Editor's Picks: Carry On

Is there anything more useful than a bag? Simply put, bags allow people to carry more items than they could using only their hands. Because of this function, bags have played an important role in the development of civilization.

In the early days, cave dwellers fashioned bags out of animal skins and used them to collect berries and grains. Today, we choose between paper or plastic at the grocery story, or, if we have really evolved, we bring our own reusable bags.

In the promotional products industry, bags have been a long-time favorite. According to PPAI’s 2018 Sales Volume Study, bags comprised the fifth largest product category, responsible for 5.4 percent of total product sales.

Gwen Brey, marketing coordinator for New Ulm, Minnesota-based supplier Beacon Promotions, Inc., says there are many reasons why bags are so popular for promotional campaigns, including the wide variety of materials, styles, colors and the larger (often two-sided) imprint areas for logos.

“Totes are pretty easy to sell because of the great views, months of use and cost per impression,” Brey says, noting that a tote is kept for an average of 11 months, and 73 percent of consumers own a promotional tote.

Brookelynn Miller, content marketing manager for Fountain Valley, California-based supplier Origaudio, says high-quality bags make for popular executive gifts or welcome gifts for new hires. “They also are the perfect bundle item, since you can fill a bag with other fun, useful, branded items,” she adds.

As a product category, bags seem to be evolving in step with societal and retail trends. For instance, in the retail marketplace, the backpack has made a comeback and continues to grow in popularity, particularly among women.

“Rise of the Lady Backpack,” a May 2019 story published in The Atlantic, notes that more women are ditching their handbags and wearing backpacks to the office. Their reason? Backpacks hold much more than purses—such as a laptop, makeup, gym clothes, a water bottle, a notebook, etc. The rise is largely being led by women who work in big cities, especially those who commute, because backpacks are more comfortable and keep hands free. According to the market research company NPD, sales of women’s backpacks rose 28 percent in the past year.

Experts say sales of women’s backpacks are consistently rising in the retail market, and this trend is also evident in the promotional products industry. Miller says she has seen the popularity of the “lady backpack” grow, and this trend has influenced product decisions at Origaudio. “More women are gravitating toward backpacks for their daily commute or everyday carry,” Miller says. “We’ve seen great success launching our mini backpack, the Beemini, and stylish duffels like the Danville that women would be proud to tote around.”

Carrie Lewis, marketing and communication manager for Clearwater, Florida-based supplier BIC Graphic NA, says their top-sellers include totes, cooler bags and, especially, backpacks.

“Backpacks are definitely our fastest-growing bag category,” Lewis says. “We are consistently launching new backpack styles from our proprietary brands like Koozie and KAPSTON, and have also partnered with retail brands Osprey and Incase to provide an assortment of backpack styles and price points to meet this demand.”

When it comes to design, consumers now expect a bag that is as functional as it is stylish; a trend that has influenced the design of promotional bags. “Nowadays, you don’t have to sacrifice aesthetics to get features such as padded laptop sleeves, tech ports or luggage pass-throughs,” Miller says.

Anything that helps people’s bags stay organized is important to end users right now,” Lewis says. “People want to be hands-free while still being able to carry all their essentials.”

Other types of bags are also evolving to meet customers’ changing needs, such as bags constructed of eco-friendly or sustainable materials. Brey notes a growing concern about plastics ending up in the ocean and harming marine life—an awareness that similarly led to the rise in paper straws over the past year. “We are seeing customers wanting the reusable totes, so they can be earth-conscious and not have a negative impact on our world,” she says. “The big push is the ban on plastic bags in many cities and states, and being environmentally friendly.” See related sidebar.

Read on to explore some great bag options for gifts, incentives and promotions, and get tips on choosing bags with the right kind of handles for your campaigns.


Made of 100 percent cotton, this canvas tote bag is a good choice for brands that want to appeal to eco-conscious consumers, who prefer bags made of natural fibers. Weighing about six ounces, this lightweight bag suits any occasionwhether that's grocery shopping or working out at the gym. The bag's cotton fabric makes it both recyclable and washable for long-lasting brand exposure.


Chocolate Inn/Taylor & Grant/Lanco /    PPAI 111662 /    www.chocolateinn.com


Combining the practicality of a backpack with the accessibility of a fanny pack, the Osprey Daylite Sling features an innovative design that is both comfortable to wear and easily accessible. The sling uses a breathable and soft NeoSpacer mesh material on its single, anatomically-shaped shoulder strap for next-to-skin comfort, even on hot days, and includes extra pockets, sleeves and a key clip for on-the-go organization. The best part? You don’t have to remove the pack to grab your gear; just rotate it over your shoulder to retrieve what you need.

BIC Graphic NA   /   PPAI 114187 /   www.bicgraphic.com


High fashion meets high function in the Ted Baker Albany Wheeled Business Case. Perfect for the jetsetter, this tailored briefcase features two smooth-rolling wheels for easy concourse navigation, and has plenty of pockets to keep tech gear and travel essentials in order. The telescoping pull handle neatly zips into the case, making it easy to carry by hand. Polished rose-gold-tone hardware and a foil-embossed Ted Baker logo make this bag—and your client’s brand—stand out from the crowd.

KleerWest  /  PPAI 601859  /  www.kleerwest.com


Rugged, dashing and durable, the large-capacity Danville Duffel has space to fit everything needed for a trip or excursion. It stores large items like jackets and shoes with ease and secures belongings with both a zipper and button flap on the top portion of the bag. Made from cotton canvas with a water-resistant coating, this durable bag comes with a long, adjustable and removable shoulder strap and brass buttons on the bottom to protect the duffel bag when it’s resting on the ground.

Origaudio   /   PPAI 421483    /   www.origaudiopromo.com


Travel in style while keeping suits and dresses wrinkle-free with this executive-style hanging Valet Bag. It provides multiple pockets to keep personal belongings, shoes and other accessories organized and easy to find. Carry it with the adjustable, padded shoulder strap or use the trolley strap, which allows the user to slip the item over the handle of a carry-on and float down the aisle of the plane.

Peerless Umbrella   /   PPAI 112666   /   www.peerlessumbrella.com


The Lightning Washable Kraft Paper Oversize Tote Bag is an innovative product to introduce to your client. It features an eye-catching design with trendy, contoured bottom corners, 24-inch black web handles and piping to display a brand in style. Boasting an extra-large carrying capacity, this tote can be washed by hand or machine—just lay flat to dry—giving your client’s brand long-term advertising exposure.

American Ad Bag Co.   /   PPAI 111067   /   www.adbag.com


Perfect for beach-themed promotions, the Sand Repellent Beach Bag is made of an allergen-free polyester blend that repels sand and dries quickly. Available in five vibrant colors—royal blue, coastal blue, red, orange and lime—this bag comes with an easy-carry, long shoulder strap. Your client’s logo can be imprinted or embroidered on this casual, yet practical beach tote.

Pro Towels /   PPAI 112755   /   www.protowels.com


When nothing but the best will do, this lightweight leather briefcase is perfect for traveling or commuting to the office. A natural choice for incentives and rewards programs, the Commuter Brief Bag has reinforced handles, an adjustable, padded shoulder strap, a padded interior pocket with a divider, a zippered front pocket and a trolley sleeve on the backside for easy carry.

Strong Leather   /   PPAI 113072   /   www.strongleather.com


When the heat is on this summer, keep things cool with this Koozie Quilted Kooler Tote. Inside, refreshments stay chilled in the insulated compartment. Outside, the look is trendy with a side quilted accent. This tote features a zippered main compartment, front vertical zipper pocket, adjustable shoulder strap and heat-sealed PEVA liner to keep summer snacks cool with ice packs. It’s ideal for outdoor occasions, festivals and sporting events.

BIC Graphic NA / PPAI 114187   /    www.bicgraphic.com


When buyers want a tote that’s eco-friendlier than a plastic bag, the Non-Woven Carry All Tote is a great option. Generously sized and durable, this tote replaces two standard-sized plastic bags and has a removable bottom base. Better still, it’s made of non-woven, recycled, 90-gram polypropylene, which is recyclable in participating communities and takes less energy to manufacture than cotton. Polypropylene can be made with as much as 25 percent pre-consumer recycled materials. It includes a large, front slash pocket and 14-inch self-material handles.

Beacon Promotions / PPAI 11370   /  www.beaconpromotions.com


With each purchase, a local fashion boutique bagged the customer’s purchase in an imprinted, laminated tote as a thank-you gift to their customers. The Laminated Fashion Tote is a sturdy, reusable tote with a laminated surface that wipes clean. Because of the tote’s trendy design, the retailer saw its customers re-using the tote as a gift bag, and using it to carry essentials for a night out, a trip to the beach, etc. The boutique bought two sizes of the totes, so they would have the correct size to fit customers’ purchases. The boutique was pleased with the additional advertising they received every time their customers re-used the totes.

Source: Beacon Promotions


In retail fashion, the bag word in handbags is shape. Elle magazine spoke with three fashion buyers to find out what's in--what's out--this season. Impress your client when selecting promotional backpacks and similar items by looking for items that mirror trends noted in the Elle article.

  1. Vintage-inspired shapes are big this season, including flap shoulder bags and tailored top handles. Along with the classic look are vintage textured leathers such as stamped croc, python and other faux materials.
  2. Geometric shapes are emerging as the newest trend, including circle, globe and trapezoid shapes, along with the classic rectangle. 
  3. Handbags that offer practical function are also making news. Look for a twist on an old favorite--the fanny pack. The new iteration is the belt-bag and other types of utility bags with multi-pocketed silhouettes that mesh comfort and style with functionality.
  4. Brightly colored bags are also in. Think lime green and tangerine, which are gaining a lot of attention in fashion circles. 

  1. A long-lived fashion favorite, the demand for straw bags is weakening, but designs still holding their ground are "elevated" beach bags, and those featuring leather accents.
  2. Small, evening clutch bags are giving way to slouchier styles, such as drawstring bags.
  3. With a trend toward tailored styles, crossbody bags are declining in favor of more polished looks.


When choosing the best choices of bags for your client's promotion, consider how the bag will be used and by whom. A bag's handles (or straps) play an important role in a bag's function and fashion, and there are different types of handles and a choice of lengths for many types of bags. Here are a few new things to consider:

Cross-Stitched: There is cross-stitching in an "X" pattern
where the handle is attached to the tote. Cross-stitching
provides more strength to the handle.

Sewn to the Bag: The handles are sewn front and back to the 
entire bag (all the way from the top to the bottom of the bag), 
which gives the bag extra durability.

Self-Material: The handles are made of the same material as 
the tote.

Webbed: A low-cost alternative to leather straps, webbed handles
are typically stronger than self-material handles.


  • Short: About 14 to 18 inches long, with a six- to eight-inch drop. These are easier to carry by hand or in the crook of the elbow, but bags with short handles can't be carried over the shoulder. These are fashionable but not as functional as standard or long handles.
  • Standard: About 20 to 22 inches long, with a nine- to 11-inch drop. The most commonly used handle length, standard handles may be carried by hand or over the shoulder.
  • Long: About 24 to 26 inches long, with a 12- to 13-inch drop. Bags will these handles are considered more comfortable to wear, whether on the shoulder or over the arm.


It's estimated that a single-use plastic bag has a 12-minute lifespan from the time it's filled with groceries until it's discarded in the trash. Shoppers use about 500 billion single-use plastic bags worldwide every year, and some of those bags take 10 to 1,000 years to decompose. Consider, instead, using a sturdy, reusable tote bag--with the store's logo and brand message--to transport those food items. Not only is the consumer able to use it again and again, but it holds much more and is easier to carry. An educated consumer can make smarter choices, but when reusable bags are given out at related events (such as retail store openings, cooking classes, community festivals and food industry trade shows), it's easier to get them into consumers' hands. 

At press time, California and Hawaii had state bans on single-use bags, and New York bag's ban into effect on March 1, 2020. 

Cities in the following states and provinces have some type of single-use plastic bag ban or bag tax in place or being implemented soon:


Brittany Glenn is a Dallas-area writer and former associate editor of PPB.

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