From beach to market, bags find new style
So you’re headed to the beach for a morning walk and then you’re going to hit the Trout Lake Farmers Market on the way home. Me + You has a bag for that.
There’s the Chantilly, a lace-edged, 1920s-style canvas carryall that will fit your flip-flops and sunscreen. Then you can stick your freshly grown mesclun mix and heritage tomatoes into the label’s gauzy, reusable produce bags, which come tucked into a vintage-fabric pouch that hooks right onto the tote.
Even with reusable bags flooding the market, the local company has managed to carve out a unique place for itself, treating its collection like a fashion line and making its carryalls high-quality enough to last a lifetime. In fact, the idea’s so strong, founder Jenny Hughes just made a pitch to the Dragon’s Den TV show. (Mum’s the word: so far she can only reveal that her episode will air sometime next season.)
“When we started out, our focus was that people need a stylish alternative to plastic bags,” Hughes says of her company’s launch, then under the name Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB), with Elizabeth Clark in 2005. She’s talking to the Straight at her East Van headquarters, where she sits amid a few industrial sewing machines and displays of her pretty summer collection of totes. “So at first, we were fighting against plastic bags. But now I feel like, even more, we’re fighting against these cheap reusable bags that flooded the market. So many people are saying, ‘I don’t need another reusable bag—I’ve got 100 under my counter.’ ”
By staying true to its mandate of using durable, sustainable fabrics and making its bags style-savvy, the company has managed to ride out a series of events that Hughes says she never could have predicted. Almost immediately after BYOB started out, cities across the country started banning plastic bags because of their toxic environmental effects and the fact they can take up to a thousand years to break down at the landfill. So you can imagine that the company’s straight-to-the-point bag screen-printed with “F*@k Plastic!” captured the mood of the moment. But then reusable bags started flooding the market; around the same time, BYOB faced a trademark lawsuit out of T.O. and had to rebrand. Hughes relaunched in 2009 as Me + You, just in time for the next big breaking story: those mass-produced reusable bags that retailers and grocers were handing out were often woven from polyester threads that couldn’t break down when they were discarded, and a surprising number of them had lead in their screen prints.
Flash forward and Me + You is in more than 100 stores across the country, selling most of its totes for between $28 and $34. The label still sells basic reusable grocery bags with slogans like “Stop using plastic” at stores like Whole Foods. But where it’s really taking off is in its fashion lines—with a collection coming out each spring-summer and fall-winter. This season, the theme is the Roaring ’20s, with styles inspired by a time before there were plastic bags. Hughes literally raided her grandma’s vintage lace for some of the styles in the line. She also did research and found the rounded “bucket bags” that people in the ’20s used to transport water—hence, her screen-printed “Darling” version of the style, made of canvas with a vegan-leather strap and bottom. (The line is at stores like Plenty [various locations] and Fine Finds [1014 Mainland Street], or via the Me + You website.)
Hughes intends to explore a subsequent decade with each collection, starting with the Dirty ’30s in the fall and winter, when she will debut her new waterproof, waxed-canvas totes. “You can’t really buy waxed canvas, so I’m having to learn how to produce that,” Hughes says.
Meanwhile, her company has other looks on the go. This summer, she’s introducing a line of zippered beach and travel bags inspired by Vancouver Island; one has nautical stripes and a yellow screen-printed starfish. And she’s launched a more upscale, vegan-leather-and-canvas tote line, complete with styles that have pinstripe or floral lining, inside pockets, and a vegan-leather produce-bag pouch. They come in colours like dusty rose, tan, and forest green. (The price point is a little higher, at $89.)
No matter what style people are going for, it seems they’re putting almost anything in these smart-looking satchels. “They’re using them for their laptops, for school, or for yoga bags,” Hughes says. “You can use them for travelling, for the beach. I’ve even had women buy 10 for bridesmaids’ gifts.”
In other words, they’re not just for the grocery store anymore.