The New ‘It’ Bag

No, ladies, it’s not one of those preppy, yacht-worthy handbag on the latest cruise collections. But bear with me– it might just be as catchy.

Turned your lights off during Earth Hour recently? Hope you did, either by genuine awareness or peers’ influence. Many entities worth their PR bills have launched creative events and campaigns to save the planet over the years. Oft-enemies fashionistas and econistas even called a truce long enough to brave mile-long store queues when Anya Hindmarch launched her limited edition “It’s Not a Plastic Bag” canvas tote, the irrefutable “It” bag of spring-summer 2007.

I’m not always eco-conscious. Heck, I was a dedicated fashionista worthy of my countless hours scouring malls across continents, of which reputation, plus refined taste I may add, has led me to moonlight as a personal shopper. I used to collect store’s shopping bags, mostly of paper kind, and sometimes bought a tiny something just to obtain a particular store’s irresistible bag. The ones that didn’t make the permanent collection were swapped among the highly discreet and equally competitive circle of store’s paperbag collectors.

But then I met the gods of nature, whose constant loving words of wisdom gradually improved my limited eco knowledge, enlightened me of the full extent of a tree being chopped to produce stacks of paperbag that mostly ended up gathering dust or in dumpster after one usage. Or the horrifying image of unrecycled plastic bags decomposing for centuries. One day, I found myself starting to pack an extra bag as I made appointments or ran errands across town.

The bag is a medium-sized, rectangular, khaki one with a cat painting on one side, which I found at an unassuming handmade shop in Ubud. It’s light, foldable, machine washable, in neutral shade, roomy and sturdy enough to transport my laptop. Except for monthly grocery shopping, the bag is perfect to load random purchases I make during the day. I’m just too happy to carry it around, even if just to get myself entertained by the adorable cat painting.

Not that the bag has always been entertained, though.

Most salespeople were perplexed when I politely refused their store’s bag and put forward mine instead. They tried offering bags in different size, material, or, as happened last Christmas, thought I preferred the regular print over the Santa print available by then.

If my bag already contained other items, most salespeople would earnestly try to change my mind, perhaps worried that books and bathrobe would clash once pooled inside. I had to reassure them that I’d once thrown in CDs, lipsticks, cooking spatulas and ink cartridges, and they remained intact and functioning when I unloaded at home.

Major persistence often occurred from stores that bear a well-recognizable brand. The black-clad, well-groomed salespeople either resolutely ignored or derisively glanced at my kitty bag. And when I eventually made a purchase, they gasped at the idea of their oh-so-precious item ‘meshing’ with other items inside that might’ve been of, fashion gods forbid, lesser brands. I’ve been tempted to share that I once shuffled in a boxed new pair of Louboutins with plastic-wrapped Balinese rubber flip-flops, for which the Louboutins’ soles remains as red as the flip-flops remains bouncy to this date, but I’m worried the Louboutin people might hear it and take me off the sale mailing list.

Not all salespeople were unsupportive, though. Almost all asked for my reason, half of whom showed appreciation upon learning of the simple environmental concern behind it. Some shyly asked if they could keep the bag I didn’t want. Apparently many of the ‘recognizable’ brands understand how coveted their logo-adorned shopping bags that disbursements are declared on and tracked by sales receipts, thus off-limits for staff. Though eco logic said no, I had no heart to deny those girls the little pleasure of finally owning a simple paperbag stamped with the very logo they promoted standing for hours, attending fickle customers, on minimum wage and little commissions.

A fashionista fellow suggested that if I’d just carry a more stylish bag, perhaps I’d garner more welcome. I rummaged through my closet and found a clean-cut canvas tote with neat stripes and tasteful colors.

Ha! I did receive less questions, resistance, or double-takes. I sincerely hope that it was due to increasing eco-conscience within the retail industry, and not because the bag might easily pass as a classic canvas from Kate Spade. I wonder if I should experiment further by revealing that the stylish sack is nothing more than freebie from a cosmetic brand.

Another year yet, is arriving on our doorsteps. As the temperature steadily rising and natural disasters taking turns, we don’t have the luxury of time to argue the validity of eco-friendly lifestyle. Granted, constant eco talks can sound hollow at times and some eco-initiatives were found to be commercial scams, yet to stupidly refuse altering our obviously damaging habits is not only suicidal for our generation, it’s sabotaging against future generations. And being systematically cursed my own great grandchildren just is not how I plan to spend the afterlife.

So, bring your own shopping bag! It can be rediscovered– the bulging closet, your secret stash of branded store’s shopping bags. If it’s absolutely must be new, grab a recycled one. Not fancy enough? Check out garage sales, flea markets, or those chic vintage and resale shops. Make it your own, one-of-a-kind “It” bag.

Refuse. Reuse. Reduce. Recycle. RIGHT NOW.

As published: The Jakarta Post’s Weekender monthly magazine, January 2011, page 55.

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