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The Winners of the 2014 Independent Handbag Designer Awards Are...

It's hard out there for an independent handbag designer, but an awards platform, in its eighth year, is helping.

While big luxury brands are always launching and promoting their increasingly exotic, exclusive and expensive handbags — often to very lucrative effect — it's a lot more difficult for a handbag designer to launch a handbag-only line on her own, without being attached to an already-established name.

Only a few people have done it and found mainstream success: Rebecca Minkoff, Kate Spade and Monica Botkier most notably. More recently, Reece Solomon (of Reece Hudson) and Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel (of Mansur Gavriel) come to mind.

But now, there's a platform for such designers to gain recognition and visibility: The Independent Handbag Designer Awards, founded by former designer Emily Blumenthal, the eighth iteration of which took place on Wednesday night at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in New York City.

A pool of 1,500 applicants from all over the world was narrowed down to 30 finalists (five per category), who were voted on by industry judges including Rafe Totengco, Deborah Lloyd of Kate Spade, Kenneth Cole, Carlos Falchi, Erica Russo of Bloomingdale's, Lauren Bush Lauren and Suesan Falkner of Guess. Each winner is featured in the all-important September issue of InStyle and the recipient of the Best Handbag in Overall Style and Design award gets his or her bags sold in select Bloomingale's locations this fall.

With so many big names already involved in the event's eighth year, we're sure this is a program that will only get bigger and better over time, especially given Blumenthal's unrelenting determination to bring indie handbag designers into the spotlight.

Without further ado, read on for the winners:

The Optitex Best Student Made Handbag: Morgan Richards of Morgan Rhea, The Savannah College of Art and Design, USA

These bags were created during the students' education. The winner gets of full suite of Optitex 3D modeling software as well as an internship at Coach.

The Bernina Best Handmade Handbag: Gili Rozin Tamam of MeDusa, Israel

Made by hand, machine sewn, crocheted or knitted, the winner will receive the Bernina 560 sewing machine (with a retail value of $5,000) as well as the opportunity to be an ambassador for the brand, creating blogs and projects for social media.

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The Timberland Best Green Handbag: Carolina Riffi Ollite-Hopman of Carat23, The Netherlands

These bags are made from renewable, organic, or recycled materials. The winner will receive the chance to have his or her product displayed at select Timberland stores. 

The FEED Most Socially Responsible Handbag: Monica Frisbie of Mondrina, USA, Made in Peru

All entries meet certain ethical and moral standards in regards to production, employment and philanthropy while impacting the local culture. The winner, chosen by Lauren Bush Lauren, will receive a feature on social business FEED's website, 

Distinctly Denim by Guess Handbags: Tika Kuchukhidze of Tika, Spain

These designers used denim to reflect the Guess brand. The winner gets his or her bag sold on

Best Handbag in Overall Style and Design: John Edwards of Florian London, UK

These bags represent the best-executed handbag in overall style and design. The winner will receive a booth at WWD Magic and the opportunity to have his line carried at Bloomingdale's. 

The Audience Fan Favorite: John Edwards of Florian London, UK’s online audience voted on finalists’ bags with the winner receiving over 77,000 votes of the 160,000 votes cast.