In the autumn of 2013, Wowdow “Jane” Poocharoen’s life was embroidered with misfortune. Her long-term relationship came to an end, the stress from her job was taking its toll, her eyesight suffered from long hours at her computer and the roof on her house had fallen in.
“It was complete calamity,” said Jane. “Everything was telling me it was time to go, time to change, time to redefine.”
Jane was ready. After twenty years away, she quit her job and began her journey back to her family, to Chiang Mai, and to a more artistic, entrepreneurial life. Jane moved from Chiang Mai to her aunt and uncle’s home in Metropolis, Illinois, a suburb of 6,500 people, when she was twelve years old. Not speaking any English, she was isolated and communication was difficult. She turned to creative outlets, always sketching, painting, and cooking.
She found a mentor in Mr. Rhodes, her high school art teacher. “He let me flourish and be myself, which really got me through the angsty teenage years,” she said. “He gave me the space to express myself. It was very soothing for me because I didn’t have to rely on language, which was difficult for me.”
The impressionists, whom she found easy to consume at that age, influenced her early paintings. She later grew to love Dali, Surrealism, and abstract art. Her work was sent to competitions, it garnered awards, and she accepted a scholarship to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
At this point her parents talked with her about the life of an artist. They had always encouraged her creativity and told her that she could study whatever she liked, but they questioned a career as a painter. Jane saw that a painting career in Illinois looked like mural paintings or starving artists, so instead, she chose to study interior design at university.
“I knew I wanted textures, I wanted colours, I wanted patterns, I wanted things you could touch,” she said.
She grew to love interior design at university, grew frustrated with it while toiling twelve hours a day for ten years working for various firms in Bangkok, and fell in love once again when she gained more creative control as a freelancer. It’s “the boyfriend she can never break up with.”
“I think a space should be filled with affection,” Jane says, as we drink green goddess juice in the vintage studio and caf้ that her family owns and works in together. Jane wears a flowing, tie-dye dress, an air of confidence, and an aversion to idleness. She puts aside her to do list of menu plans, renovation layouts, and business details, to show me photos of a recent Vietnamese restaurant that she designed and constructed.
She is enlivened, pointing out construction details and the unusual materials she is drawn to- baby calf’s hair, chain, mirror, leather, Italian palazzo tiles, carved bamboo panels, a tamarind tree trunk- it’s the quick and dirty tour of Jane’s surrealist dreamscape.
Her style is vintage, whimsy, abstract and spontaneous. Her creativity “born from constraint and limitation, but responding to the current time.” Her designs reflect her interaction with and observation of clients rather than reflecting her own personal style.
“Interior design is an ongoing dialogue. It’s like writing a biography, maybe less intimate, maybe more- less about a person’s mental state and more a biography of their lifestyle. Starting from nothing and seeing it come to life over eighteen months, it’s a really satisfying process,” she says, pride stamped on her face as she continues through the photos.
After graduating from SVA New York, Jane’s parents wanted her home but Jane was set on building a career and knew Chiang Mai was not the place to start. After five years in New York, her mother sent her younger sister Ravie to visit. Ravie grew up in Chiang Mai, so this was their first chance to get to know each other. Jane didn’t know what to do with her sixteen-year-old sister, who was basically a stranger up to this point. Jane had grown up with her older sister in the US, and Ravie had grown up alone.
Time, being the longest distance between two places, had come between them until now. They both felt there was a connection missing, and that it was finally time for Jane to move home. “Working with Ravie has been a dream,” Jane says. “We share a vision, and we can rely on each other.”
Ravie floats around the studio today. She is artsy and easygoing, casually folding clothes or sitting to chat with us. You would never know that they spent twelve years living across the world from each other. Or maybe you would, maybe that’s why they’re close now, each fiercely protecting and encouraging the other’s individuality, and making up for lost time.
Their work together started from two bins, some dye, and a craft weekend with their mother. Their mom took a tie-dye class and they were impressed with the results. Once their mom retired, they all agreed that they should turn their mother’s hobby into a family business. Kanjana Handmade, named after their mother, and meaning “pure gold”, was born. The sisters developed patterns, based on a technique similar to Japanese shibori, and created dyes, while their mother sewed most of the designs.
“We’re selling unique, wearable art pieces,” Jane says. They sold the first pieces to friends. They moved to Etsy, pop up markets, and now sell to two boutiques in Bangkok. They often can’t make enough inventory to keep up with demand.
After two years, Kanjana Handmade found a degree of success. This creative lifestyle was a natural fit for Jane and Ravie, but it was a leap outside of their comfort zone for them to support themselves entirely through entrepreneurship.
They moved back to Chiang Mai, where they found a simpler lifestyle, and help from their parents. They found a space to use as a studio for Kanjana Handmade and Jane realized that this was an opportunity to fulfil another dream of hers.
She had always loved cooking. As a child, her dad bragged to others that his daughter loved accompanying him to the market. He taught her to handle a knife, how to select and prepare vegetables, and how to be imaginative in the kitchen. Cooking was never a chore; it was always a joy.
“I just love cooking and feeding people I love,” she says. “Their reaction to my food, it’s what I live for.”
Jane has never worked in a professional kitchen. She had a private supper club in Bangkok, but the most people she ever cooked for was twenty. Scaling up from a home kitchen to a professional one was daunting. She designed the space, decorated, and renovated. She spent a year designing the menu, and that was after she limited herself. She decided to start with a vegetarian caf้ that served breakfast and lunch. A year later, Jane’s kitchen served it’s first customers.
Jane is at a crossroads again, seeking to constantly evolve and grow her various enterprises. “I’m always going to be at a crossroads, I think,” she said. “There are so many possibilities once you’ve chosen this lifestyle.”
Jane’s Kitchen continues to grow. She plans to expand the menu, start a secret supper club in Chiang Mai, compile a book of her recipes, and start selling homemade granola, salad dressings and even bone broth. “I needed the experience, the stress and fear of starting something on my own, but now I’d like Jane’s Kitchen to be more spontaneous and inspired,” she says.
As far as Kanjana Handmade, they hope to elevate the brand, making higher quality products and reaching out to a wider client base. They’ve been throwing around the idea of collaborating with a fashion designer, but have yet to find the right fit.
Jane is not sure what’s next for her but she is sure that she has found the lifestyle she’s been searching for in Chiang Mai; it has served her, her family, and her business well. “People will offer you help here. They’re really generous with their time. Nobody is ever too busy for you and even if they are they’ll make time for you. I know that there is always a place for me in Chiang Mai.”
To keep track of what Jane is up to with Kanjan Handmade and what’s being cooked up in her kitchen, check out: