DeNai Jones, the curly-haired beauty behind Petunia Pickle Bottom, is as lively and bright as her array of products. Coined from a nickname her father gave her when she was a child, Petunia Pickle Bottom is known around the world for its “original, collectible, fashionable diaper bag.” PPB began in 2000 and has been providing beautifully styled, high quality products for modern moms. Read along to hear what DeNai has to say about her company and partners (husband Braden and best friend Korie Conant), her boys, and their adventures in life and business.
Tell us how PPB came to be. Were owning your own company and being a designer always dreams of yours? Were Braden and Korie involved from the beginning? What are their roles in the company?
Petunia Pickle Bottom started as a seed of an idea in 2000, I wanted to design a diaper bag that was designed for the mother’s aesthetic as well as having intuitive function. Taking my sketches to samples, and the support of my family and husband—Petunia Pickle Bottom was born. Realizing early on sales were not my strong suit, I searched out independent sales representatives and was brought in to a number of top tier baby boutiques. Once my husband and I realized there was a demand for the product, we made the decision to put $20K of our own savings into running my first domestic production. Demand continued to grow at a steady pace, and the need for proper marketing materials as well as expanding our brand voice became clearly apparent. My dear friend Korie Conant joined the business in 2003 as our third partner and the perfect trio was born. Braden is the CEO and provides the company vision, Korie is the brand and marketing, and I do product design. The years between then and now can be described as hard — wearing every hat and just plain sacrificing. What we are today did not come easy, but every lesson was worth it.
What was the catalyst that changed PPB from a small shop where you were just making ends meet to seeing your wares photographed with celebrities, featured in magazines like Pregnancy & Newborn, and being sold on sites like Nordstrom and Zappos?
Our growth was organic. Early on, a few celebrities were published in People using Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bags (which they had bought on their own). We never paid for product placement; in addition, we were placed in a handful of reputable baby magazines that genuinely loved our product. Moving our productions overseas also allowed us to keep up with the volume and demand once we were brought in to the larger accounts like Nordstrom.
PPB’s product line continues to expand. You originally sold only diaper bags, but travel bags, wallets, totes, onesies, and blankets are now available as well, all of which have designs that are so pleasing! They’re bright and colorful, geometric and bold, and seem to embody faraway places. Where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration comes in many forms, but most all of it comes from travel.
In the early days of Petunia, you saw a consumer carrying a bag of yours and you had a moment not too far from seeing your elementary school teacher at the grocery store. Do you react differently now when you see your bags slung over consumers’ shoulders? Is it still just as exciting?
It is still just as exciting. Those butterflies never go away! I tend to be shy, so I will usually stalk the PPB customer by hiding around a corner — and see how they interact with the bag.
For 21 years, Braden has collected heart rocks for you on adventures around the world. Tell us how you met. Is it true the same doctor delivered you both in Ojai, California?
Yes, paths crossed as early as birth — the same doctor delivered us. We attended the same preschool, lived down the street from one another, and didn’t meet until after high school. We were inseparable from that point on, dated six years, went off to college together, and proudly have been married 17 years this July. Right after high school, a mutual friend had introduced us; she was taking a photography class and we were used as models. Braden happened upon my photo from the class, held onto it, and pinned it to his bedroom corkboard. Months later we met at a family BBQ.
You’re mom to two boys, Sutton and Miller. Are they just as adventurous and creative as you? How has owning your own company benefited them? How has it influenced your parenting?
They are both very creative and adventurous! I am so thankful Sutton and Miler love to craft, paint, and cook with me. Braden and I traveled with them early; we had the attitude to “just do it.” It’s not always easy, but it is well worth it. We love to travel, whether near or far. We have taken our boys with us on work trips to Asia. They have been to China on three separate, month long trips as well as visited our distributors in Japan and Korea. I am grateful our boys understand the creative process — from sketches, to sampling, factory visits, and that our Petunia Pickle Bottom product is shipped around the world. It is an honor for Braden and me to share every aspect of what we do with our boys.
Your tagline is “thoroughly modern motherhood.” Out of all your designs that epitomize this phrase, what’s your favorite? Why?
Currently, my favorite bag is the Altogether Tote in Constellation. I love the organization pockets, bold graphic print, and the Take Along Kit. Even though my boys are out of diapers I use the Take Along Kit as an organizational bag for my pens, business cards, snacks, and activities for my boys.
It seems you’ve created an ideal balance between work and play, and your photos depict epic adventures and memorable excursions. Do you find time to travel for fun often? Where are a few places you’ve been recently? Is owning a VW bus as romantic as it seems?
We try very hard to balance work and play, but it’s always a challenge. Our VW van offers us the luxury of quick getaways with just a few things in a bag. My husband and I crave perspective, so we tend to seek out the quiet places of California. We love our van but it doesn’t come without its quirks and periodic breakdowns.
We know you have other hidden talents like cutting hair, looming, flower arrangements… What’s something you’d love to try but haven’t?
Someday, I’d love to be a full time artist. My background is in art; right now I don’t have the luxury of time to dedicate to it. Art for art’s sake sounds dreamy!
You’re crazy about baking (and who wouldn’t be in that bright, cozy space?), and love getting your boys involved in the kitchen. What’s your favorite thing the make? Do your boys – including Braden – have any regular requests?
I love home-cooked meals, and our family time around the table is priceless. The number one favorite and requested is homemade cookies. I have an Oatmeal Chocolate Chip recipe; I keep the dough in the fridge and bake off hot cookies throughout the week. My hope is when my boys are grown and out of house, these will be the memories that bring them home.
You recently traveled to Salt Lake City for Alt Summit Winter 2015 and did a panel discussion with Elle of Solly Baby, Katie of Puj, and Annalisa of Oilo Studio, which we found so moving and inspirational. Tell us a little about your Alt experience. What do you love about it?
Alt Summit Winter 2015 was very moving, challenging, and inspirational — all wrapped up into one weekend. I have to admit, I was overwhelmed. Public speaking and strangers is not my favorite combination, so it pushed me to grow, be emotional, and share my story to inspire others. The attendees were so encouraging and inspirational, and it definitely forced me to look at social media in a different way. The big take away for me: social media offers a platform to make a positive impact on others, to inspire and to be inspired.
Your Pinterest boards (both PPB and your personal account) are swoon-worthy. We love to follow your boards and what inspires you. Are you a self-taught photographer or did you study it in school at all?
Well, thank you. I have not had any training in photography but would hope to someday have the time to dedicate learning the nuts and bolts. One of the great gifts of being a parent is seeing the world through your children’s’ eyes, so I do use that lens often. I adore my boys’ passion for exploring, learning, and adventuring… If I can capture that in a photo, it will be a priceless memory forever.
What’s the hardest part of traveling to faraway places?
All of the grandparents live locally; they are our number one reason for coming home. I know my boys are getting homesick when they talk about sleeping in their own beds and missing the smells of home.
Which of your family vacations was the best?
We love what the Eastern Sierras have to offer: high desert, majestic mountains, hot springs, and summertime fishing.
We’ve said the word quite a bit already, but adventures are very clearly your thing! Do you have any lined up? Perhaps a dreamy summer camping trip?
Finally, after 15 years of building a very successful company, what advice can you offer to entrepreneurs just starting out? Is there anything you’d recommend not doing?
My best advice: know your strengths and weaknesses. Part of Petunia Pickle Bottom’s success is that Korie, Braden, and I trust in each others’ strengths and rely upon each other for our shortcomings.
Thank you so much, DeNai, for taking the time to talk with us. We’re wishing you fewer van breakdowns and happy, safe travels.