First Handbag Incubator Launches

emily blumenthal

In an exclusive interview with Emily Blumenthal, founder of The Handbag Awards and the newly launched Signal Brands Collective – the first-ever handbag designer incubator – we learned about her passion for the industry and her mission to support and amplify up-and-coming handbag designers.

When asked about the inspiration behind starting the incubator, Blumenthal shared that after 15 years of The Handbag Awards and teaching fashion marketing and entrepreneurship at prestigious institutions, she saw a clear need for a program to nurture and support independent handbag designers. “Signal Brands’ commitment to working with us through the IHDA made them a logical partner in this endeavor,” she said.

Looking to the future, Blumenthal envisions the incubator as a bi-annual program and believes there is a real need for this type of support in the handbag industry. “I deal with retailers all the time and the one comment they say is that there is an overall lack of newness and innovation. The takeaway from The Handbag Awards is that we fill that void with designers that would have never received an opportunity for discovery,” she explained.

When asked about her role in the industry and the nickname “Handbag Fairy Godmother,” Blumenthal laughed and said, “It has become my mission to amplify brands and give them the space to become the creators of the next ‘it bag.'”

The Signal Brands Collective, launching in February 2023, will be a 15-week program where a cohort of five selected independent handbag designers will be educated, guided, and mentored by Blumenthal and her team. With the support of Signal Brands’ resources, designers will create a “hero bag” mini collection of three silhouettes, consisting of a Tote, Satchel, and Crossbody, and will be provided a brand roadmap to have their bags retail-ready on a larger scale.

The first cohort of designers selected for the Signal Brands Collective includes IHDA Winners, Jeff Wan, Ivana Curic, and Marija Curic of Curic & Curic; Valèrie Blaise of Vavvoune, Sade Mims of EDAS, and Shaquita Garcia of AART NYC.

Signal Brands, a manufacturer, and distributor of globally-renowned fashion brands licensed for handbags, small leather goods, luggage, and travel accessories, has been a long-time supporter of The Independent Handbag Awards. “The goal of the Signal Brands Collective is to find talented designers and give them the opportunity to learn about retail expectations, develop a product that can sell on a larger scale, and also give back to the handbag designer community,” says Jason Rimokh, CEO of Signal Brands.

Blumenthal has been a long-time advocate and voice for independent handbag designers and has helped many unknown brands garner placement into major retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

For more information about Signal Brands, visit and follow them on Instagram at @signalbrands. For more information about The Handbag Awards, visit and follow them on Instagram at @HandbagDesigner.