At the center of a very surprising Venn diagram with bio tech in one circle and handbags in the other is the wonderfully talented Jennifer Conner. See, before the Sonoma-based designer was the brain behind the covetous bags at Pennyroyal design, she was a self-proclaimed “science geek in a lab,” working on cancer research in South San Francisco. But, after doing some math when pregnant with her second child, Jennifer decided life away from her kids wasn’t her ideal – so they traded in the fog for the sunny hills of Sonoma.
After a few years of running a furniture salvage and reupholstering business with a friend, Jennifer’s mother-in-law asked her to make a hand bag to which she confidently replied yes. “I just figured I could do it. I’ve always been an internal optimist,” she says. The bag was a hit – more were requested – and in 2012 Pennyroyal Design was open for business. Part of her success was attributed to her start as an Art major in college, “ I worked with wood for a while so, for me, working with leather is a lot like woodworking. You really have to work with it – you have to use your hands and mold it and shape it and soften it.”
Jennifer says working in a lab isn’t so different from brainstorming new designs for Pennyroyal in the sense that in both scenarios, you’re basically an inventor - following procedures, experimenting and testing the results. However, in this situation, she gets her inspiration from nature and her highbrow stepfather – “An Englishman who always wore three piece suits,” and hones her skills hand cutting and sewing each bag.
“I honestly dream about bags, literally I’ll wake up in the morning and think, ‘oh my god I have to go draw that bag.’ It’s probably a little obsessive,” she laughs.
Jennifer also believes in the importance of sourcing American-made materials for her products. “I found fabric from organic cotton – grown, spun and milled here in the U.S. And I found wool milled in Northern California from sheep living on organic farms in Oregon and California. More local than even I dared to dream.”
“I love the Made in America Movement. I think there’s something really inherently supportive when you buy things that are made here - you’re feeding the community and it just makes things better,” she says.