Jennifer Boonlorn: Founder of Soul Carrier

Jennifer Boonlorn, founder of Soul Carrier handbags and accessories, photographed at Sip Coffee and Beer House in Scottsdale, holding one of her products, by Nicki Escudero

Jennifer Boonlorn, founder of Soul Carrier handbags and accessories, photographed at Sip Coffee and Beer House in Scottsdale, holding one of her products, by Nicki Escudero

Jennifer Boonlorn
www.SoulCarrier.com

A tragedy inspired Jennifer Boonlorn to pursue her true passion: fashion. After losing both her parents in a car accident she was also in, Boonlorn has created Soul Carrier, a line of handbags and accessories in upliftingly named collections, such as her upcoming Conscious Intentions collection. Items from that collection will be available exclusively through a Kickstarter campaign this month — check the Facebook page for details — while current offerings are found at www.soulcarrier.com and at Chestnut Fine Foods and Provisions in Phoenix.

Learn more about the 36-year-old Phoenix resident’s goals with Soul Carrier, and keep reading to hear Boonlorn name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born and raised here and was home-schooled before studying marketing at ASU. I spent four years in New York City going to fashion school for design and marketing at Parsons The New School for Design. I interned for Oscar de la Renta, got to go to Marc Jacob’s Christmas party, Kate Spade and Tory Burch spoke to our class — it was a wonderful experience.

It was really my little niece who was born who brought me back to Phoenix. I loved New York, but I really love the sunshine and having a car, and was craving home.

How did you become interested in fashion?

When I was a little girl, I used to make paper dolls and cut images out of magazines and was always doing super-creative art projects. My sister and I would do these crazy elaborate themed birthday parties that were always very art-based. I was probably around 10 when I thought, “I want to own a boutique and be a designer,” but my dad was an architect, and he said, “No, stay out of design. Go be a lawyer.”

Design still stayed in my head, but by the time I got to ASU, it didn’t seem like an option. I decided to study business with the intent to go to law school. I was in a car accident with my parents, who both passed away from it. That almost fueled me more to do law school, because I wanted to show everyone I was OK and make my dad proud, but it just wasn’t a fit.

One of the last things my mom said to me when she was in the car was, “Where do you want to go on vacation?” Then, the tire blew out, and that was the last thing she said. My sister and I were sitting in the backseat. We were coming home from Tucson on the I-10, so we were probably around half an hour outside of Chandler. We were still in the desert when the car flipped.

Miraculously, we didn’t hit another single car. My dad scooted over before it rolled, but we hit a concrete billboard, and that impact took my mom instantly. My dad was screaming bloody murder, so I knew he was awake but in enormous pain. My sister and I were upside-down, and she poked me and said, “Get your seat belt off.” We fell because we were upside-down and crawled through the window.

I don’t even know how long we were there, but by the time I crawled out, a helicopter was coming down, and there were paramedics and the police. I was totally fine. They wanted to start an IV, and I hate needles, so I told them not to. I was taken to Maricopa County Hospital, and it was surreal. I hate hospitals and am a germ-phobe, so they let me just sit there, and a social worker came out and asked if we had family and friends we could call. We all went separately when we were air evacuated, but I heard on the radio, “We only need two helicopters.” I knew my mom didn’t get into an ambulance and was quiet, which was not like her.

Our stuff was all over the desert, and I saw her shoe, and I thought there was something super-creepy about it. It wasn’t bloody or anything, and the social worker said, “Your mom didn’t make it, but we have to focus on your dad. He’s going into the operating room.” Around midnight, they told us he didn’t make it. I was 21 at the time, and my sister was 19.

I was wrapping up my junior year at ASU. That question she asked, it’s always stayed with me, because it’s the last thing she said to me. Even that two-year journey of noise of family friends telling me what I should do and shouldn’t do affected me. I found my own voice, and I want to share that message that you should be authentic and be yourself.

Vulnerable things can knock us down and make us question our core, but it’s how you move through those things. I view any friction in life as the alchemy that gets us closer to our fire and our truth and shows us what we’re made of. I want to encourage other people to believe in themselves that if something bad happens, they don’t have to be a victim — they can have an amazing life. It isn’t always sunshine and roses, but it’s moving through it and realizing good things can still come out of it.

I started coming back to what I really loved, which was creativity, design and fashion. I started taking classes at Mesa Community College, and I went on a one-week tour to New York and fell in love with the city and with Parsons. I was also at a point where I wanted to experience something else beyond Arizona, even though I loved it.

What was your career like after you graduated Parsons?

I stayed in New York for two years and worked for American Eagle Outfitters in pre-production. I loved the team, but it was a lot of answering emails. My dream job then was to either work for Marc Jacobs or Ralph Lauren, but I started a line of headbands and got them into Henri Bendel in New York. At the time, there were a lot of headbands featured in the television show Gossip Girl, so the trend was on point. I’d buy headbands, but some were up to $100, and I thought I could make them.

I am super-crafty and had a glue gun, so I showed them to a professor at Parsons, and he said, “You need to show these to the buyers.” I did, and they loved them. I had about 20 different designs, and had a huge trunk show, and the store put my stuff on a mannequin. I literally remember walking past the mannequin one night on 5th Avenue and thinking, “You know what — I’ve graduated from Parsons, I’ve interned for Oscar de la Renta, I’ve dressed models backstage for New York Fashion Week. I’ve done all these cool things, but I really miss my sister and best friends.”

I came back in 2009, and a woman named Cathy Jahnke who worked at Barney’s, who I worked for after graduating from Arizona State, contacted me. She has a PR and marketing firm, and Barney’s hired her to put on an event for the opening at Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall. Her idea was to give mannequins to everyone in the Valley to put on display, kind of as an art project, called The Mannequin Is Our Muse. She hired me to recruit people, and I also did a mannequin with a friend in recycled material. We bought like 50 bath rug mats and sewed them into this crazy dress.

After that, my friend encouraged me to do something on my own with the material and use my fashion degree. I started messing around and making very raw prototypes and sewing and hot glue gunning buttons. I felt like there was something there.

How did Soul Carrier evolve from there?

In New York, I had formed an LLC called Jennifer Paige Designs: Headbands and Accessories for the Posh Prepster, pulling from Gossip Girl. I came back and still had the headband thing going, but I realized Phoenix wasn’t the right market, because women here don’t wear those big, elaborate headbands. I got them into Henri Bendel and could expand on that, but I realized it was a trend that might not be lasting.

After the mannequin event, I was inspired to create handbags using a very bohemian chic material. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I thought this brand of handbags could be a cool and different product. A friend I went to college with suggested calling it “Carrier,” something super-simple and minimalistic. I thought that was good, but it needed something more, which is where “Soul” came from.

Soul Carrier started to solidify about two years ago when I started working on my own personal growth. I self-funded it with family money I received after the accident, but I’m considering maybe seeking a small investment or loan, or even doing a crowdfunding campaign to help me go after the big retailers and manufacturers. Right now, the company is just me, and I’d like to expand my team.

Now, I’m working with leather, which is more me as a designer, because I just love nice leather. I am producing products in Leon, Mexico, at a shoe and leather manufacturing plant. I’m working on a third collection called Conscious Intentions. Each collection name has a very spiritual element to it, and this one is about thinking about how you intend to live your life.

What is the design process like?

I often start with the materials in my design process. I’ll see something amazing I really want to use, like a cow hide fur or super-crinkly leather, and go from there. I like the clean line and boxy aesthetic, and I’ll sketch with pencils and markers and then go down to Mexico with my sketches or a very rough mock-up.

This next collection will be less girly, with whiskey and caramel colors, a little more gender-neutral. It will be out within a couple months.

Who do you picture as your customer?

It’s definitely a girl past college, someone in their late 20’s, mid-30’s. She’s confident. She has disposable income. She’s conscious.

I made this mood board, and there’s a paddle board and a juicer — she drinks her green juice and goes to yoga and is fashion-conscious but is not label-driven. She’s stylish, well-educated, well-read and well-traveled.

What are your goals?

Short-term, I want to iron out my manufacturing process and make it as smooth as possible, and I want to get more brick and mortar accounts and continue to build brand awareness and social media.

My huge vision is to throw a lifestyle event. I feel like fashion right now is very catty and fear-based, like us-against-them. I never went into this to compete with anyone; I went into this because I love design and art, and I think there’s enough room for everyone. To have an event that encourages that outlook on life and that consciousness and mindfulness is my goal. I would love to bring in yoga and a DJ and do a fashion show and have it sponsored by health and wellness companies, to have really cool people doing really cool stuff where we’re all supporting each other.

I’m also looking to become a B corporation, where one of your stakeholders is a charity. There aren’t as many limits that way as to how much you give to charity. I would love to start a Soul Carrier foundation, because right now, my sister and I started a scholarship at the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU for business students, in my parents’ name. It’s rewarded once a year, so I’d like to put part of the proceeds toward making that scholarship even bigger, or towards Crisis Nursery in downtown Phoenix, which is near and dear to my heart.

I’m viewing my line as helping ask people the question, “Where do you want to go, and can you be authentic on the journey it takes to get there?”

Do you have plans of expanding your offerings?

I’d love to expand. The Conscious Intentions collection has two bags that are geared towards men and are very business, attaché-type messenger bags. I love my branding so much, I could see expanding into yoga mats or hoodies — I’d love to include other things.

What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?

Stay true to your vision. Listen within, because there will always be an opinion and criticism. If this is something you want to bring to the world, bring it. Graciously listen to what people want to say, because there could be nuggets of wisdom that can help you move forward more smoothly.

Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners?

I feel like our DNA is coded with what we’re meant to do, but it takes being quiet and still to find out where you want to go. Really take the time to figure out what you want to do, and stay true to that.

I’m such a huge fan of reading and books, and even if you don’t have a mentor, those become kind of like your mentors. Take your mentors’ advice, but filter it through your own soul.

Why would you say people should purchase your goods?

My soul and fingerprints are all over it, but I really want when people wear my bags to remind themselves to wear their souls and be who they are, and for the bag to be that symbol and reminder of where they want to go. It’s a reminder and inspiration to be who you are and be authentic.

How would you characterize the Phoenix fashion scene?

I love the laid-back look because I love wearing flip-flops and yoga clothes. The designer scene is cool, because it’s not as big as New York or L.A., so there’s that blank canvas to do what you want.

Sometimes, it’s frustrating because we don’t have as many resources or a garment industry. Some of the fashion shows are really fun, but it’s more social than focused on buyers and media, and there’s less of a business side. I’d like to see more buyers showing up to place orders and more media showing up to cover the designers and help them get a further reach.

Learn about other Valley fashion professionals:

Learn more about fashion designer and owner of Misha Mendicino Designs Misha Mendicino here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about fashion designer and co-owner of Studio Joy Li Joy Li here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Femme Athletic designer and Phoenix Fashion Week executive director Brian Hill here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about State Forty Eight designer Nicholas Polando here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about T-shirt designer Sebastien Millon here on Phoenix People.

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