There's currently an influx of under-the-radar handbag brands entering the market. So much so that keeping up with the latest and greatest could be considered a full-time job. On social media, our timelines are constantly inundated with new designers. After some reflection, it's clear that of the names currently dominating the space, more than a handful of them are Black owned and proving time and time again that there's strength in numbers.
"It's so important to fight against the stigma that the industry we are in must be callous and unkind," Ashley Cimone and Moya Annece, founders of Ashya (pronounced “agh-shya”), say on why Black brands in particular need to work together. "Community is everything, it supports longevity and provides us the professional and emotional support we need to thrive and grow. We’ve been lucky enough to be mentored by some incredible Black women—Bethann Hardison, Felita Harris of RAISEfashion, Brandice Daniel of Harlem’s Fashion Row, and more. They’ve made it their mission to cultivate community specifically amongst Black designers, and it has helped us to build invaluable relationships, experience growth, and share resources with incredible talents."
Adding, "As Black women we are most passionate about shifting the narrative within the design and travel space through our work, celebrating the underrepresented and paying homage to the communities of color who’ve defined culture as we know it today. We’ve said it before and we’ll continue to say it, closed mouths don’t get fed. Speak to your community, don’t shy away from not only asking for help, but offering it when you’re able. Generosity and being vocal will always take you far. "
Alongside Ashya are household names like New York designers Telfar and Brandon Blackwood, who's rapid expansion we covered last October. (In the months following, the brand continued to skyrocket to popularity, its bags showing up on the likes of Kristin Davis in the new Sex and the City reboot series, And Just Like That.) There are also emerging creatives worth having on your radar, such as Indianapolis-based Julian James II of bespoke label The J2 Collection.
For those who are ready to welcome a new style into their lineup, just ahead is a complete rundown of the Black-owned handbag brands dominating the space in 2022, plus a well-curated offering of product selects for your perusal.
Founded by Nigerian American designer Sarah Nsikak, the Brooklyn-based brand La Réunion was born out of the creative innate love for textiles. With a master's degree in art therapy, the industry vet makes hand-quilted pieces made completely of recycled materials from estate sales and vintage shops. In addition to its collection of free-flowing dresses, the brand also has an assortment of patchwork-effect tote bags on offer, each one with a one-of-a-kind design. Well sized for a variety of occasions, its spacious silhouette is especially fitting for overnights and quick getaways.
Amsterdam designer Desiree Kleinen founded Ree Projects globally in 2019 as a luxury handbag brand meant to be inclusive. "I want to create pieces that resonate with who I am and the world around me in a genuine way," Kleinen shared on the brand's website. "I love to empower and inspire all the women around the globe to be herself and emphasize her strength, her pure beauty and personality.”
If you're not yet familiar with Yvonne Koné, the designer pays homage to her African roots through cohesive collections of architectural handbags. They're skillfully created with Danish design elements and sensible yet exciting color stories that are a nod to its Ivory Coast lineage.
For those who know exactly what they want but haven't been able to find it, Julian James II of Indianapolis-based bespoke brand The J2 Collection is a great place to start. Though the small-batch label has a handful of orders on hand, the magic lies in creating a one-of-a-kind piece alongside James. One of the benefits of the brand using quality materials is that it will last in your personal collection for years to come.
Ciriaco, pronounced "siri-ah-kō" is a New York–based brand reinventing the shape of the everyday handbag. Founded by Ashley Ciriaco, its editor and influencer-approved designs come in a handful of shapes, materials, and colorways, such as a supple cow print in gray, brown, and baby pink. All of which are meant to standout in your closet. The bags are available at KITH, both online and at select locations for your shopping perusal.
Fans of BFF alum Only Made's mismatched jewelry designs will appreciate the understated elegance of the brand's debut handbag design. Skillfully crafted from black leather, the Rowe Mini features a half-moon shape and a subtle braided detail across the shoulder strap. All you need is one look at the founder's Instagram page to get a feel for the level of craftsmanship and dedication that went into making what's bound to be your next favorite everyday bag.
If you have yet to be introduced to Vavvoune's (pronounced "vav-une") sleek handbags, then it's time to get acquainted. The compact styles on offer were created by Brooklyn-based designer Valérie Blaise and are made with hints of nostalgia, functionality, and energy in mind. The brand works closely with local craftsmen and women in New York's Garment District to ensure top-notch quality.
In just a few short years, and in the middle of a pandemic no less, Brandon Blackwood's eponymous label has skyrocketed to notoriety. The handbag designer who went viral for his buzzy ESR (End Systemic Racism) totes has since expanded his offering to include a little bit of everything. From the signature Kendrick Trunk to the '90s-inspired Syl Shoulder Bag, each new style comes in a range of sizes, colorways, and materials. Celebrities and other A-listers have also taken interest in the brand, with names like Jessica Alba and Winnie Harlow as famous fans.
Anima Iris designs colorful leather handbags that are, as stated in its Instagram bio, #BeyoncéApproved. Instantly recognized by the geometric silhouettes, each one of the brand's designs is hand-made entirely in Africa. However, the brand itself was founded in Philadelphia by Wilglory Tanjong. Some if its most popular silhouettes include the hexagon-shaped Zuri and the braid-detailed Zaya bags.
Those who keep up with the latest brands to go viral on social media have more than likely come across Homage Year's colorful designs. Founded in 2014 by Antoine Manning, the brand is available in a rainbow assortment of colorways, with each ovular silhouette fit with two front bubble pockets and a cutout handle at the top. Each bag also comes with an adjustable shoulder strap for ease of carry. Exclusive colorways can be found at the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue and BlackFashionFair.com.
If you're in the market for new labels to add to your collection, emerging label Land'd should be on your radar. Based in Atlanta, it was founded by Devin Landers (hence the name) and offers a small-batch collection of rectangular leather shoulder bags that are defined by their slouchy '90s vibe and subtle kiss-lock fastening. Also on offer is the Didi Tote with long, curly Mongolian shearling. Each style is priced just less than $300, making quality a bit more accessible.
In an effort to help the Haitian community long-term, all of Petit Kouraj's totes are produced locally. Founder Nasrin Jean-Baptiste draws inspiration from her family's roots to create a lineup of colorful netted shoppers. Detailed with fringe and beaded shells as accents, each style may have a distinct vibe that's great for vacation, but they all leverage elements of the country's rich culture.
At this point, designer Telfar Clemens's namesake label has become a household name. Its logo-stamped faux leather tote catapulted into popularity after it was so accurately dubbed the Bushwick Birkin. Today, the shopping bag is almost always sold out and has been reworked and reimagined, thanks to the help of brands like UGG and Moose Knuckles. It's also worth signing up for the brand's 24-hour all-access TV channel, which is just one example of its innovative marketing techniques.
CISE first grabbed the attention of the masses with its Protect Black Women bags that were everywhere in 2020. Today, the L.A-based company is expanding its core lineup to include a selection of leather styles, including its Sterlo cross-body that features an obscure take on its logo. Not to mention, the brand has a long list of A-list fans, like singer Tinashe and Black-ish star Marsai Martin, who posted a picture on Instagram wearing one of CISE's designs.
Brooklyn-based Ashya is the brand you look to for function-forward pieces that are also wildly stylish. Between its structured leather passport carriers and multi-compartment belt and body bags, each item is designed with wearability in mind. It was announced earlier this month that the label would be partnering with iconic American designer Michael Kors to create a selection of limited-edition bags for the brand's 40th anniversary. "[The] partnership was so affirming that what we’re building is finally resonating with not only our current customer base, but seasoned icons like Mr. Kors and others," the Jamaican American designer tells BAZAAR. "It's been an incredible learning experience and pivotal moment for our business," adding that the biggest takeaway was to be vocal about what you want and intentional in everything you do. "We have been consistent in our pursuit of building a unisex travel-adjacent accessories brand, through rejections and many nos."
EDAS designs with the eclectic woman in mind. From leather aprons meant to be worn over your outfit for added dimension to brightly colored shoulder bags with complementary accents, the brand has a lot to offer. Each style is created by founder Sade Mims in Brooklyn, with a focus on crafting your new everyday staple. But considering EDAS has been picked up by luxury retailers Farfetch and Selfridges, it's only a matter of time before it becomes the next big It brand.
Every well-dressed woman needs a woven straw tote in her wardrobe, and AAKS designs have more than enough options. Handcrafted by artisans in Africa with sustainable elements, the colorful carryalls are available for purchase at Nordstrom, too, for those hoping to snag one of the well-made pieces ahead of their next warm-weather vacation where the sturdy design will come in handy.