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Chosen by Designers, for Designers: the Definitive Guide to Tote Bags

“A constant reminder of bougie lifestyle choices and a shameful weakness for taking Free Shit.”

They’ve taken over the coat hanger. They’re balled up under the bed. Their spindly handles peek out from all the drawers in your house. It seems you’ve got a tote for every mood, outfit, and whim; one to represent every brand you’ve ever supported, every type foundry you’ve ever bought a typeface from, and every band you’ve ever loved. You’ve even got a tote filled with totes.

Business cards are very much out, and despite the fact that we’ve all got more than we ever hope to use, totes continue to remain very much in. What better way for clients to remember you, or for conference goers to promote next year’s event than a walking canvas billboard that doubles as a bag? All designers have one, and nearly all designers have made one. So how do you know which tote to choose?

In a bid to inspire tote reduction, we’ve asked a handful of designers to select their desert island tote for us. Let’s keep only our most beloved and best designed totes for the purpose they serve best—and figure out a creative way to recycle the rest.

1
The “Fi Chi” Tote

Tala Safié, designer at Eye on Design, selects Farah Fayyad

“This tote was given to me by Beirut-based Arabic lettering boss Farah Fayyad. She designed it using two ligatures from Kufur, a contemporary Arabic display typeface based on the archaic Kufic script that she designed back in 2016.

“I particularly like the fact that Farah produced the bag herself in her screen-printing studio Nice Nice Prints, where she custom makes tees and totes—even balloons—in collaboration with emerging designers from the region. The tote reads ‘Fi Chi’, ‘Fi’ on one side, and ‘Chi’ on the other, a common everyday Arabic expression for ‘something’s up’ or ‘something’s in here’. It’s also a subtle reference to having something “inside” the bag.

“This tote is far from being an ambulant type specimen that could be confused with type-convention-swag. I see it as a modern and quirky interpretation of Arabic calligraphy, and a celebration of its distinct and playful letterforms. A revival that takes another dimension by being featured on an everyday object.”

A second tote that’s dear to Safié? This bag-shaped homage to Paul Klee. “I’m not a fan of museum gift shops, but this one is an exception. I got it at Centre Pompidou back in 2016 after attending a great retrospective of his work.”

Paul Klee tote.

2
The Plastic Bag

Loes van Esch and Simone Trum, founders of Team Thursday, select Jieun Yang

“We really like the form of the bag, and the transparency of it combined with the letters and Webdings pictograms. It feels so plastic, which matches with the dingbats, and we like the contrast of that when compared to the cotton tote bags we usually wear. We wear this bag on many occasions, whether hiking or going out, because it can be worn on the back.

“The designer is Jieun Yang, she’s based in Seoul. We like the way she combines or collages existing props in her work, making them into a clear aesthetic. This bag is made for Korean brand Pic, an art consulting service by illustrator Noh Sang Ho, who is inspired by pictures found on the internet. Jieun translated this in the graphic design by using the dingbats for the letters corresponding to the brand name.”

When Esch and Trum need an extra tote to accompany them, they turn to this friendly black and white bag by Corners, a Risograph workshop also based in Seoul. “The simple explorer figure on the bag accompanies us to many places.”

Corners tote

3
The Bookworm’s Tote

Ken Kirton of Hato Press selects Printed Matter

“I use this Printed Matter tote for the transportation of powerful books. It’s a very utilitarian bag. When wearing it, it adds 100 points to your IQ. It might be spelt wrong, but I’m still thinking on it…

“The bag was designed by a friend of mine Benjamin Critton, a designer in the U.S. He also works as a type designer as a part of the team from Colophon Foundry.  I’ve always appreciated his acute sense of bold condensed typography, there’s a strong impact in each of his typographic compositions as well as a delicate attention to details.”

London-based Hato Press also produce its own very fine tote, available in black or lemon yellow:

Hato Press tote.

4
The Work and Travel Tote

Indrek Sirkel, founder of Lugemik, selects Dinamo

“I usually use the bag when I’m travelling, hence the Work and Travel brand works well for me.

“I really like it for several reasons. It’s black, so it doesn’t get dirty easily. It has two different length handles, so it’s easy to carry in your hand or over the shoulder, and it has a separate pocket inside for various small things. But as much I love the design of the bag, I also like the design on it. Wonderful type by Felix Salut, published by my good friends Johannes and Fabian at Dinamo together with the lovely people at Actual Source, who I’ve met several times at the NY Art Book Fair.

“I have a personal connection to Felix as well. When I moved to Amsterdam in 2004 to start my studies at the graphic design department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, then he was kind to let us stay at his apartment for the first week as we had no other place to crash. But as we didn’t know Felix back then, the stay was set up by another good friend Serge Rompza from Node. Without getting too sentimental, for me the bag represents a connection of old friends and new ones that I’ve made along the way as a practicing graphic designer.”

When Sirkel’s not working or travelling, you’ll spot him with this pink tote by Homocats. “We always meet founder J. Morrison at NY Art Book Fair and we stock his zines, shirts and totes for our bookshop, Lugemik, in Tallinn.” More information, and totes, can be found at homocats.com.

Kittens Against Trump tote bag.

5
The Backup Tote

Erik Carter selects waltz

“Deep in the crevasses of my kitchen cabinets, under the pile of sponges and to the right of the dishwasher detergent there is a pile of tote bags. A canvas mountain of unloved swag. Amongst them is a bag from a VICE party where I got choke-slammed and my eyeglasses were smashed. A tote from a graphic design foosball tournament (yes, that’s a thing). There’s a tote from a store called Outdoor Voices. You see this bag often in New York City, a place that is not outdoors and stuffed with totes.

“This pile of free bags haunts me. A constant reminder of bougie lifestyle choices and a shameful weakness for taking Free Shit. Why are there so many totes in my possession? Why are there so many totes on this god forsaken Earth? Is it because they look good in advertising pitch decks? And do they only look good because of how easy they are to mock up?

“If I had to pick a favorite—and by favorite I mean ‘my backpack’s backup’—it would be a bag from a record store in Tokyo called waltz. It just says ‘waltz.’ No clever pun. No snarky pop culture reference. No signaling that I am a subscriber of a magazine. It’s just a bag for pretentious music nerds and no one ever talks to me about it. It is invisible. I am totes ashamed.”

 

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