than anything the design and structural design, are the most important factors in my tote!

But also, a fun or meaningful message is super important to me too. I love to wear something that starts a conversation. I feel like canvas totes have that power.

RACHEL: I’m most drawn to design so as long as the bag itself is functional and can hold the weight of my laptop, I’m looking for graphics/text. I like something easy that I can sling on my shoulder but also something with really cool text.

In summary, here are some key considerations when crafting the perfect tote…

  • Tote bags are on-trend not just for their looks, but for their functionality, sustainability, and extension of your brand message.

  • Keep multi-functional shapes and sizes in mind. Consumers truly look to them as the “all-in-one bag.” They need to be constructed to be the purse, the grocery bag, the trash bag, and more.

  • Less is more: bold graphics and simple messaging speak volumes.

  • Think about what it is you want to convey to the world. Your tote bag is a walking billboard for your brand; don’t be afraid to make a statement.