Choosing sustainable bags that don't sacrifice fashion

Editor’s note: Although this article was intended for the distributor audience, brands should pay attention to the opportunities that exist in the sustainable bag market. 

Sustainability is often at the forefront of most people’s minds. Increasingly, people are finding ways in their everyday routines to live green with the help of reusable water bottles, dryer balls, shampoo bars, and — most importantly for this article — reusable bags.

As the usage of single-use plastic bags continues to decline, with major metropolitan cities like Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle all enacting plastic bag bans, reusable totes are gaining more popularity — making them a great solution for distributors to pitch.

According to industry expert Traci Tarquinio, vice president of product development for Largo, Florida-based Hit Promotional Products, peak selling times for totes and bags range between March and October. So, as the months get closer, let’s break down the opportunities bags and totes can present, and how to make the most of them.

Companies like Sportsman Cap & Bag, Lenexa, Kansas, are noticing the increased popularity of tote bags, and it’s a trend they plan to follow, says Paige Hofer, the supplier’s national educator.

“Customers are looking for bags they can easily reuse and are easy to decorate,” Hofer says. “So, we have added the eco-friendly option this year.”

Q-Tees Economical Tote from Sportsman Cap & Bag

Q-Tees Economical Tote from Sportsman Cap & Bag

Maribeth Sandford, CEO of Bag Makers Inc., Union, Illinois, says several new-for-2023 products, like the company’s R-PET Non-Woven Totes, Cotton Twill-Handle Eco Eurototes, and Eco Die Cut Shoppers, were inspired by heightened customer interest in eco-friendly products.

“Most of our bags are reusable and many can be recycled,” Sandford explains. “We continue to expand our product line to keep up with demand and our responsibility to the environment. We offer a variety of eco-friendly, reusable options in our non-woven, polyester, PET, R-PET non-woven, paper, and cotton/jute collections.”

Be Fashion-Forward

With totes and bags, if customers are going to sport them out in public, they’ll likely want them to be fashionable. Because, let’s be real, how many old totes do you have shoved in the back of your closet from conventions and trade shows? In the moment, they’re convenient. But, after all is said and done, they never see the light of day again. So, how can you change that?

Tarquinio says it’s a must to stay up to date on the latest trends in fashion if you want your bag to stand out.

“The fashion trends that we followed from 2023 lifestyle research incorporated sport luxe; elevated athleisure; globetrotting, as people are traveling internationally again; and, of course, sustainability is key,” she says. “This all led to our product development of new materials, light weight but durable, eco-friendly but looks luxurious at a value cost.”

Bayshore Boat Tote Bag from Hit Promotional Products

Recently, Hit launched the Anywhere Belt Bag, which has been coined a lululemon “dupe,” or duplicate. Tarquinio says it remains one of Hit’s best-selling products thanks to its likeness to high-end athleisure brands — further proof that following fashion trends is a step in the right direction for distributors.

Tarquinio also notes that the styling was most important as they learned from these fashion trends that people are on the go again, and the bags they carry should be multifunctional. From slings converting to waist packs to large totes, they can fold down small for travel, or feature mixed materials and quick-access pockets.

Tarquinio also warns not to limit bags to trade shows and conventions. Instead, she advises distributors to pair bags with items like drinkware. “It’s great for tech companies, the automotive industry, the hotel and entertainment segment, restaurants, [and] healthcare, and it’s great for content creators,” she says.

Dress up the Packaging and the Product

As people expect higher quality of their promo products, packaging should be no different. If the product itself is going to be sleek and stylish, the packaging should match that aesthetic.

“Packaging has been trending toward a more upscale, boutique-type style,” Sandford says. “We responded to this trend by adding bags with ribbon and cotton-twill handles to our line, which lend a high-end look and feel. We offer a full collection of custom tissue, ribbon, and bows to complete their packaging and add a higher perceived value to the gift or giveaway.”

Hit has also followed suit with its care in packaging and decoration of products. Tarquinio says the company has added things, including leather patches, puff patches, woven patches, loop labels, tackle twill, and flex patches. She believes such features elevate the customer logo and brand. Sandford remarks that a mistake distributors make is not offering packaging options like bags and tissue for every giveaway or promotional product they sell.

“Presenting packaging as an option with every order is the easiest way to add incremental sales,” Sandford says.

Make it Special

Another way to stand out is to make a product a little extra special. Adding a logo is a starting point, but Sandford says there is more distributors can do, and she cautions them against taking the easy route.

“I often see distributors not plan ahead enough to provide custom options to customers,” she says. “Custom bags set distributors apart from their competition, and it’s surprisingly easy to go from having a bag with your name on it to having your very own bag. By allowing a little more lead time, distributors can explore custom bag options and may save money on large-quantity orders of stock items.”

Sandford recalls an instance with a full-service vacation rental management company that needed 30,000 tote bags to gift customers renting vacation properties on the Gulf Coast.

She says the team at Bag Makers Inc. worked with the distributor to develop a large-quantity custom order of smooth-laminated totes with a four-color process on all sides. The totes featured stock navy blue handles, sewn piping, aluminum insulation lining, foam filler, and a clear plastic bottom insert for structural support.

USA-Made Non-Woven Totes from Bag Makers Inc.

The vibrant four-color imprint featured artwork created by a six-year-old boy who combs local beaches for litter and plastic, and composes art from the scraps. The artist and his father created an organization to clean beaches and waterways, and inspire others to do the same. The imprint included the organization’s mission statement and website address on the side gussets.

“The totes were a beautiful and practical welcome gift for vacation property guests, and could be used to carry groceries, beach gear, laundry, and more,” Sandford says. It ticked all of the boxes for what a tote bag promotion could be, and created a memorable experience for the guests.

This article originally appeared on our sister site Promo Marketing.

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