April 20, 2024

If you need a lesson in modern day economics, look no further than Trader Joe’s mini-tote bags. With a retail price of $2.99, and four colorways, they’re admittedly adorable. It’d be a no-brainer to pick one up to stash a bouquet of flowers, cheese, and wine on your way to a dinner party.

But the thing is, a lot of people had that idea (mostly because of a viral TikTok). And when virality hits, and demand outrageously outstrips supply, the result is cute mini-totes, which Trader Joe’s said won’t be back in stock until late summer, are now reselling on eBay for up to $500.

Throw some essentials in your favorite brand’s tote, and get on the move. We’ve got something to say.

By the digits

$2.99: The retail price of the hot new must-have bag (we speak of Trader Joe’s mini-tote, of course).

$500: The possible actual price of the hot new must-have bag, if you believe eBay.

89,000: Number of totes NYC’s Strand bookstore sells each year.

500,000: New Yorker totes distributed to date.

4 years: Potential prison sentence for anyone caught making, selling, or importing grocery-style plastic bags in Kenya, under the country’s plastic bag ban implemented in August. (Alternately: a fine of up to $38,000). But it’s not really working.

Brief history

Big moments in tote history

1944: Tote bags have been around since at least the late 1800s, but in 1944, L.L. Bean introduced “the ice bag” — literally, a bag for carrying frozen water. The still-popular “boat bag” is based on the original design.

1960s: Totes became more popular as a fashion choice (rather than a utility), spurred along by the Cashin Carry Tote, created by Bonnie Cashin, who would go on to work for Coach.

1970s: NPR started giving away its branded totes as part of its pledge drives, the “quintessential object to represent both its brand and its audience,” according to the Atlantic. Listeners often donate at least $60 for a bag that costs about $5 wholesale. (Le Bag also arrived on the scene.)

1980s: New York City’s Strand bookstore introduced its popular tote.

2007: 80,000 people lined up (in the rain) at Sainsbury’s in London to get Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m not a plastic bag” tote. At the Taiwan release 30 people were injured and riot police are summoned. At the New York City launch, 3,000 bags sold out in 29 minutes.

2015: The publishing website Literary Hub got permission from Joan Didion to use her image on a tote, provided they don’t sell them. People offered “exorbitant amounts of money” anyway.

2016: Balenciaga’s version of the iconic 99-cent IKEA tote bag went on sale for $2,145. Overall, sales of tote bags to men spiked 11%.

Pop quiz

How many times, would a cotton tote have to be used before the carbon expenditure necessary to create it matched that spent creating a single plastic bag?

A. 27
B. 131
C. 869
D. 3,488

Carry yourself down to the bottom to find the answer.


“Maybe the next time TikTokers embroider daisies onto their tote bags, they can smatter a couple on the legal documents? A lawsuit calling for the dissolution of a federal agency that protects workers rights is cool and all, but do you wanna know what’s better? An embroidered one!” —Elliot Hoste in Dazed, writing on the Trader Joe’s mini-tote frenzy in the midst of the company’s battle with its workers’ union


Image for article titled Tote bags: This little bag goes to market

Photo: Hans Deryk (Reuters)

What message is your favorite tote bag telling the world?

  • Which bookstore you love
  • Which publication you read
  • That you love another brand — not saying it’s Trader Joe’s, not saying it isn’t
  • I stick to just shoving my phone in my pocket

You and your tote bag can tell us, it’ll just take a second.

💬 Let’s talk!

In last week’s poll on Stanley cups, 82% of you said you didn’t have a Stanley cup yet, 15% of you said you had one, and a couple of you said you had a lot more than that, but we hope you are just messing with us.

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🤔 What did you think of today’s email?

💡 What should we obsess over next?

Today’s email was brought to you by Jessanne Collins, Stacy Conradt, Susan Howson, and Morgan Haefner.

The answer to the quiz is B. 131. That’s according to this report (pdf)— but keep in mind, your canvas tote also probably won’t go choke a fish in the bottom of the ocean. So that’s something.

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