By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Jennifer Paige Boonlorn and her family were traveling home from Tucson when her mother turned around and said, “Where do you want to go…”
She didn’t finish her question because, moments later, her father’s tire blew and the SUV rolled, killing her parents. The crash near Chandler was May 21, 2000, right before Boonlorn’s senior year at ASU.
“At the time, I thought law school would be my destination,” says Boonlorn, who earned a degree in marketing from ASU in December 2001.
“Life had other plans,” she says.
After living in New York, in 2009, she founded Soul Carrier, a Scottsdale-based women’s fashion brand that designs leather handbags. She wants to encourage others to listen to their soul.
Boonlorn grew up near Shea and Tatum boulevards, where she was homeschooled by her parents, Paisan and Joyce.
“My mom loved being a parent and wanted to touch every aspect of raising her daughters,” she says. “Some of her friends were pioneers in homeschooling, helping make it legal in Arizona. On the flip side, it was precious time I got with my parents because they were taken in a car accident. When I was homeschooled, I wanted to go to regular public school, go to prom, see a homecoming game. I wouldn’t trade any of those years now.”
As a little girl, she was inspired by Paisan’s creativity, as he worked as an architect.
“I’ve always loved design,” she says. “I have a creative spirit, but my dad said he didn’t want my touching design. He was from Thailand and there was that immigration story. He wanted me to be a lawyer or doctor.
“By the time I went to ASU, I thought maybe I would do marketing or economics. I was interested in business, and I thought I could parlay that into pursuing law school. I wasn’t focused on design at ASU. Then the accident happened.”
Her heart wasn’t in law school, so she didn’t do well on the LSATs.
Moving to New York
She changed course and set out for the shiny lights of Manhattan, where she attended Parsons The New School of Design.
In NYC, she worked for Oscar de la Renta, dressed models at New York Fashion Week, designed products for Henri Bendel, and worked in product development for American Eagle.
Manhattan was incredible, but Phoenix was pulling her back.
“New York was super magical, but I always felt that Arizona is home and I wanted to be near family, my sister, when she started having children,” Boonlorn says.
“It’s so easy to live here. If I was born in New York, I would want to stay forever. We don’t have snow. I can go to Target and run 20 errands and store everything in my car. It got to me. This is home, and I absolutely love it. It’s a special place.”
When she moved back to the Valley, she worked for a marketing company that coordinated the grand opening of Barneys at Scottsdale Fashion Square. The shopping center held “The Mannequin is Our Muse,” for which Valley residents took blank mannequins and turned them into art. She and friend/fellow creative Bob Wilkinson collaborated on a mannequin, which they covered in vibrant rag rugs from the Dollar Store. Impressed, he encouraged her to use her design degree to make a living.
Soul Carrier pays homage to Arizona, as well as her parents. The pieces are available locally at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Ranch; the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort in Phoenix; Miraval Resort Tucson; Four Seasons Scottsdale; Bella Cane Boutique in Carefree; iboutique in Scottsdale; Anna J at The Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale; Andaz Scottsdale; The Phoenician; Agave Spa at the Scottsdale Westin; JW Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale; Mountain Shadows Resort in Scottsdale; Royal Palms Alvarado Spa in Phoenix; urbAna in Phoenix; Modernique in Phoenix; Canopy Hilton Scottsdale; and Rancho de los Caballeros in Wickenburg. She’s hoping to expand the line into a lifestyle brand with journals and other accessories, including men’s items like wallets and leather kits.
“I design products that bring beauty and light to the world,” she says.
“I want to offer products that inspire people to carry their souls in every action they take. I believe your soul is your moral compass and learning to tune out the external noise is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself.”
She aches for her parents but takes a logical approach to grief.
“Someone once said to me, the concept of grieving is you have love left over,” she says. “We grieve because we had love for this person, and we can’t express it the way we expressed it when they were in front of us.”
Boonlorn wants the public to know about her parents, too. She established the Paisan and Joyce Boonlorn Memorial Scholarship at ASU to provide students at the W.P. Carey School of Business the critical financial assistance they need to stay committed to obtaining their educational goals.
“Education was so important to my dad,” Boonlorn says.
“Over the years my father would drill into my head that people can take everything from you, but they can never take away your education. So, when deciding how I wanted to honor my late parents’ memory, an educational endowment at Arizona State University seemed very fitting. I want to make sure others have the same higher education opportunities that I was so generously granted.”