35: What does it mean to be 35?

By PHILIP EIL  |  November 20, 2013


Kent Stetson , handbag designer

I am pretty sure that if someone told me as a child what I would my life would be like at 35, I would be pretty excited. This moment right now, I feel like I want to take a snapshot of it and stick it on the imaginary refrigerator in my psyche. I’m regularly pinching myself. I’m married to an amazing man, I have hit a stride with my business, I have the neatest friends, and am smiling pretty much all the time.

I spent my 20s and early 30s working mostly shitty jobs for wretched people; I often felt demoralized, disrespected, and depressed. I thought I had just made bad choices and mistakes, but it turns out that getting angry, feeling devastation, having bad ideas that need to be fully-executed (not to mention failing at executing some very good ideas) — these are all guides to help navigate towards the kind of life where things fall into place without resistance. This is happening right now, personally and professionally. Thirty-five feels like “I have arrived.”

This year, I married my love; ours was the first same-sex marriage certificate issued in Providence. We got to be part of history.

Also, my business literally took off. I went from making handbags and selling them scattered across a folding table to having a flagship retail location (nude at The Arcade in Providence), to selling to over 30 retailers in the US, South America, and Asia, and being selected for the top juried wholesale and fine craft shows in the country.

As an artist, in my 20s I was jaded; I had very clear ideas about what constituted art and what I thought I wanted to make. But it turns out that I can engage people better through the medium of handbags than two-dimensional pictorial art. For example, I have a whole series of bags featuring Providence landmarks, tongue-in-cheek junk food images, sculpted leather, and chain designs, just to name a few themes. I have learned that I had imposed unnecessary creative parameters (among other specific ways I had oppressed myself through my 20s and early 30s). Now I know that, aside from needing to have an inside and an outside, there really are no rules in designing bags.

My biggest challenges today are logistical: running a business, having a home to tend to, and a marriage to nurture. Do I have the right insurance or tax-structure? How do I manage that difficult client? Should I have the crack running down the wall checked out? Is Luis mad at me for having handbags in various stages of completion throughout the house? As a teenager and until very recently, my biggest challenges were existential, coupled with the pain of trying to find myself while moving down the wrong path professionally. Another problem until this very recent moment was knowing that my love life would not be recognized with the same rights and opportunities that other (heterosexual) couples could obtain.

In college, I spoke about the opportunities available to myself and fellow Brown students: “If you can imagine being able to do whatever you want in life, then go for it.” But the real challenge becomes figuring what, specifically, it is that you want to do with your life. Now, I’ve found it, and my only goal is to create sustainability.

In a nutshell, it’s been quite a ride getting here, but 35 is fucking amazing.


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