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Opportunities abound for printed fabric bags

Graphics | January 1, 2010 | By:

In 2009, Mexico City joined San Francisco, Calif.; Mumbai, New Delhi; and hundreds of other cities in banning plastic shopping bags. Entire countries are turning around our dependence on them, either with outright bans or, like Ireland, charging people to use them. The United States still is using around 100 billion plastic bags every year—most of which end up in landfills.

Paper bags, too, have their environmental issues, so it’s somewhat obvious which bag solution is likely to win in the end. Fabric is it.

There are a couple of ways to look at the opportunity staring printers in the face: the material used to make the bag and the inevitable printing on the majority of them. For consumers who prefer not to advertise their shopping preferences, printers can gather up their leftover fabric and assemble a highly fashionable recycled product to sell outright or wholesale for someone else to brand and market. For that matter, why not retrieve used banners, awnings and exhibits to recycle and sell back as bags (at an attractive price, of course) to the original client. What a great way for both of you to promote your sustainability efforts.

The market for printed cloth bags is here, not going away and very likely to explode as each new geographic area forces consumers to BYOB. Supermarkets and big box stores will go far beyond the small, discreet racks of crisp, new cloth bags for sale and simply give them away with a minimum purchase and a coupon. Small, local shops and even businesses that are far removed from retail storefronts will join in, handing out bags advertising the local power company, farmer’s union cooperative or chamber of commerce.

Marketing pieces get thrown away eventually, and T-shirts aren’t appropriate everywhere. A shopping bag, on the other hand, goes almost anywhere, especially if it’s durable and good-looking, carrying groceries to the cabin for the weekend or treats for a girl scout meeting. Everywhere that bag goes, the name on the bag is read, sending an eco-friendly, feel-good message.

The opportunities could be staggering. And they’re already in plain view: on websites devoted to recycled bags and other products, in major chain stores, in booths at home improvement shows and county fairs—fabric bags are everywhere.

Janet Preus is associate editor of Specialty Fabrics Review, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International, and contributing editor for Fabric Graphics.

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