Jennifer- Penny Royal Design

Jennifer in her home studio.
Name: Jennifer Conner
Company:  Pennyroyal Design
Hometown:  Penngrove, California for 5 years.

Community is such a wonderful thing, and people who actively build those communities are such a blessing to have in our lives. Sumeera Rasul, the founder of Madesmith, is one of those people. I met her just as she was launching her company, and have met so many inspiring artisans through her. So, when I got an email from a fellow facebook-community-maker, Jennifer, I knew I was in for a treat. My interest was also peeked when I found out she lives in a small town just North of San Francisco, and a place I've been 'home-stalking' for a while now. 

I drove up to her cute little ranch style home and studio, stepped around the roaming chickens, and we sat down for tea and chatted about some of the challenges and rewards of being a small business owner.

Isobel: We both walked away from the corporate world to start our own things. What advice would you give to someone considering making the big leap?

Jennifer: It’s tough.  No doubt about it.  And definitely not for the faint of heart.  My advice is to save money.  A lot.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Because you will.  Lots of them. And when you do, just have a good sob, pick yourself up and keep moving.  And keep a good teapot on hand because nothing helps you through a rough day like a good, strong cup of tea.  Make friends with other entrepreneurs that you can call on when you are about to throw in the towel.  Believe me, you are going to want someone to talk you down from that.  Someone who has felt exactly the same way!  But most of all, you have to have faith. Faith in your product.   Faith in yourself.  Or at least faith in your ability to learn and to adapt to whatever lies in store.  10 billion situations will arise that you have no idea how to handle. But you will handle them.  And you will learn from your mistakes and keep on swinging the proverbial axe.
And what you really need most of all is just a good old-fashioned general faith that no matter what happens, you will be okay.

One of Pennyroyal's lush market totes. They come with their own pom poms!

Isobel:  I've been dreaming of moving out of the city to a small rural town now for a while now, and it's a change that you actually made a few years back. Can you talk a little about what the switch was like, what you love about living in a small down, and what you miss about the city? (Full disclosure- I'm writing this from a tiny cabin overlooking the Pt. Reyes Sea Shore.)
Jennifer:  We have moved twice – once to Petaluma, a small city of around 50,000 people, and then again to a really small town called Penngrove, population 800.  Both moves required an acclimation period, to be sure. Settling in to Petaluma took a little longer.  The changes were more extreme.  The first being our new found lack of anonymity.  Anyone who lives in a big city can tell you, even in the most crowded of areas, you can be alone.  People don’t feel any need to acknowledge each other or to engage in small talk.  So very not so in a small town.  I remember we were there about a month, and the lady at the check out at our local grocery store smiled and asked how I was doing like she knew me.  Which of course she did, since I was there almost every day.  But she acknowledged that she knew me!  I left disconcerted thinking, “What the heck does she want?” But I have to say, after you are used to it, it is really an amazing thing to be able to have a small conversation with people you see every day.  It makes you feel kind of cozy and safe.

The other memorable difference was the lack of late night anything.  No shops.  No restaurants.  No markets.  Nothing.  As in, ghost town.  So, if you are craving Chinese food, make sure you get down town before 8pm.  It is probably a little different now.  But I wouldn’t know, since now I officially live in the sticks.  And I love it!

Moving here was almost like a reverse move to town.  No neighbors. No one to chat with. Isolated.  Things are way farther away.  It takes 20 minutes to get to town so planning social time is really important.  We make sure we have nights out with our friends as often as possible, and that seems to be working just fine.  It is peaceful out here.  Coming home to the quiet and serenity of Penngrove is like unplugging.  It gets quiet and still.  So your brain can do the same.  And it is so beautiful.  The other day we walked the dog and circling above our heads were six raptors.  Three Great Northern Harriers and three Black Shouldered Kites.  I think they were actually stalking out chickens, but it was quite a site nonetheless!  There was a also a family of foxes living across the street in the brambles. And my aforementioned chickens are really free range – as in the joke why did the chicken cross the road. They are all over the place! Which makes the eggs absolutely delicious since they are scrounging for bugs most of the day.  There are horses and sheep – just today a new lamb arrived down the street and it was wearing a little sweater!  I kid you not. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen.

So when you add up all those beautiful aspects of living out here, there really is no discussion.  I love it.  It is the best move we have ever made.  And if we move again, it will probably be farther out.

Lusting over material's in her studio.

Isobel: You use really gorgeous materials for your bags. How does the American West influence your designs?

Jennifer: I love living where we do.  I love the raw majesty of it all.  And that raw majesty is what I try to capture in my bags.  They are elegant like so much of Sonoma County, but there is a rustic quality to them that reflects what I see and how I feel living here. The materials for all my bags are very deliberately chosen.  I use the most natural products available that will meet the aesthetic sensibilities I am trying to achieve.  I use vegetable tanned leather from Horween, and as many 100% woolen weaves as I can. When I travel to England I make sure to visit my Mum’s local woolen mill which uses only wool from the surrounding area of The Cotswolds and weaves it right there on site into the most amazing houndstooths and plaids.  I inevitably end up carrying an extra suitcase home filled with fabric!  The wool for the pompoms comes from Fibershed, a huge proponent of local.  As they say “local fibers - local dyes – local labor.”  Everything they produce is harvested in a 100-mile radius and it is all dyed using plant and mineral dyes.  The colors they achieve are subtle yet exquisite.

With all these lovely raw materials I am really trying to achieve a balance between wild and tailored.  I am creating a line that is natural that you can feel good about, without sacrificing any of the luxury bohemian style I love and that is such a reflection of Sonoma County.

chickens so free range that they would not pose for my camera :)


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