Judging the Independent Handbag Awards & 5 Things to Remember as an Applicant

A few days ago I had the pleasure of being a preliminary judge for this year’s Independent Handbag Awards. Myself, along with a handful of other influencers in the fashion writing world, were invited to spend a lovely Sunday afternoon at the beautiful Paramount Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, looking at handbags, nibbling on treats, sipping cocktails and coffee (LOTS of coffee!), and ultimately helping to decide the fate of some of the world’s emerging handbag designers.  Pressure?  Um, yeah.

Independent Handbag Awards
Independent Handbag Awards Preliminary Judging Event

You may think I’m exaggerating about helping to determine the fate of the applicants but, honestly, I’m not.  I don’t think I fully understood the impact of our little group’s decision making until I arrived at the judging event on Sunday. While having a good time, sipping Figenza Fig Vodka and enjoying things like manicures by Incoco were all encouraged, we were ultimately asked to really give our full attention and a discerning eye to all contestants.  We took this request quite seriously once we learned the following:

Independent Handbag Awards
Last Year’s Winner for Best Overall Handbag

Best Overall Handbag Winner will receive a booth at WWDMAGIC , the opportunity to develop a capsule collection for Saks Fifth Avenue and the chance to design a limited-edition bag for Isabella Fiore.

Impressive, right?  So serious we were (well, we did have our share of fun mind you) and we proceeded to sift through 1200 handbag submissions, choosing the top 10 in each category, for final judging by the event sponsors.  It was an enormous but fulfilling task.

Independent Handbag Awards
Independent Handbag Awards Founder Emily Blumenthal Getting Down to Business

In addition to being exposed to some of the most impressive globally based handbag designers out there, another exciting part of the experience was being introduced to, learning about , and connecting with 10 of the most innovative and forward thinking bloggers and writers that New York has to offer.  Who are they?

So, what happens when you put all this great talent in a room to help decide on the future of other great talent? Something grand!  We discovered amazing labels we didn’t know existed, learned about some labels that still need a little guidance, came to realize that the indies are just as active in determining trends as their more established counterparts, and each put in our 2 cents to determine who should move on to the next round.

Independent Handbag Awards
An entry I found to be quite lovely

Oh, we also collectively made a few points about what not to do when submitting your work for the Independent Handbag Awards, or any other fashion competition for that matter.  (Kind of inevitable, right?)  So I thought I’d share that as well:

  • Photography: there is nothing more important when submitting online than the image of your work being absolutely wonderful.  This is the only representation of your work that the preliminary judges will see.  Make it great.
  • When asked to submit only one image, don’t submit an image of the inside of your bag.  We cannot possibly get a good handle on what the bag looks like.
  • When there are several categories from which to choose, do your research and think hard about which one best suits your work.  There were several beautiful bags that we saw that, sadly, were submitted in a category that was not at all relevant to their work and therefore disqualified. When in doubt, submit to more than one.
  • When sifting through your collection to choose the design you want to submit, consider asking several people in your circle (and even out!) which they would choose and why.  Tally the votes, analyze the feedback, and make an informed and discerning decision.  You get one shot, then you have to wait until the following year’s awards to try again.
  • READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.  A surprising amount of designers submitted sketches in the categories that required produced bags and submitted produced bags in the categories that required sketches. Don’t be careless.

OK, I think that’s all I can share about Sunday’s festivities.  In the next few weeks we will learn about the finalists and I will absolutely share all the juicy tidbits.  Until then, you’re just gonna have to sit tight. 🙂

Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

  1. Gigi Karmous-Edwards

    Dear Nicole,

    Thank you for your wonderful and insightful article! This is my second year applying… hopefully, 3rd time is a charm will work for me. I really enjoyed the awards show last year and will be there again this year. I am really looking forward to meeting everyone there. I hope to see you there too.

    Kind regards,

    Gigi Karmous-Edwards

    • Nicole

      Hi Gigi,

      Thanks for your comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. I truly hope it gave some insight into what the experience was like as well as things to think as an applicant.
      Your bags are lovely and quite unique and I wish you best of luck in your career!


  2. Carrie Carmichael

    Thank you Nicole!
    Very insightful article! On behalf of all of the designers who have a passion for their purses, we are truly grateful that all of the judges put their hearts into the outcome! Speaking of outcome when will the finalists be announced?
    Yours in handbags,
    Carrie Ella

    • Nicole

      Hi Carrie,

      Thanks for visiting StartUp FASHION! I truly did enjoy the the process and the submissions were so beautiful.

      We are not associated with the Handbag Awards, other than acting as a preliminary judge, so we don’t have any details on announcements, unfortunately.

      Thanks again and good luck to you!

  3. Jennifer Lang

    Hi Nicole!
    Thanks for the advice!
    This was also my first year and I am very excited!
    Kind regards,

    • Nicole

      Hi Jennifer,

      You’re welcome! We hope it gave you a little insight into what the preliminary process was all about.

      Good luck!

  4. Leslie Vincent

    Thanks Nicole,
    I saw a lot of things I did wrong after the fact and fully understand the reasons for the “rules of engagement”. I got lost in the excitement and never have been good at following rules anyways lol I am my own worst enemy. But live and learn and… I’ll be back… 🙂
    Still can wait to see the talent and progress of those who got chosen and very happy to see what IHA has done over the years for so many.

    • Nicole

      Hi Leslie,

      Excitement can often overshadow things! It great to see that you have a positive attitude.

      Good luck with your line,

  5. VianneyCreations

    It was my first time entering to this award. I find this article very helpful and I cant wait for do it again next year. thanks for the opportunity!!!

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