Designing Tote Bags for Food Bank Clients

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Sophomore Communication Design students in Kristin Hughes’ Decoding Place class designed tote bags using graphic patterns inspired by nature to raise awareness about The Tote Bag Project, a local non-profit who provides sturdy grocery totes to those receiving food from the Food Bank.

Founder and social worker Sue Kerr started the Tote Bag Project after an experience she had watching her clients leave the Food Bank. She noticed that some people came prepared for carrying the food home. They came with rolling suitcases, coolers, and backpacks to help them get the food home.

But more often, people were getting food there for the first time and didn’t come prepared. They were sent home with food packed into plastic bags, dangling from their hands, wrists, and forearms. The plastic bags often broke and were difficult to manage carrying on and off buses and up and down the hills of Pittsburgh. As Kerr tells the story, she saw one man’s bag break, sending his cabbage rolling down a hill. He dropped all his other bags to run after that cabbage because one cabbage can provide a lot of food.

Kerr’s solution was simple: instead of plastic bags, have tote bags for easier and more secure food transportation while maintaining the dignity of the person seeking food aid.

This became the design challenge for Kristin Hughes’ class.

Students began by sketching food items that they then transformed into custom, colorful, graphic fabric patterns. Working directly with an on-line fabric manufacturer (Spoonflower), the students OKed or vetoed the test fabric swatches. Once they were satisfied with the fabric, they created the pattern for the tote and sewed it into 3D form. They also designed the typography for a tag accompanying each tote. Most of the tags on the bags could be removed, passing along a message about the simple things in life (smile often, reduce use of plastics, etc.).

Kristin Hughes
Date Published: 
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
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