Kent Stetson’s Conversational Clutches

After 20 years in business, the Rhode Island handbag designer is more popular than ever, with his cleverly vibrant takes on butterflies, food, and pets.

“Flutterby” coated-canvas clutch, $230, Kent Stetson. / Photo by Mona Miri

From rural New Hampshire to the runways of New York City and stores across the world, Kent Stetson has come a long way with a simple idea: that in the right hands, an ordinary clutch could become a conversation piece. Marking his 20th anniversary this year, the handbag designer is at the height of his powers—but it wasn’t always that way.

As a twin who grew up watching his mom craft harnesses and repair bridles and saddles on the family farm, Stetson forever felt like he wanted to break out of his doubles shell and find his own voice—which manifested itself in some outrageous outfits. He sported these while pursuing a pre-med path at Brown University, but soon discovered that he wanted to trade in his stethoscope for a sewing machine. Working at a shoe store on campus, Stetson says he “cultivated a gift of empowering people to buy shoes and accessories that they really didn’t need.”

Kent Stetson shows off his colorful creations at his Pawtucket atelier. / Photo by Mona Miri

And a gift it truly is: After two decades in business, Stetson is, for the first time in his career, oversold—which for a designer is a good problem to have. Currently, he produces all of his bags with the help of his five-person team in his atelier in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and is finishing up a collaboration with the sub chain Jersey Mike’s.

“Donut” and “Pizza,” both $230, from the Kent Stetson Signature Collection. / Courtesy of Kent Stetson

As it turns out, food is a common theme for Stetson—not a surprise, considering that nearby Providence is a mecca for culinary delights. Some of my favorite bags of Stetson’s involve a chocolate-glazed doughnut, a shucked oyster shell, a French macaron, and even a slice of pizza—and we aren’t talking 2-D images, but actual 3-D versions of these delicacies—typically attached where you’d normally find a button closure. Stetson doesn’t stop at food, though—he also shines with his pets collection, which includes popular dog breeds. Where does he get his inspiration from? “I aspire to play with this alchemy of channeling the Zeitgeist and trying to transcend a moment,” Stetson explains. “I think about the life that a design is going to have, with the hope that it will be a treasured keepsake but will also set a friendly tone for connecting with others.”

First published in the print edition of the April 2023 issue with the headline “The Butterfly Effect.”

“Boston Citgo Crossbody Clutch,” $208, and “Disco Ball,” coated-canvas clutch, $298. / Courtesy Kent Stetson

From left: “Samoyed” and  “French Bulldog,” $208. / Courtesy Kent Stetson