Jenna Kator pays tribute to Michigan

Jenna Kator

Michigan State University graduate Jenna Kator found herself out of her media planner job in 2008 when the economy took a nosedive. But while many fled toward a fresh start, Kator stayed to help rebuild what Michigan had lost.

At this time, she noticed women stopped buying outfits and began accessorizing instead. With this idea in mind, she launched her handbag company a year later.

“I wanted to stay and be part of the transformation of what was happening here and that’s how the collection was born,” Kator said. “It was an organic fit.”

This is the Commerce Tote by Jenna Kator

Kator and her team design handbags named after Michigan’s streets, cities, and lighthouses. Some themes include Frankfort, Mackinac Bridge, Lake Huron, and Cranbrook. Each collection has a different theme, with five new items along with a few classic styles, with additional straps for adjustable length. Each bag is made vegan, built under Kator’s motto “Why harm an animal if you don’t have to?” She works alongside her husband, Michael Kator, a full-time employee who handles all operations.

“Our bags are designed for your lifestyle,” Kator said. “We’re an active-lifestyle brand for the working mom, a bag to go out to eat with (and more). It’s nice to be able to have a variety of styles that help your daily life from day to night.”

Kator is working to renovate her location in the Heart of Howell building above the 2FOG’s restaurant at 122 W. Grand River Ave. Her bags can also be found in Brighton’s Binks and Babs, and Fowlerville’s White Barn Design.

“Versatility is the key component behind (our) design, which is what I think a lot of our women love,” Kator said. “The most beneficial part of my job is when someone’s wearing the bag (and) they’re so excited because of how it’s functioning for their lifestyle.”

Kator’s new storefront is expecting to open later this summer.

“My goal is to have it as a place where people feel welcome,” Kator said. “When they come to our store (I want them) to really see the brand in its entirety. When you arrive, not only will you be in Howell, but we will showcase our other retailers. It’s going to encompass the whole brand. (When people see the store) I want them to understand, when you buy a Jenna Kator bag, this is what it’s all about.”