The Winners Are In!! 12th Independent Handbag Awards

In What's New, Industry News by Lauren Parker, Accessories Magazine

Zhu Wang going on stage to collect her award. Photo: Ethan Covey

If you ever need a dose of feel-good emotion, pop into the Independent Handbag Designer Awards in New York City, where 45 finalist designer hopefuls (selected from 1,500 applicants) fly in from around the world for their chance to get noticed in the big leagues. Now in its 12th year, Wednesday’s IHDA event wasn’t any different, with winners in the 10 categories receiving major industry opportunities from brands, retailers and media! PS: Waterproof mascara recommended.

The pre-awards cocktail party, held at the SVA Theater, isn’t just a networking event, but also serves as an energetic support group for designers who can often feel frustrated and isolated in their pursuits.

Emily Blumenthal making the interview rounds. Photo: Ethan Covey

Founder Emily Blumenthal, a former handbag designer herself and Handbag Fairy Godmother, presides over the evening beaming like a proud mama, matchmaking designers with retailers, press and media the entire time.

Blumenthal understands how hard it is to break in, or break out, if you will, as many brands are up and running but just not at their full potential. “People think the Independent Handbag Designer Awards are all about emerging designers, but they’re not. Yes we have students, but we also have designers with established brands who just need to get to that tipping point to go to the next level. This is the year of the indie handbag designer, and this event is key to help retailers discover new talent.”

12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards

Pooja Sanghvi and Fiona Liu, two of the evening’s winners! Photo: Ethan Covey


Scroll down to see all the winners and make sure to click on the video links to learn more about the brands!

The UBM Best Handbag in Overall Style and Design
Gizem Yucelen of Hooop the Bag, Turkey

Prize: A 10×10 booth in July 2018 or January 2019 at Circuit@Project or AccessoriesTheShow with full marketing and promotion. Winner will also receive a mentorship with Hilldun, and a brand consultancy with the Accessory Think Tank.

“For every collection I make, I create new stories and open new worlds for my designs. For this Magical Circus Tour collection, which includes the bag I present to you, my inspiration was the cheerful and colorful world of circuses. And this bag was the first piece of the collection with its circus tent print for a bright and eye-catching welcome.”

Watch the designer’s video

Hooop the Bag. 12th Independent Handbag Awards (IHDA)

Accessories Magazine Audience Fan Favorite
Joy Egbejimba – Nuciano, Nigeria

Prize: An interview with Editor-in-Chief Lauren Parker and a feature on plus placement on @accessoriesmag social media platforms

“The Aurene features a turn lock closure inspired by cowrie shells. In the 70’s, Cowries were used in Nigeria to express value, similar to currency, and beauty. Ethnic communities are deeply rooted in culture, which includes beautiful colors. We understand the importance of designs that represent all communities’ attributes, regardless of the season.”

Watch the designer’s videoNuciano. 12th Independent Handbag Awards (IHDA)


The Global Brands Group Best Student Made Handbag
Zhu Wang — ZW, China

Prize: Opportunity to work with GBG as a coveted design apprentice working with their esteemed brand assortment.

“I just love how reflective a mirror can be, and I think what you see yourself as in the mirror is important because self-cognition is where confidence comes from.”

Watch the designer’s video

ZW. 12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA)

The Basic Adhesives Best Green Handbag
Fiona Liu – ddropp, China

Prize: Opportunity to be a brand ambassador for the eco-industry top brand, Basic Adhesives, and enough Basic Adhesives glue and edge paint for 1000 bags.

“Inspiration begins from my dream. I believe we are all responsible for keeping a greener planet. Help to reduce carbon and use recycle materials for new purposes. It is very important to me. I am not only using a lot of biodegrade and recycled materials in my handbag collection, so is the same for my ready to wear collection, that I use recycled materials too.”

Watch the designer’s video

 ddropp. 12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA)

Best Retail Handbag Presented by Macy’s
Sugandh Agrawal – GUNAS New York, India

Prize: The opportunity to be part of The Workshop at Macy’s 

“The Livia bag is designed with the style conscious, savvy spender, family oriented customer of Macy’s in mind. Their customers (a loyal fan/shopper myself for over 10 years here!) want high quality fashion that’s multi purpose and can be worn with diverse looks without breaking the bank. Use it as a work bag, diaper bag, backpack or a shopper bag. It’s stylish, elegant and reliable. Just like Macy’s!”

Watch the designer’s video

Gunas. 12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA)

The BERNINA Best Handmade Handbag
Jonathan Rubinstein – JR, Venezuela

Prize: The BERNINA 560 sewing machine.

“This Satchel Bag is 100% hand-sewn. The process that I always do is designing the bag first through paper mockups, then I transfer the patterns to the computer and for this specific bag, I cut the holes with the laser cutter so I can get a better quality and finishing.”

Watch the designer’s video

JR. 12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA)

 Conscious Magazine Most Socially Responsible Handbag
Valeria Silva – Valeria & Elena, El Salvador

Prize: A feature in Conscious Magazine.

“I only work along side local artisans by creating a platform where we exchange my fashion design and business knowledge with their native craftsmanship techniques. The idea is to grow and learn together.”

Watch the designer’s video

Valeria & Elena. 12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA)

The Pure and Natural Yoga Bag Inspired by TAJA Coconut
Jennifer Hamley – Jennifer Hamley, Great Britain

Prize: Collaborating with the launch of the 100% pure and natural coconut water, TAJA Coconut, using the winning bag as inspiration.

I did a little research into the most common things that are carried in a yoga bag, and most people said that their current bags fit little more than their mat and a wallet, and that they would prefer something more roomy, and that could be used for other activities. With the inspiration of the beautiful shape of a young green coconut, the design came to life!

Watch the designer’s video 

Jennifer Hamley. 12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA)

Winner of the The Heritage Bag Inspired by Guess Handbags
Pooja Sanghvi – Pooja Sanghvi

Prize: Opportunity to potentially collaborate with the Guess Handbag Design Team using the winning bag as inspiration.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think Guess? is jeans. Guess has consistently innovated and lead the industry when it comes to all things denim. I drew inspiration for my sketch from Guess?’s rich history, my own passion for conservation, and my desire to highlight forgotten beauty. I have designed this bag to be made out of scraps from discarded denim. The goal is to reuse our waste and embrace the natural patina and degradation/distress that occurs over time in jeans.”

Watch the designer’s video
Pooja Sanghvi. 12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA)

The Aimee Kestenberg Signature Satchel
Tina Wang – Tina Wang, Taiwan

Prize: The opportunity to potentially collaborate with the Aimee Kestenberg Handbag Design Team using the winning bag as inspiration; receive a one on one strategy meeting with both the designer herself and company CEO; be featured on Aimee Kestenberg Social Platforms; receive a finished professionally made sample of the design teams final bag design; and be considered for an apprenticeship with The Affordable Luxury Group in New York City.

“My strength is being able to capture zeigeist and translate into designs that is relevant to both sales and function. I wanted to stay true to the integrity of the Aimee Kestenberg Tamitha backpack, which emphasized a soft silhouette and a bold zipper.”

Watch the designer’s video

Tina Wang. 12th Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA)

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