Interview with Founder, Emily, of The Handbag Awards

Interview with Founder, Emily, of The Handbag Awards

Friday, January 31 2014


You can submit your application for The Handbag Awards HERE!

1. What is Handbag Designer 101? Explain the purpose of the company and how it how it works.

Handbag Designer 101 launched in 2006 as the original and first-of-its-kind collective and resource including one of the largest databases of international handbag designers in the world. As the authority on discovering and exposing talent, Handbag Designer 101 hosts the HBDNetwork which consists of over 5000 independent designers from the U.S. and around the world. HBD101 has created multiple offline events like HBDWorkshops and HBDWebinars which has provided community, inspiration and opportunities for handbag designers and innovation, newness and handbags for the consumer.

Founded in 2007, the Independent Handbag Designer Awards by Handbag Designer 101 was created to celebrate handbag design and creativity from the United States and around the world. Now in its eighth year, it is an industry staple and is the only international design competition to discover, recognize and create brand awareness for independent handbag designers. The IHDA is responsible for discovering countless designers and creating collaborations with major department stores and brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Timberland, kate spade and more.

2. How does Handbag Awards choose the designers they work with and feature in the program?

We receive over 3000 applicants worldwide as the process is open from January 1 through April 27th. On April 28th our Preliminary Judging Panel meets to review every single application. This panel is made up of Social Media Elite and they patiently spend about 6 hours reviewing, tweeting, Instagraming the most 'unique' and the most incredible bags and selects 5 in each category. From there, the bags go to InStyle to be shot and then sent over to the Fashion Center here in NYC where our Esteemed Panel comes and selects the best to determine the winner of each category. That panel is made up of Carlos Falchi, Deborah Lloyd of kate spade, Kenneth Cole, and our key members of our sponsors like the DMM of Bloomingdale's and more. The bags are also featured on for the Audience Fan Favorite where last year they had a mind-blowing 420,000 unique votes (the largest in history.)

The Best Handbag in Overall Style & Design - Winner will receive a booth at WWDMAGIC and the opportunity to have their line carried at Bloomingdale's.

The Optitex Best Student Made Handbag - Winning will garner the opportunity to become an Optitex Brand Ambassador to demonstrate 3D technology throughout Optitex major global customers together with full Optitex 2D & 3D package (worth $20,000) and an iPad mini with the new Optitex Fast Sample application.

The BERNINA Best Handmade Handbag - Winner will receive the BERNINA 560 sewing machine (with a retail value of $5,000.) In addition, winners will have the prestigious opportunity to be an Ambassador for BERNINA in creating blogs and projects for BERNINA social media and We All Sew Blog.

The Timberland Best Green Handbag - Winner will receive the chance to have their product for sale in the Timberland stores.

The FEED Most Socially Responsible Handbag - Winner will receive a feature with on

The Audience Fan Favorite Handbag - Based on Finalists Selected hosted by

And get your sketches ready!

Distinctly Denim by Guess Handbags - Winner will garner an amazing opportunity to have their bag sold on, work alongside our handbag designer based in Florence, Italy as well as receive a feature in the September issue of InStyle. We are partnering with the Guess Foundation to donate a portion of the proceeds of the winning bag to the social service agency Peace Over Violence. Its mantra: Make a social statement with your fashion statement. And wear denim for a purpose.

And by the way – All Winners will be featured in the September issue of InStyle.

3. We're starting a new year! What are you most excited to accomplish with Handbag Designer 101 in 2014?

We have InStyle back again which is exciting as they are really the home of finding the top It Bag designer and we are honored to bring it to them. We are also going to be relaunching Handbag Designer 101 shortly as a B2C site which will have a big impact overall in how independent and emerging handbags are sold and seen.

4. Can you tell us about the Handbag Design Awards--what they are, what it means to win them, etc?

We have designers that have been pulled from anonymity that have become overnight sensations and also now designing for top brands like Foley and Corinna, Calvin Klein Men's and Li and Fung.

5. Tell us about some of the winners of the Handbag Design Awards from previous years. Who are they? What made them stand out? Where are they now?

Katherine was our first big Award Winner and she had said her father had flown in from China and was emotional while she was accepting her award - I knew we were on to something big.
- Since the Handbag Awards, Katherine Kwei Bags have been sold in Lane Crawford, Saks, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. Specialty boutiques such as Kitson, Verve, Julian Gold and Fred Seagal. They have also been seen on Celebs like JLo, Sienna Miller, Eva Longoria, Blake Lively, Fergie. Katherine has also included bags at lower pricepoints within the sweet spot of handbag retail which is super exciting for us to see.

I spoke w/ Rachel after since she won an apprenticeship on the design team for Devi Kroell. She said - they aren’t paying me - I don’t know if I can do it - I don’t know anyone - what if this doesn’t work - since she was coming from the London College of Fashion. I told Rachel - you take it and you make it work because your talent will get you where you need to be. In Rachel’s words:
Winning Best Student Made Handbag in June 2009 enabled me to cross the pond and fulfill my desire to design and reside in another country. The apprenticeship at Devi Kroell turned into full-time employment, offering experience in exotics and the luxury market. Following this I transitioned into the contemporary market with Foley and Corinna. In September 2012, I was ecstatic to finally make the move into Men's Accessory Design, securing a position with Calvin Klein. I have found NYC to be welcoming, inspiring and a second home. Every step and experience leads to the next. Many thanks to the Handbag Awards for opening the door.

FABIOLA PEDRAZZINI: 2011 BEST Handbag in Overall Style and Design
Since the Awards - Fabiola became another one of our IHDA imports from Italy. After having her line sold in Saks - Fabiola now has a team in New York and is planning a major relaunch for fall 2013 & you can expect to see us in major retailers and boutiques across the globe and on some dashing and stylish A-list celebrities"

Fiona could not be here with us tonight but she sent us a few words:
Since the handbag awards in 2012 I've sold 200 and counting of my competition winning bag, The Wiltshire Carryall. This has played a huge part in helping to fund the opening of my first Kempton & Co store in Brooklyn. This is also the site of my workshop where I do custom work, sampling and this has helped continue my sustainable and USA Made product which has opened doors to many new 3rd party retail opportunities too. I had my Fall 2012 line bought and sold in the Timberland flagship stores as well as creating two styles for a Summer 2013 collaboration, matching back to the Timberland Earthkeepers collection. And as if life hasn't been busy enough, I have also just had my first baby, new inspiration for well thought-out, stylish diaper bags to be coming soon!

AIMEE KESTENBERG: 2010 Winner of Best Use of Swarovski Crystallized Elements and 2012 Winner of Creating with Nylon by Kipling
Last be definitely not least! Aimee is the quintessential handbag designer. This shot was taken at her launch at Macy’s. Aimee won 2 times - and then her path was solidified. Aimee would become famous on the moon as her Australian charm, work ethic and talent would transcend universes. Aimee went from being an assistant designer, to a design director - to - now having her own line with the Adoni Group. She is now the golden girl of QVC w Aimee Kestenberg for QVC and Aimee Kestenberg Collection (which is my main price collection). Stores that have picked me up thus far include; Nordstrom, Macys, QVC. As she says "My brand is about fusing innovation with ergonomics. I aim to push the limits in design while maximizing the functionality needs of the modern day woman in high quality leathers and at affordable prices."