13th annual Independent Handbag Designer Awards highlight global talent

Wednesday, June 19, 2019 - 12:08pm



Emily Blumenthal does not want to talk tariffs.  

The evening of Wednesday, June 12, the author-professor-designer-event planner (and University of Michigan alum) kicked off the 13th annual Independent Handbag Designer Awards by assuring her audience that our differences are our strengths, not only in relationships, but in business. In reference to the Trump administration’s recent increase in tariffs on Chinese imports, which have inevitably hurt the garment industry, she quipped: “Tonight, there will be no talk of tariffs — only talent.”

Meanwhile, 40 of the world’s most promising independent handbag designers, hailing from 21 countries, sat at the edge of their seats. As The Daily reported last year, the IHDA aims to foster new talent through mentorships, apprenticeships and collaborations provided by nine brand-sponsored award categories that vary year to year. This year’s prizes included an opportunity to collaborate with Nine West on a handbag (specifically, The Cult Belt Bag Inspired by Nine West), an invitation to sell their line to buyers at an upcoming Coterie marketplace show (Coterie Best Handbag in Overall Style and Design) and, like last year, a spot in the upcoming Workshop at Macy’s via the Best Retail Handbag award presented by Macy’s. (The annual commemorative Carlos Falchi Iconoclast Award was given to established designer Patricia Nash, a Macy’s mainstay.)

The IHDA maintained its ethical focus through categories like the Piñatex Best Green Handbag and the Global Goods Partners Most Socially Responsible Handbag. They also highlighted relevant organizations at the event. As always, attendees were encouraged to bring new or lightly used bags as donations for New York nonprofit Bottomless Closet. Rob Scheer of Comfort Cases, an organization that provides bags of essentials to kids in foster care, gave a heart-wrenching speech once again.

In the end, the 2019 IHDA winners hailed from various nations, including the United States, Canada, Korea, Romania, Great Britain, Brazil, Venezuela, Taiwan and Mauritius. Their designs represented the rich potential for multiplicity offered by the world of handbag design; winning bags were made of everything from recycled seat belts to hand-tanned deerskin leather and took on a variety of shapes that can’t be adequately described by my limited handbag vocabulary. Only two of the 10 winners were from the U.S.

Like Blumenthal, I’m not going to talk about tariffs, but here’s what I will say: Without the creativity offered by those from abroad, there would be no Independent Handbag Designer Awards — frankly, there would be no real handbag, clothing or accessories industries in this country. Globally-minded designs are made to thrive. Without them, American fashion, whatever that is, would crumble.