What Does Your Tote Bag Say About You?

People turn into walking billboards for brands as bags become ‘visible status symbols’

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 impose 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 in-store 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.

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