Searching for the next must-have handbag, Maurices is staging a contest inviting designers or aspiring designers to submit a sketch.

The specialty retailer’s contest, called Project Handbag, starts today and runs through Feb. 11. Details about entering are on and

“This is going to be fun and engaging, and it opens up an opportunity for young, aspiring designers,” said Lisa Rhodes, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for the Duluth, Minn.-based chain, a division of Dress Barn Inc.

Her advice to contestants: “Really keep in mind Maurices’ target customer. She is a savvy, fashion-conscious gal, twentysomething, living in small towns. She could be a college student, or starting her first job, but she is juggling a whole lot of things. She may be a new wife. Stress and chaos is a big part of her life. She follows trends, but is not the trend leader.”

For the bag itself, quality is important but it should be versatile and not expensive, Rhodes said. “It should be fashionable to wear with jeans or out to dinner, so it fills a fast-paced, fashionable lifestyle. We’re looking for it to be under $50.”

Fashion Indie will narrow the entries to 10 finalists. Sketches of the selected bags will then be posted on and from Feb. 14 to 25 to allow consumers to vote on their favorite bags. The top three vote-getters will advance to a third round, where a panel of fashion experts will select the grand prize winner, who will be spotlighted at a media event in New York on May 7.

Maurices will mass produce the winning bag and sell it in stores starting in September. “With over 600 stores, there will be a minimum of 10,000 units,” but there could be several times that amount if the bag gets manufactured in different colors, Rhodes added. She said the designer will be identified on the winning bag, possibly with a tag or logo saying “designed exclusively for Maurices by….” Aside from the exposure, the winner gets a $500 Maurices shopping spree.

“We have thousands of readers and aspiring designers within our network who have been waiting for an opportunity like this to come around,” Daniel Saynt, founder of Fashion Indie, said in a statement.

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