social movement

8 November, 2023

Beyond the Brand: Promotional Bags and Their Role in Social Movements

Promotional bags have long been used as a vehicle for brand messaging, but their use extends far beyond corporate branding. Increasingly, they are finding a role in social activism and community movements, carrying messages of change and unity. By leveraging their ample 'real estate,' these bags serve as mobile billboards for causes that matter.

Social Movements in the Age of Merchandise 
The surge of social movements, particularly in the age of social media, has led to a greater emphasis on merchandise as a tool for activism. Whether it’s the "Black Lives Matter" movement in the United States or "Extinction Rebellion" in the United Kingdom, merchandise like T-shirts, badges, and, of course, bags, are increasingly used to spread the word and fundraise for the cause.

Overseas Examples 
1) The Pink Tote of Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood Tote Bag

In the United States, Planned Parenthood has ingeniously turned the humble promotional tote bag into a potent symbol of advocacy for reproductive health services and rights. Known for their iconic pink hue, these tote bags are emblazoned with the organisation's logo and often feature slogans that advocate for women's health and reproductive freedom.

The pink totes serve multiple purposes. Firstly, they act as a fundraising mechanism. Sold online and at various Planned Parenthood events, the revenue generated from these bags directly supports the provision of essential health services, from contraceptive advice to cancer screenings.

Secondly, the bags function as a tool for awareness and education. Carrying one of these bags makes a statement, effectively turning the person wielding it into a walking billboard for reproductive rights. Whether on a university campus, shopping mall, or public transport, the pink tote captures attention and sparks conversations, providing an entry point for dialogue about sensitive but crucial health topics.

2) 'Choose Love' Bags for Refugee Support

Choose Love Tote Bags

In a world where the plight of refugees often gets lost amid political jargon and bureaucratic red tape, Help Refugees, a UK-based charity has cut through the noise with its 'Choose Love' tote bags. These bags are more than mere receptacles; they serve as unambiguous statements of solidarity and empathy, bringing attention to the refugee crisis.

First and foremost, the 'Choose Love' bags have been essential in generating funds for the charity. Available for purchase both online and at various events, the revenue from the bags goes directly into providing vital services such as shelter, food, and medical care for refugees. They are not just promotional items but an integral part of the charity's revenue stream, enabling real-world impact.

Secondly, the bags are an effective tool for raising awareness. Printed with the compelling 'Choose Love' slogan, they invite questions and encourage dialogue. The message is simple, yet powerful, steering the conversation towards a more compassionate and human-centric approach to the refugee crisis. The bag's mere presence serves as a conversation starter, prompting discussions that might otherwise never occur.

Thirdly, the 'Choose Love' tote bags have become cultural symbols in their own right. For those who carry them, these bags are a way to wear their advocacy on their sleeves. They reflect a commitment to humanitarian values and offer an everyday way for people to showcase their support for a cause that, while globally significant, often feels distant or abstract. Carrying the bag becomes an act of micro-activism, demonstrating a collective stand for refugee support.

Lastly, the bags serve to foster a sense of community among supporters. The universal appeal of the 'Choose Love' message brings together people from all walks of life, unified by their shared belief in human dignity and equality. Whether at protests, fundraising events, or even just walking down the street, the bags signal mutual values and encourage a sense of unity among those who choose to stand up for refugees.

3) 'Say Her Name' Advocacy

Say Her Name Tote Bags

The "Say Her Name" campaign has become a critical social movement in the United States, seeking to bring attention to Black women who have been victims of police violence and systemic racism. The campaign aims to ensure these women are not forgotten in a media landscape where such stories often go underreported or overlooked. One way it does this is through the use of promotional bags.

Firstly, the "Say Her Name" bags are an enduring tribute to the victims. Featuring these women's names, often alongside compelling graphics or slogans, the bags transform from mere accessories into memorials that can be carried in daily life. They are a continual reminder of the lives lost and the urgent need for systemic change.

Secondly, the bags act as a potent awareness-raising tool. Those who carry them naturally spark conversations about the campaign and the broader issue of racial injustice. Much like a walking billboard, the bags provide a large enough canvas to carry a powerful message, ensuring that the issue remains at the forefront of public consciousness. The larger the number of people carrying them, the more widespread the message becomes.

Thirdly, the bags contribute to fundraising efforts. Often sold online or at campaign events, the proceeds from these bags usually go directly back into initiatives that aim to combat systemic racism, provide support to victims' families, or empower Black communities. In this way, purchasing a "Say Her Name" bag is not just a passive act but a direct contribution to change.

Lastly, the bags foster a sense of community and solidarity among campaigners and supporters. Carrying a "Say Her Name" bag signals an individual's alignment with a broader social and political movement. It creates a form of visual unity that can be particularly impactful during protests, vigils, or other public events where collective action is on display. In moments like these, a simple bag can serve as a rallying point, galvanising those who stand in solidarity with the campaign's objectives.

Local Examples 
1) Boomerang Bags

Boomerang Bags

In the current era where single-use plastics continue to burden our environment, grassroots initiatives like our Boomerang Bags offer a remedy and a platform for collective social action. The project is as straightforward as it is innovative: local volunteers craft reusable bags from recycled materials and then circulate them within the community. But Boomerang Bags go beyond merely being carriers of groceries or everyday essentials; they are carriers of social messages and catalysts for community engagement.

What sets them apart from other reusable bag initiatives is the community involvement. Volunteers - often local residents - come together in communal sewing bees to create the bags. This in itself fosters community bonds and provides a sense of shared purpose. People of all ages, from youngsters learning about sustainability to senior citizens contributing their lifelong sewing skills, join hands in this initiative.

But the fabric of these bags carries more than weight; it carries meaning. Each bag is often adorned with socially conscious messages or artwork, ranging from slogans advocating for environmental conservation to awareness messages about pressing local issues like water scarcity or wildlife preservation. The bags become both a practical tool for daily life and a conversation starter, potentially educating or provoking thought among those who encounter them.

Once created, they are generally made available for free or for a nominal fee at local stores, markets, and community centres. Some are even placed in "bag libraries," where people can borrow and return them, reinforcing a sense of community ownership and shared responsibility for sustainability. As these bags are used, left, and reused, they also circulate the messages imprinted on them, creating a ripple effect of awareness extending far beyond the initial user.

The return on involvement for participating in or supporting Boomerang Bags is twofold. On the one hand, the environmental impact is tangible. Every reusable bag crafted and used represents multiple single-use plastic bags that won't end up clogging waterways or threatening marine life. On the other hand, the bags serve as a portable billboard for social issues, educating the public and inspiring conversations that might not have occurred otherwise.

2) Indigenous Social Campaigns 
Some Australian companies have collaborated with Indigenous communities to create bags that feature traditional Aboriginal art. These bags not only celebrate the country's rich cultural history but also educate the public about Indigenous rights and social issues.

Two examples of Australian companies that have collaborated with Indigenous communities for social campaigns involving bags:

- Qantas: The Australian airline has a history of working with Indigenous artists to feature their work in various aspects of the company, including amenity kits for passengers. These kits often include bags adorned with traditional Aboriginal designs, providing not just an aesthetic experience but also an educational one. Proceeds from these special edition kits sometimes go towards Indigenous community initiatives.

- Country Road: This Australian fashion and lifestyle brand has collaborated with Indigenous artists to create exclusive tote bags featuring Aboriginal art. The tote bags are typically sold as limited editions, and a portion of the sales are often donated to Indigenous cultural preservation projects.

Both these collaborations elevate Indigenous art and culture and contribute to the economic and social well-being of Indigenous communities.

3) Mental Health Awareness 
In Australia, various organisations have launched campaigns to tackle mental health stigma. Promotional bags with messages encouraging dialogue about mental health are sometimes distributed in public events, schools, and community centres. The revenue from the bags often goes back into mental health programs, making it a win-win for advocacy and funding. Several examples are below:

- Lorna Jane: This Australian activewear brand has been involved in mental health initiatives, promoting well-being through physical fitness. They have released special tote bags with slogans like "Move, Nourish, Believe" to encourage a holistic approach to mental health. Portions of the proceeds from these bags have gone to mental health organisations.

- Cotton On: Known for its casual wear, Cotton On has launched a range of products under its philanthropic arm, the Cotton On Foundation, to support various causes, including mental health. Special edition tote bags featuring positive and uplifting messages have been sold, with proceeds going towards mental health programs in Australia.

The Dual Role of Promotional Bags

Promotional bags carry slogans, images, and messages to places that billboards or TV adverts cannot reach. In subway cars, on university campuses, and through the aisles of grocery stores, these bags spread their message organically.

The bags are usually sold to raise funds for the respective causes. Every bag purchased contributes directly to the movement, making supporters passive observers and active participants in the cause.

Promotional bags are no longer just a tool for corporate branding; they have found a place in the toolkit of social activism. These bags carry messages that matter and serve as mobile billboards for social change. They help raise funds, spread awareness, and ultimately contribute to advancing the causes they represent. In this way, they transcend their original purpose and become carriers of hope and change.

The Promotional Bags Team