Designer Jenna Kator with her Huntington Handbag in rustic tan
Vegan handbag designer Jenna Kator exhibited her latest designs at last month’s NY NOW trade show at New York’s Javits Center, and afterward observed that her line represents a growing segment within the handbag category.
“People want to be more socially responsible with the things they wear,” explained the Detroit-based Kator, who launched her Jenna Kator Collection in 2009 at Detroit Fashion Week—which highlighted the Motor City’s transition from automotive industry to fashion (she would later receive the Fashion Group International of Detroit Accessories Award).
Detroit had undergone a downturn in 2008, and Kator, who had worked as an automotive media planner, was one of many in the metro area who lost their jobs. Choosing to stay put, she pursued her lifelong dream of being an entrepreneur, and began showcasing her collection of quality but affordable handbags.
“When I started, I wanted leather handbags,” said Kator, who is not vegan. “But then I went through the leather handbag manufacturing process, and was really taken aback: I had no idea that a lot of times an animal is killed for leather—and sometimes not for anything else. It was quite disturbing, and I wondered how I could be more socially responsible with the goods I provide for the market, and feel good about doing it.”
So she went with vegan leather for her product, out of the belief that “if you don’t have to use animals, don’t use them,” and that from a fashion standpoint, “one can be stylish while helping to protect animals.”
“People feel that quality means leather, that cowhide is the best—but that’s not necessarily true,” Kator continues. “A lot of leather handbags have PVC, which causes cracking. But we use no plastic and offer the same quality as cowhide in terms of durability and being long-lasting. It’s a matter of education: The more I looked into it I realized if we could offer quality handbags at an affordable price-point we would meet a need in the marketplace.”
Michigan native Kator now names each handbag after places in her home state. She works alongside her husband Michael Kator, who she says is now “challenged with the task” of conceiving vegan leather product for men.
Meanwhile, Real Housewives of Orange County star Gretchen Christine Rossi has just launched her new fall season handbag line, which is also all vegan leather.
Like Kator, Rossi is not vegan but is an animal lover. The new addition to her Gretchen Christine Collection is titled “À la Rentrée” (“at the return,” signifying the start of fall), and according to her website, is part of a mission “to value and improve life.”