A Brighton Township handbag designer who has a following across the state is ready to open her very first brick-and-mortar store in Howell.
Jenna Kator is gearing up to open a store at 122 W. Grand River Ave., above 2Fog's Pub in the Heart of Howell building, likely before the end of summer, and hire staff.
The mother of two and former automotive advertising rep designs Michigan-inspired "vegan" handbags and strives to design products that are attractive but also "functional and versatile for women with active lifestyles," she said.
Her purses, totes, wallets and wristlets are sold at more than 50 shops in Michigan, including two in Livingston County.
"The Meadowbrook (purse), the first bag I designed, you can wear it up to seven different ways," she said. "I include seven different straps."
"It's also about the organization," she added, "and they have pockets, pen slots and key ropes, so not only do they look good, they function."
Each of her designs is inspired by a place in Michigan and named after it. She comes up with two collections a year, releasing five new designs each spring and fall. Her collections are based on themes, like the Great Lakes or Greektown.
Instead of leather, her bags are made of a polyester blend that contains no animal products.
"When I first started, my goal was to do leather bags," she said. "But when I learned about the leather tanning process, I was taken aback. Why are we doing this animals for just a handbag?"
She said her bags look, smell and feel like real leather.
"My designs are also based on talking to ladies in Michigan and finding out what they like in a bag. ...You can fall in love with the design, but, if it doesn't fit your active lifestyle, it's only going to sit in the closet, so it's really important for ladies to actually use them," she said.
The handbags are "mostly under $100, so affordable price points, but I also want women to feel lifted by the quality of the handbags," she said.
Kator, who operates her business with her husband, Michael Kator, and several employees, has loved purses since she was a youth.
"My mom was fashion forward, and I was always sneaking into her closet, grabbing handbags and wearing them," she said. "She passed, and the bags are carrying on her legacy."
She founded her brand in 2009 after getting laid off from an automotive advertising firm during the economic downturn.
"We've had great success with Jenna Kator handbags," said Barb Brinkley, who owns Brighton boutique Bink & Babs with her husband, Mark.
The store sold exactly 500 of Kator's purses and wallets last year, according to Brinkley's records.
"When we opened the boutique, one of the first things people asked was, 'Are you going to carry Jenna Kator handbags?' She already had a following and every year the demand has grown." ...
Credit: Livingston Daily AMP.LIVINGSTONDAILY.COM