Featured Trend: A closer look at ita-bags
By Lisa Granshaw
The first time I saw ita-bags was at a convention last year. I was surprised to see people in the exhibit hall wearing backpacks that had a clear plastic window showing a number of geeky pins. They were interesting and I saw a few sold at a booth or two, but that was it. I didn’t think about it much beyond that until I started attending conventions this year and suddenly, I felt I was seeing them all the time. At every convention, I saw multiple fans with bags like these in different shapes and sizes displaying pins and other items related to one or more fandoms. The bags were also being sold at more vendors. As I found myself wondering what exactly they were, I did a little research and discovered these were ita-bags.
Ita-bags originated in Japan and according to Kotaku, the trend first earned national attention in Japan around 2015. The translation of ita-bag is commonly just “painful” bag. I’ve read a few reasons they earned this name. There’s the “pain” the bag itself would feel with all these pins and other items in it. There’s how the bag can be so full of things it can be painful to see. It can be painful to your wallet since you’re spending so much money on the items you’re displaying and it can potentially even be painful for you to carry if it’s full of so many things it gets heavy.
The bags vary in some ways like style and color, but the essential element remains the same. They always have a clear window pocket on the bag that allows everyone to see what you put there. This makes it a unique and fun way to display your love for a fandom. I’ve mostly seen pins and keychains on display, though other items can be put there as well. These items might all share a common theme such as one fandom or character you love, or they might be a collection of things from various properties.
The bags I was increasingly seeing at conventions were quite impressive and extremely creative in how they showed off the fandoms of their owners. Soon I was seeing even more unique ita-bag designs offered by retailers as well. Sanshee was one of the first brands I noticed selling distinctive ita-bag designs. It’s why I asked executive and creative director Arthur Gibree about it briefly on a PAX East panel and then decided to find out more. Gibree told GeekFold he started hearing of ita-bags about two years ago when they were mostly still in Japan. At the time, people in the U.S. were importing them since they weren’t being designed or made in the country. To Gibree, the bags began to become more popular here because of pins becoming a growing collector item.
While the bags were discussed a few times at the company, it was Sanshee’s business manager at the time who really wanted a bag for her Voltron fandom that helped move the idea of making their own forward.
“My biggest concern was we would spend money on these expensive bags and everyone else would be just selling the same bag, essentially something that looks very similar. There’s a lot of cheap quality ones out there and ours are a significantly higher quality, but at a glance you’re not going to notice that,” he explained. “You have to touch the bag and look inside of it and get a sense of ‘oh this is sturdy’ so I was like ‘let’s do something fun and original.’ I came up with the idea of the Game Boy inspired bag because it’s got a window and I wanted a backpack that would be more unisex.”
Gibree saw that many ita-bags were in pastel colors and had a heart shape for the window, which is fine except that not everyone wants that look. Sanshee tried to think about what everyone might agree is cool and since they make gaming gear, decided on the classic Game Boy. Now Sanhsee’s bags include that style as well as a gold bag and a galaxy bag each with a heart window.
Most of Sanshee’s customers were familiar with ita-bgs when they introduced them into their products. Gibree thinks this is because they do a lot of convention stuff and they overlap with the anime scene.
“There have been a few people that come up and they’re like ‘oh you put pins in it. That’s what you do.’ It’s kind of known about because they are still being imported for the market and popping around,” he said.
Kristin Sirota of BenaeQuee Creations had a similar experience. She’s made some stunning geeky ita-bags for clients. Her very first was a tote bag with Porg print fabric lining that she used to show her Porg pins. She made it this year as a test for herself and to see if her clients were interested in them. Sirota became aware of ita-bags when she saw them at conventions over the last year.
“My husband explained what they were to me as he's more versed in Japanese culture than me. I thought they were brilliant, because I've lost favorite pins that were just tacked onto purses over the years. It allowed the wearer to display their favorite things, safely, and in a theme,” Sirota told GeekFold in an email interview.
Her clients were familiar with ita-bags and sought her out to make them.
“I have a higher quality than what you find in the mass market bags made overseas. I talk with my clients to see what colors and fabrics they want,” she said. “The lining fabric is a great way to fully geek out and have fun, while keeping the outside simple. I use a high quality marine vinyl that can withstand the daily use and any weather conditions it might go through.”
Her ita-bags include backpacks, totes, and crossbody styles of varying designs. She thinks people love ita-bags because you can not only safely and easily show your pins, but also change the theme whenever you want.
“It lets you customize it to always be a new bag. You also make new friends when they see all of your favorite things on display, because they also love those things. You start talking about it and now you've made a friend!” she said.
Gibree also sees the customization and ease of display ita-bags offer as an appeal of the design since you may love collecting pins, but there isn’t an easy way to wear them all.
“All of a sudden you have a container you can use for practical purposes but you can also customize it. I can’t go out and buy a Bioshock, Mass Effect, or whatever bag, but I can buy a bag like this and put all my interests inside of it if I wanted to,” he said.
As for the future, Sirota will continue to offer her designs as people request them and Gibree doesn’t see ita-bags going anywhere anytime soon. He’s interested in seeing if the name stays or if the bags will start being referred to by a different name like window bags which he’s seen or something similar. High-end ita-bags can also be a possibility as well as more variety like more practical and gender neutral designs. Sanshee is working on more options including gender neutral choices and on offering the Game Boy design in more colors, including a teal version. The company has a number of ideas they’d like to make available in the next year that focus on “more style innovation [and] more unique designs” for ita-bags.
The potential for ita-bags is huge. They will no doubt continue to have a growing presence at conventions. One look at this weekend’s Anime NYC reveals a number of vendors selling the bags like Itabag Palace and Aniji. Many attendees will surely be carrying them too. It will be great to see more bags emerge that can be used beyond conventions as well. These don’t necessarily have to be high-end, but new styles that allow you to show off pins and can work in more of an everyday setting would be great.
Considering the increased presence of ita-bags over the last year alone, in the next year and even the next few months it’s possible we’ll see ita-bags continue to evolve as a stylish and fun way to display your fandom.
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