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 like actresses Mariska Hargitay and Laura Marano, Dominican entrepreneur Gigi Nunez , and even former governor – now Commerce Secretary – Gina Raimondo.
Now he’s creating a new line of eco-friendly handbags, which are made out of old clothing and other recycled materials.
Q: Where are you regularly sourcing these recycled materials?
Stetson: 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, up-cycled 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 it a tailored, sleek look, it hasn’t been possible to find up-cycled fashion. This was an opportunity for me in my own space, but it was also a long-time coming. Even five years ago, there wasn’t the same kind of awareness of the impact of our fashion consumption on the environment, but there is a much greater awareness now.
Q: All of your pieces are made by hand. How are you staying relevant and producing quality, stylish looks with this line?
Stetson: 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. Valentino, for example, just came out with a denim, studded bag. I have a few looks that incorporate denim pieces, others with studs, gold disc detailing, leather, and other pieces.
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.
Q: What makes this new line stand out to you?
Stetson: I have a signature style that really goes back to the very beginning of when I started. It really focused on what I call a “going out” bag (think of an envelope clutch) for fun. I like to make things that set the tone that this is a special time that we’re going to have tonight. It’s high fashion, but it’s very approachable. I like to think of my bags as ice breakers. A lesser known portion of my work is leather craft, where I’m making more traditional bags, combining unexpected and interesting leathers and materials in harmonious ways. Two very different categories.
Q: How do you stay inspired after designing for two decades?
Stetson: Creating these bags are like building a three-dimensional collage using recycled materials that are almost sacred, that tell a story. They are as much part of my own history as far as learning the craft. I never wanted to make bags that looked like they were sewn on a home-sewing machine. I’ve spent years to become proficient in technical craft. But I also think fashion is fun. I love putting together a good outfit, it’s one of the great joys of life. People who buy my bags are on board with that. It’s a way for them – and for me – to express themselves, to have a sense of escape. I’m serving that population, and you can really see that coming through in my pieces.
Q: Where are you designing and selling?
Stetson: 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. But our website and my social media really kept the business afloat during the pandemic.
Q: How have you weathered the pandemic?
Stetson: 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. ”
The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.