DeNai Jones is the head designer and founder of Petunia Pickle Bottom and co-founder of Petunia Handbags | Sons of Trade. Their products have it all — style, durability, and functionality. The perfect combination. But what I appreciate most about the brand is the heart behind it. DeNai is genuine. I had some serious hair and camper van envy when we were first introduced. Now that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her, it’s her love of family and the world that I admire most. (However, I wouldn’t mind a joint camping excursion to see how the hair and van hold up.)
Can you remember that first feeling of wanderlust?
Yes, I have vivid memories of driving around the United States in our 1968 VW van, camping, exploring new roads, and savoring that feeling of “what’s around the next bend?” I grew up in a middle class home, but travel was high on my parent’s priority list. My dad was a college professor which offered us the opportunity to take great summer trips. As my brother and I got older my parents took us on a few trips internationally, I was hooked! I am particularly appreciative that my parents always made an effort to hit up a roadside stand, talk with the people strangers, and understand the history behind the people. These memories are priceless to me.
How do you think your early travel memories shaped your future?
I have the utmost gratitude for my parents traveling with us as a family. My favorite childhood pictures and fondest memories are our travel photos.
Do your husband and sons share your desire to see the world?
Yes, very much so. My husband and I knew before we had our boys that we wanted to travel with our children near and far. We both feel it is very important for our boys to feel the world is small place, it is accessible, and well worth exploring. Our boys love traveling in the US and internationally. There are SO many good character traits that can be learned from travel: empathy, acceptance, tolerance, perspective, problem solving, and the obvious—education.
Tell us more about that VW van. Is it really as dreamy as it appears?
I grew up with a VW van, so it really is a part of my childhood DNA. Jokingly, it may have been just one of the reasons I started dating my husband. My husband and I owned three VW Westfalia vans prior to graduating to the current family dream vehicle. Our 1987 VW Westfalia Syncro is our family dream mobile. We like to camp in places other than campgrounds, so the 4-wheel drive aspect was a key upgrade. Our preference is to camp on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land unless it is not offered in that particular area. BLM land offers the open space we seek, peace and quiet, and on many occasions being closer to nature. Owning a VW van is not always “trouble free,” we have had our fair share of breakdowns, which can derail a really great trip. We always travel with our satellite phone, which gives me the peace of mind that we could get help in an emergency.
What do you think has become the best part of traveling with your children?
There truly are so many reasons; the two standouts are, seeing the world through their eyes and our family always draws inward — free from life’s distractions.
As a designer, how do you find inspiration through travel? Is it the people, food, culture, landscape?
All of the above, travel truly is the best inspiration. I tend to take a ton of pictures whether it is of my kids, landscapes, pattern, texture, color, architecture; the list just goes on…
You are more introverted than people realize. Has travel helped you listen to your intuitive self?
I am a very shy person and love being a home body with my family, even though I love to travel. Travel pushes me to be uncomfortable; problems solve, and seek the quiet. The perspective I get from traveling helps me embrace the hard things in life.
How has travel helped shape the way you live your everyday life and the way you design your product?
In my everyday life, I think of the world differently due to my travel experiences — life is about experiences, not the things we own. In regards to how I design product, I want it to be intuitive. We travel quite a bit and we use our product on a daily basis, it has to perform and be aesthetically pleasing. I think we are an authentic representation of who we are as a brand and what we expect from the products I design.
Because of your experiences, people are constantly seeking your advice on traveling with kids. What is the first thing you tell them?
Just go! Yes — it will be challenging, but the benefits will far out way the difficulties. The challenges tend to be the best stories and memories down the road.
What do you hope your children will remember best from your adventures?
An authentic, shared experience of exploring the world together — as a family.
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