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Page last updated at 11:42 GMT, Wednesday, 25 April 2007 12:42 UK

It's in the bag, darling

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Anya Hindmarch bag
Going for 200 on eBay
The must-have bag of the season costs a fiver from a supermarket, and hits the shelves on Wednesday. Is it a fashion statement or for those taking a green stance - and does it matter?

This season sustainable is the new black. Eco-friendly used to be a byword for dull and worthy, but now it's officially fashionable, darling.

The product spearheading the trend is a bag made from unbleached cotton, which cost 5 at selected Sainsbury's stores and sold out within an hour of going on sale on Wednesday morning.

It might not sound A-list, but the bag emblazoned with "I am not a plastic bag" has been designed by the "queen of bagland" Anya Hindmarch.

The aim is simple, to encourage people not to use plastic carrier bags. The bag has been produced in partnership with We Are What We Do, a non-profit campaign group that has set out to change the world in small steps.

The bag's must-have credentials were firmly secured when it was chosen as the goodie-bag for guests at the 2007 Vanity Fair Oscar night party. Only 20,000 are going on sale - each of the branches stocking it is restricted to just 30 bags and customers can buy only one each.

People queued for hours when a few of the bags were sold at Hindmarch's London boutique last month, and they have been changing hands for up to 200 on eBay. The simple bag has become a symbol of ethical intent - and a very fashionable one at that.

Ethical intent

Brits use an estimated 10bn plastic carrier bags each year. But is this bag more of a fashion statement than a green one?

Carrier bags
We use on average 167 a year
Only one in every 200 bags is recycled
Plastics can take up to 400 years to break down in a landfill
Source: We Are What We Do
It's made of cotton but in China, perhaps not the most environmental choice given that it has to be shipped thousands of miles to the UK. And it's cheap for a Hindmarch bag - hers typically sell for up to 1,000 - but it's a lot more than the 10p charged for "bags for life" available at most supermarkets.

But it doesn't matter why people buy it, says one marketing expert. What's important is the huge amounts of publicity the bag generates. On that score, the bag has been the charity's most successful endeavour to date.

"So what if people buy it because it's a fashion statement," says Chris Arnold, creative partner at ethical marketing company Feel. "If the person who uses the bag is shallow and driven by fashion, it still helps the planet because they haven't used a plastic one.

"We have to accept that we live in a wealthy, consumer-based society and work with it. It's easy to pick apart any ethical campaign, but if it helps make ethical values more fashionable, then that's great."

An ethical bag for keen consumers? This is something of an oxymoron, given that shopping in itself draws heavily on the planet's resources.

Consciousness raising

Ms Hindmarch knows first-hand the power fashion has, and is prepared to use it. "As a luxury fashion brand we are in a position where we can influence," she says.

The bag was never designed to save the planet single-handedly - the purpose was to cast a spotlight on an important issue, says a spokesman for We Are What We Do.

The bag sends out a message that the consumer is intelligent
Jonathan Gabay
Brand expert

Some aspects of the project may not be ideal, such as producing the bag in China, but no one is making a profit and the bags were made in a factory "deemed ethical" by the charity. The project was also carbon-offset.

"If this bag plants an idea in people's heads that will make them think before automatically reaching for a plastic one then it's a success," he says.

It's win-win for everyone involved, says brand expert Jonathan Gabay. "The very smart thing about this bag is that it's getting an important environmental message across to a mass market.

"The consumer looks good and so do all the companies involved. The bag sends out a message that the consumer is intelligent for buying it and the companies for producing it."

By making the bag exclusive, Ms Hindmarch is not damaging her own upmarket brand, he adds.

Below is a selection of your comments.

This is a great way of raising awareness and we have both been looking forward to acquiring one for ages - although they have now sold out here. But since this bag is an ethical way of carrying shopping home from the supermarket, could someone please explain why our local Sainsbury's was placing them in an orange plastic, non environmentally friendly carrier bag after they were purchased this morning?
Stella & Amelia, Harrogate

I queued up at 5.50am this morning at my local Sainsbury's to get a bag. I was one of the lucky ones! It was very well organised - doors locked after the 30th person arrived, ticket allocated to each bag - even a bacon roll & a coffee - and I had a good laugh with the other buyers. Quite scary leaving the store - there was lots of pee'd off people who didn't get there early enough to get one hoping to buy them off us us.
Brads, Hornchurch, Essex

I have had one of these bags for four weeks and I use it for work. It has reduced the number of carrier bags I use as if I buy lunch, or any other items such as toiletries, I can now say no to the plastic bag offered. I was offered more than I paid for it by someone in a shop but I refused.
Sandra, London

A quick search on eBay shows 800 for sale right now at an average of 80, with the most expensive one selling for 160. I can't believe that anyone who buys one of these bags is going to use it for putting their weekly shop in. I'm afraid that all that Sainsbury's have done is sell another piece of designer goods to people that feel good about themselves only when they own a piece of something exclusive.
MoneyForOldRope, Manchester

Why can't paper bags be used instead of plastic?
Duncan, Bicester, UK

We use the free plastic bags from the supermarket for domestic rubbish which goes into the bin that the council empties from time to time. Now that we will not have free plastic bags from the supermarket, we will have to buy plastic bags from the supermarket to put domestic rubbish in.
Alan Weatherall, Hampshire, UK

If I don't carry my shopping home in plastic bags what am I supposed to wrap my rubbish up in to store it for two weeks until it gets taken away? Should I buy packs of specially designed plastic rubbish sacks to carry home in my eco-friendly bag?
Alison Williams, Southampton

The most sensible way forward would be to follow the French way and stop offering plastic bags at all. While it took a short while for some customers to adjust, many supermarkets, certainly in my knowledge of Northern France, are now completely plastic carrier bag free. If you take the option away, people have no choice but to re-use.
Richard Wragg, Birmingham

A good way to kerb bag usage is for shop staff to ask "do you have to have a bag?" instead of "would you like a bag?". It makes the shopper think more about why they need one.
Joe, Oxford, UK

It has already been noted on one gossip website that the PR company promoting the Anya Hindmarsh bags sent out 100s of promotional copies to editors inside large silver jiffy bags which surely count as "plastic". I suspect these were also posted despite being sent largely within central London. There's a disturbing lack of congruence with the message and their actions. This bag does send a message to the consumer: do as we say, don't do as we do.
Lucy Heather, London

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