Giving new life to old creations is hardwired into the DNA of Kent Stetson’s enterprise.
In 2001, right after he graduated from Brown University, he was constructing colorful, abstract, computer-generated paintings. But he didn’t know how to sell them. “I didn’t know anyone at the time that had beautiful homes with empty walls,” he recalled recently.
But selling fashionable shoes or bags came naturally for him. He started cutting up pieces of his paintings, sewing them into bags, and selling them out of the shoe store he was working in.
He’s honed in on his style over the last 20 years, and today, it’s not uncommon to see his classic “going-out bags” in the pages of shiny fashion magazines or held by celebrities such as actresses Mariska Hargitay and Laura Marano, Dominican entrepreneur Gigi Nunez, and even former governor — now Commerce Secretary — Gina Raimondo.
Now he’s creating a line of eco-friendly handbags, made out of old clothing and other recycled materials.
Where are you regularly sourcing these recycled materials?
Over the years, I’ve compiled lots of remnants and scraps, and really just piles of my own, old clothes. I took inventory and donated what could still be worn by others. And with the remnants, I started cutting everything up and combining them in unexpected and harmonious ways to create repurposed, upcycled bags that are not what you would expect they are.
I would call it more like “Type A” fashion as opposed to a boho style. So for someone who is really into a tailored, sleek look, it hasn’t been possible to find upcycled fashion. This was an opportunity for me in my own space, but it was also a long-time coming.
All of your pieces are made by hand. How are you staying relevant and producing quality, stylish looks?
Our production model is in-house and I’m physically putting the pieces together. That also means that I can harness a moment and translate it into a bag easily. So when Bernie Sanders was at the inauguration with his gloves, I made a bag. I wanted to support Ukraine, so I made a bag (50 percent of proceeds are donated to Amnesty International).
In this line, I think giving structure and combining hardware in interesting ways can give you a really clean and elevated look. I’m crafting pieces with an awareness of the fashion moment because I’m paying attention.
It’s really the farm-to-table version of accessories: Knowing where something comes from, that the person who made it is cool and reflects your values, and is not just some gold-lettered logo on the flap of your bag.
Where are you designing and selling?
After about 10 years of designing these bags, selling them, and always having another full-time job; I cut the cord and made this passion my full-time gig. But I was working and designing from home, and really outgrew it, so I moved to the Hope Artist Village building in Pawtucket.
I spent a lot of time building relationships with commerce; setting up at trade shows, meeting buyers, getting into stores, and doing the marketing and building my website all on the side. I also set up a table in Copley Square [in Boston] every weekend.
How have you weathered the pandemic?
I continued making these “going-out” bags during the first year of the pandemic, even when no one was actually going out. But we did OK and were able to ride it out. I think a lot of people, in this sense of defiance, purchased “going-out” bags as gifts to say, “We’ll get out again. Here’s a bag for when we do.”