Since the July 1 kickoff of mandatory plastic bag fees at all retailers in Japan, there’s been no shortage of reusable eco-bags hitting the market. Whether you switch to biodegradable paper ones, buy a tote bag or start fashioning furoshiki wrapping cloths into catchalls, it’s easy to avoid adding to Japan’s plastic waste issue.
This month, “On: Design” takes a look at a few designer alternatives to the run-of-the-mill reusable shopping tote.
The good plastic
Plasticity — a lineup of tote bags and pouches made from recycled vinyl umbrellas — was created by Aki Saito in collaboration with Mondo Design Co. Ltd., a company that specializes in developing environmentally friendly products.
Plastic umbrellas are notoriously difficult to recycle, which leaves the 80 million currently discarded each year in Japan destined for a landfill or incineration. With this in mind, and anticipating that industries and consumers will be more responsible in the future, Plasticity is in the unusual position of being a brand that actually hopes not to exist in 10 years time.
For the tote bag, umbrella canopies are flattened and heat-fused together to create durable polygonal textile sheets. The silhouette of the fused canopies, when sewn together, forms the unusually wide tote. Snap fasteners are added to hold together the sides to create a more conventional bag shape, while the crimping, which helps strengthen the textile, gives it a pattern akin to rain streaming down a glass window.
When it launched in April, Plasticity used plain clear and white umbrellas to create minimalist, translucent bags. Now it has upped the ante by recycling colorful patterned umbrellas for a new Color Model series of graphically striking stripes, dots and other motifs.
More suited for the light shopper and priced at ¥11,000 for a small tote bag and ¥14,300 for a large, Plasticity doesn’t come cheap, so think of it as an investment in the environment. Ten percent of profits are also donated to Japan’s sewing craft industry, which has seen a downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
plasticity.co.jp (Japanese only)
Big and bold
Iittala X Issey Miyake Home Collection’s latest limited-edition series, which was released in April at Iittala stores, includes a new lightweight pleated tote bag that is ideal for everyday shopping.
The collaboration between the Finnish design brand and Issey Miyake has, in the past, introduced several vertically pleated bags, all of which conveniently fold flat into a compact strip. This new one, though, is made from a much thinner fabric and sports a soft polyester shoulder strap that makes it flexible enough to also roll up and tuck away in a handbag. The distinctive Issey Miyake pleating is also horizontal, making it even easier to fold and unfold for use.
Priced at ¥13,200, it comes in neon orange, dark lilac and grass green; folds out to an impressive 55-by-47 centimeters; and is strong enough to carry up to 5 kilograms of goods.
For fans of Issey Miyake’s own collection of bags, Good Goods Issey Miyake’s August release, the Mokko, is an unusual basket-like bag. Tightly knitted from a single polyester and nylon thread, the tote bag can be stored completely flat. When opened up for use, though, its supple textile can be shaped into a handy short-handled basket, suitable for vegetable and fruit shopping.
Available in a full range of bold colors, from black and off-white to bright yellow and vibrant pink, the Mokko is priced at ¥15,400 for the 38-by-40 centimeter version and ¥19,800 for the large 52-by-50 centimeter version.
For your convenience
For shoppers looking for something simpler and more modestly priced, convenience store Lawson’s two Nendo-designed eco-bags, available at most Lawson stores, are a bargain at just ¥850 each.
Nendo has a track record of rethinking everyday items into minimalist yet functional goods, so it’s no surprise that these eco-bags have a couple of interesting modifications.
The Roll-up Ecobag, a lightweight polyester bag, is stored in a protective tubular case that doubles as a strong handle when in use. To unroll the bag, simply pull the ring on its base. Then to pack it away, fold it into thirds and twist the dial on the side of the case to reel it back in. Designed for regular reuse, the bag is also easily removed from the case for cleaning.
The Duo Ecobag’s clever alteration is a mesh inner side pocket that can be buttoned across the bag’s opening to create a hammock-like top layer. Splitting the tote bag into two sections gives shoppers the option to carry goods that would benefit from being kept separate, such as cold and hot items, within the same bag.
Both the Nendo bags also have extra-wide flat bottoms for carrying bento boxes and, despite being relatively small and designed for convenience-store shoppers, can hold up to 5 kilograms.
bit.ly/lawson-nendo (Japanese only)