He’s honed his style over the past 20 years, and today it’s not uncommon to see his classic “going out bags” on the pages of glossy fashion magazines or held by celebrities like actresses Mariska Hargitay. and Laura Marano, Dominican entrepreneur Gigi Nunez, and even former governor – now Secretary of Commerce – Gina Raimondo.
Now he’s creating a new line of eco-friendly handbags, made from old clothes and other recycled materials.
Q: Where do you regularly source these recycled materials?
Stetson: Over the years I’ve compiled a lot of scraps and leftovers, and really just piles of my own old clothes. I took inventory and donated what could still be worn by others. And with the leftovers, I started to cut everything up and combine them in unexpected and harmonious ways to create reused and recycled bags that are not what you expect them to be.
I would call it more like “Type A” fashion as opposed to a bohemian style. So for someone who truly loves a sleek, tailored look, it hasn’t been possible to find upcycled fashion. It 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 your pieces are made by hand. How do you stay relevant and produce stylish, quality looks with this line?
Stetson: Our production model is in-house and I am physically assembling the parts. It also means I can mine a moment and easily translate it into a bag. So when Bernie Sanders was at the inauguration with his gloves on, I packed a bag. I wanted to support Ukraine, so I packed a bag (50% of profits go to Amnesty International).
In this line, I think giving structure and combining the material in interesting ways can give you a really clean and elevated look. I create pieces with an awareness of the fashion moment because I pay attention. Valentino, for example, just released a studded denim 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 came from, that the person who made it is cool and reflects your values, not just a gold letter logo on the flap of your bag.
Q: What sets this new line apart for you?
Stetson: I have a signature style that really goes back to my very early days. He really focused on what I call a “going out” bag (think envelope pouch) for fun. I like to do things that set the tone that this is a special time that we’re going to have tonight. It’s haute couture, but it’s very accessible. I like to think of my bags as icebreakers. A lesser known part of my work is leather goods, where I make more traditional bags, combining unexpected and interesting leathers and materials in a harmonious way. Two very different categories.
Q: How do you stay inspired after designing for two decades?
Stetson: Creating these bags is like constructing a three-dimensional collage from almost sacred recycled materials, which tell a story. They are as much a part of my own story as learning the trade. I never wanted to make bags that looked like they were sewn on a home sewing machine. I spent years becoming proficient in technical craftsmanship. But I also think fashion is fun. I love putting together a good outfit, it’s one of life’s great joys. People who buy my bags are okay with that. It’s a way for them — and for me — to express themselves, to have a sense of escape. I serve this population, and you can really see that reflected in my pieces.
Q: Where do you design and sell?
Stetson: After about 10 years designing these bags, selling them and still having another full time job; I cut the cord and made this passion my full time job. But I was working and drawing from home, and I was way too big for that, so I moved into the Hope Artist Village building in Pawtucket.
I spent a lot of time building relationships with the trade; setting up at trade shows, meeting buyers, entering stores, marketing and building my website, all on the side. I also set a table in Copley Square [in Boston] every weekend. But our website and my social media have really kept the business afloat during the pandemic.
Q: How have you withstood the pandemic?
Stetson: I continued to make these “going out” bags for the first year of the pandemic, even when no one was actually going out. But we did well and were able to get by. I think a lot of people, in that sense of defiance, bought ‘going out’ bags as gifts to say, ‘We’re going to go 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 building new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to journalist Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.
Alexa Gagosz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.