I’m Not Silly Enough to Stand in Line for a Canvas Bag

There were lines outside of New York Whole Foods stores Wednesday as Anya Hindmarch’s canvas tote bag, bearing the slogan “I’m not a plastic bag,” went on sale. The bag was produced as part of a campaign to reduce plastic consumption, but with Hindmarch as the designer, a limited-edition release, a cheap price point, and celebrities seen toting theirs around town, the $15 canvas tote has become the must-have item of the summer—after the iPhone, of course. At the release in Taiwan earlier this summer, eight people were injured and the riot police were called; in Hong Kong the crowds caused a shopping mall to be closed. All other Asian launches have been canceled, and sales will be conducted online, due to “concerns for our customers safety,” the Hindmarch website explains.

Earlier this summer, a limited number of the bags were released through the U.S. Hindmarch stores. Would-be purchasers lined up hours in advance, calling in sick to work and standing in the rain, according to a Time magazine article. Within three hours all bags were sold out. Yesterday’s Whole Foods sale of 2,000 bags per store was highly anticipated—an article in the New York Times mentioned that some wannabe bag owners who had been disappointed in Asia were flying in for a second chance.

The cause, of course, is a good one. Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags a year, only 1 percent is recycled, and a single bag can take 500 years to degrade. San Francisco is the first American city to ban the use of plastic bags, but six others are considering following suit. The Hindmarch bag was meant to shed light on the cause and encourage shoppers to carry their own reusable bags; it is sponsored by the hip British nonprofit organization We Are What We Do.

The crazed antics surrounding the bag made for brisk Internet fodder yesterday. There were multiple resale listings for the bag on eBay, with prices into the triple digits, and much discussion that this style of bag is wholly inappropriate for groceries anyway (needs a shoulder strap). At Serious Eats Adam Kuban commented, “I’m thinking of making knock-offs that read I Am Not an I’m Not a Plastic Bag Bag. They will be $30.” Chez Pim, in a great post, says, “I am not a sheep,” and showcases other reusable shopping bags that are more easily available (and much cuter, if truth be told). Meanwhile, reports rolled in that customers had begun lining up at some stores at 5:30 the night before, and that the bags were sold out in an hour and a half.

But perhaps the most distressing tale comes from Sara Kate at Apartment Therapy:

There were people camped out in a line several blocks long on one side of the Whole Foods there on Bowery, and on the other side, where customers exited, was a gaggle of giddy customers emerging from the store, and on their way out, swiping some Whole Foods plastic bags for their canvas bags.

An employee came running out, telling them that they were not permitted to use a plastic bag for their canvas bags. Busted! But they ran. Do they not get it?

Call me cynical, but I don’t think this is the campaign that’s going to make the difference.