Handbags can define an outfit, whether it's taking a simple combination to the next level or amplifying the effect of a striking look. Each season, designers from luxury to indie debut fresh and covetable styles, all of which are great for sprucing up your look. If you're one for bags that skew less mass and more distinctive, under-the-radar handbag designers are a category worth exploring at every chance.
From sleek and structured handhelds to utilitarian belt bags and embellished market totes, unique handbag brands are the secret weapon of fashion girls spanning all aesthetics. Even with your most casual clothes, a unique handbag is transformative, such as a swingy fringe market tote or a sculptural leather carryall. On occasions when you're aiming for polish — these days perhaps a virtual happy hour — a sleek, vintage-inspired top-handle or minimalist chain-strap crossbody with an architectural silhouette guarantees standout style. Day-to-day, a distinguishing shoulder bag or two-tone belt bag (which you can style across your chest) appears dynamic with everything from dresses to jeans and tailored separates.
If your interest is piqued, keep reading to discover six under-the-radar handbag brands from sustainably-made labels to vintage-inspired designs with each designer and founder sharing their philosophy on the design. Plus, shop the edit if you're in the mood for something new.
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The Under-The-Radar Bag Brand To Shop: Vavvoune
Moods, moments of nostalgia, and functionality serve as the inspiration behind Brooklyn-based, Vavvoune, a handbag brand founded by self-taught designer, Valèrie Blaise. "Vavvoune is very personal to me, and I get inspired by everything. Moments in the past ... being my experiences or not ... pushed the pen of design for me," Blaise tells TZR. Simple bags with a bit of nuance are at the crux of this collection, from top-handle totes with gold hardware to sleek, yet off-kilter shoulder bags, all perfect for the everyday. "I like to dive into design in unexpected ways and produce bags and accessories that have an essence to them," the designer says. "I think that's very important when it relates to self-expression, and people value that. We all like to wear things that give us a feeling."
The Under-The-Radar Bag Brand To Shop: Usisi Sister
Launched in June of 2019, Usisi Sister is a clothing and accessories brand by sisters and co-founders Kathryn and Millie Allsopp. The contemporary collection, which includes distinctively sculptural handbags, is designed in London and produced in fair trade factories worldwide, using sustainably sourced all-natural fabrics. "Our aim has always been to create clothing and accessories that work in a modern backdrop, emphasizing the need to produce versatile pieces that can take you through the different aspects of contemporary life," Millie tells TZR. Each bag is designed to feel effortless, versatile, and classic, and strikes the perfect balance between simplicity, detail-oriented and functional design, and sophistication. "We wanted to capture an element of the past, but with the modern edge that we strive for," Millie says.
With an emphasis on simplicity, clean lines, and strong silhouettes, Kathryn says that design inspiration comes from modern art, furniture, and architecture. "We incorporate elements of London culture into our designs, such as the Rollo bag's clean lines, which were inspired by pagoda rooftops of Georgian architecture, and the Eddie bag, which was inspired by '60s mod furniture," she says. "Our accessory aesthetic has always been sculptural, offering a dramatic edge, but with caution to not detract from the freshness and effortlessness that we are drawn to."
Function and versatility are of great importance to the design duo, too; totes can fit laptops, and evening bags can accommodate a cell phone, keys, wallet, and lipstick. "We focus on what the customer would be wearing it to," Kathryn says.
The Under-The-Radar Bag Brand To Shop: Ashya
Co-founders Ashley Cimone and Moya Annece launched their unisex bag brand, Ashya, in 2017 on the founding principal of well-crafted, purposeful design with a luxuriously utilitarian aesthetic. "Ashya is a luxury travel accessories label that seeks to encourage thoughtful post-tourist exploration and cultural awareness through design and storytelling," Cimone says of the New York-based brand.
Leather belt bags are the Ashya's signature with nuanced elements like waved edges, two-tone color blocking, and luxe hardware that set them far apart from their sportier counterparts. "The accessories market is quite saturated with traditional handbag styles, and belt bags have been reintroduced in the same shapes over and over again, even now as we see a resurgence of the style in recent years," Annece tells TZR of the brand's origins. "This void in the market presented a unique opportunity we felt inclined to respond to and, since then, we have maintained a narrow focus of rethinking travel-friendly accessories."
The Under-The-Radar Bag Brand To Shop: Mehry Mu
Istanbul-raised Günes Mutlu, founder and creative director of Mehry Mu, set out to create a bag brand that supported local Turkish artisans by producing unique, handmade designs at an accessible price point. "We are a brand with originality in using different materials with different shapes that individually speak to the collective design subconscious but altogether offer a unique style," Mutlu tells TZR. "Through my designs, I like to evoke a feeling of nostalgia but never sadness. I like a vintage vibe, but I do design for the contemporary woman."
With an affinity for elegant and eclectic touches, Mutlu incorporates design elements into every Mehry Mu bag, including chainlink straps, agate stones, gold-dipped brass, and metallic rope. "I have a very strong bond with the jewelry I collect and wear, and my wish for Mehry Mu customers is for them to have a similar bond. Our bags are seasonless and timeless, and we are a love brand. So, the bags are meant to be loved throughout generations and become part of memories."
Mutlu designs every Mehry Mu bag with versatility in mind and upholds a craftsmanship standard that holds up to repeat wear. "A feminine touch with sophisticated and eclectic flair is what makes us unique. The same Mehry Mu bag could very well be spotted with a cashmere coat antique hunting in Belgium, glamping in Marrakech, afternoon strolling in Capri, meditating in Tulum, and the list goes on."
The Under-The-Radar Bag Brand To Shop: Petit Kouraj
Fashion stylist Nasrin Jean-Baptiste founded Brooklyn-based Petit Kouraj — a luxury bag line comprised of lively net totes handmade in Haiti — after not seeing herself reflected in traditional accessories brands. "At the time of conception, there weren't many accessories brands that had an authentic identity, and I wanted to create a brand that had soul, with real meaning and that feels personal when worn."
From the swingy fringed silhouettes to the beaded embellishments, each knitted bag sparks joy while being a functional day-to-day style. "The collection adapts to its wearer, it can simultaneously be a fun and bold statement, yet quiet and elegant depending on how it's worn," Jean-Baptiste says. "It's important for me to design pieces that feel unique and rare. I try to ignite an emotional response from my customer. I want them to feel like they are connecting with a bag that has depth beyond its aesthetic value."
The Under-The-Radar Bag Brand To Shop: For the Ages
Aiming to elicit a sense of confidence, self-expression, and joy through dressing, Jacqueline Syms founded For the Ages in 2019, by combining novelty fabrics and nostalgic shapes into her vegan handbag designs. "For The Ages nods to the past, mainly the '70s and '90s, while existing in the now," Syms says of her New York-based line.
Offering two distinctive silhouettes — the Ineva Baguette and Yoko Tote — each bag comes in a range of unexpected fabrics with a streamlined and minimal look that's both wearable and versatile. "A woman's handbag is her ultimate statement; it's the 'cherry on top' to her outfit," Syms says. "I always try to design with newness and freshness in mind while being inspired by what has come before. I like to create custom shapes that have not necessarily been explored and aim to stay away from reiterations of handbag styles that are frequently produced. I think there is a lot of room for creative expression and artistry in the handbag world, and I hope to offer just that."