The City of Pawtucket is home to creatives and artists of all kinds, people who can go pound for pound with any other city in the world. Kent Stetson represents what’s possible when you combine top-of-the-line talent with industry-leading innovation.
Slow to walk but quick to run, Kent is nothing short of a force in the design world. He moved to Rhode Island to study at Brown University, sensing the potential in new media to create something that moved beyond the traditional. Rather than give up when his art didn’t sell in shows post-graduation, Kent turned his imagination loose and delved into that new media background head first.
“My computer-generated paintings were earning a lot of compliments, but the capital return on investment wasn’t happening,” Kent says. “In 2003 I started cutting up the pieces and sewing them in to bags, which I sold at the shoe store where I worked. They sold quickly.”
Ten years after the origin of Kent’s colorful handbag experiment, Kent left his full-time real estate job and made swift moves on the local fashion scene. In January of 2013 he staged a much-lauded presentation at StyleWeek Northeast, combining a runway show with a performance by Big Nazo Puppets, a Rhode Island based, international performance group of visual artists, masked musicians, and puppeteers. The partnership proved a perfect pairing of creative minds, combining Kent’s forward-facing and modern style with an equally unique and at times bizarre presentation of Big Nazo.
Art happens in unexpected places, and Kent will always be an artist at heart. As such he relishes the opportunity to turn his work into reflections of the time. His handbags are all part of their creator, meaning they’re just as fearless. They’ve already tackled controversial topics like marijuana legalization and the Black Lives Matter movement, with Kent willing to put more of voice into his work whenever he feels the occasion calls for it.
Fifteen years strong and still in its stride, his quest to create handbags with the ability to engage people in the same way as art became a reality. Safe-guarding the world from boring handbags, one stitch at a time.
“In much the way that farm-to-table revolutionized the culinary world over a decade ago, I think the same thing is poised to happen for other consumer goods, such as apparel and accessories,” Kent says. “Just as with a Michelin-star restaurant serving locally sourced food, it has to taste good, but the idea that you know where something comes from and that the resources behind that thing are treated responsibly- this is a reflection of the values of the end-user. The bulk of our work is eye-catching and playful, and I like to think that our work sparks fun conversations, and facilitates personal connections”
Handbags, clutches, and other unique pieces with the signature of Kent Stetson have shown up on runways and red carpets the world over. And he’s still making them all right here, in the City of Pawtucket, in a studio at Hope Artiste Village. A welcome far cry from his days of taking over the kitchen table at home, something both Kent and his husband are ecstatic about.
The last year has seen Kent devote much of his time designing totes that aren’t trying to hide or mend the leather’s visible flaws and blemishes, but celebrate them. There’s strength behind every imperfection. He’s seeking to remind us of that fact, using the corner of the fashion world that he’s carved out for himself to do it.
Visit Kent’s store at the Hope Artist Village or online at: http://www.kentstetson.com/
- Mayor Donald R. Grebien