Meet Jill Zarin: Original Real Housewife of New York, celebrity influencer, mother, author, designer of the Jill Zarin Home Collection, and co-owner of accessory brand, Jill & Ally.
Since her days as the marketing manager of the legendary Zarin Fabrics Warehouse and Home Furnishing company, Jill understands the lifestyle brand of today should be stylish, personal, affordable, and practical.
The company motto is: ‘solution-based, affordable luxury’ and since the company boasts total sales to date at $100 million, those savvy sentiments are paying dividends.
Launched in 2017, the Jill Zarin Rugs line is widely available in heavyweight retailers such as Macy’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, Wayfair, Home Depot, and many more, generating over $10 million in sales in 2020 alone.
Ever resourceful, the Jill & Ally brand is a sister company born out of the Pandemic call for face coverings. It’s a fun, youthful accessory brand, owned by Jill and her daughter Ally Shapiro, making masks, candles, and loungewear.
We had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with mother-daughter duo, Jill and Ally, to discuss how they are democratizing the home decor space and their insider secrets for surviving (and thriving!) in a rapidly evolving industry.
What are the main differences between your two brands, Jill Zarin Home And Jill & Ally?
J: Jill Zarin Home is a business that’s been around since The Real Housewives started. The brand is super established and offers mostly home decor, like rugs, furniture, and candles. Jill & Ally is a fun, candid lifestyle brand that I run with my daughter and business partner, Ally Shapiro. It’s a lot more campy and colorful. Jill & Ally started as a rescue brand for people who needed masks during the pandemic. We originally were a company that sold hand tie-dyed masks in our online store. Fortunately, we were first to market in this space, and we were up and running by May which was very ahead of the curve. Because we were very first to market, and with our agility, we were able to get into TJ Maxx and Ross stores about six weeks after lockdown started. It has now emerged into a more wide-ranging brand that has fun home accessories, crystal candles, clothing, etc.
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A: For Jill Zarin Home, we launched a line of Real Housewives-inspired clothing that has done really well so far. Nobody in the Bravo sphere has really done that, so it’s cool to be at the forefront of a project that has such a dedicated follower base already. We also partner with a company called Spectrum Designs, which is a screen printing company that is fully staffed by people on the Autistic Spectrum. I think the most rewarding part of working with Spectrum is the opportunities we are giving them. Not just in terms of money, but these amazingly talented people are getting the career opportunities they deserve. The essence of what we do is about giving back. From giving hundreds of thousands of masks away for free during the height of the pandemic, to partnering with Spectrum Designs, we’re true believers in bettering our community.
Q: Jill Zarin Home positions itself as “affordable luxury.” Can you talk a little bit about this paradox, and how your brand is able to achieve both affordability and ultra-lux quality simultaneously?
J: We cut out the middleman. We sell online, rather than selling to a store that is then going to mark it up and sell it at an elevated price to the consumer. So we operate at the manufacturing level. Although things aren’t as affordable as they used to be, we have been hugely successful with our production size, sourcing the best materials at the best value, and overall just being knowledgeable about the space we’re in.
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Q: How has the pandemic impacted your business model?
J: As I’m sure you know, there is a worldwide shipping disaster right now that’s made the entire manufacturing process really slow. I have a lot of experience in manufacturing and selling, but this was unprecedented. My business background combined with Ally’s expertise in art and social media has really allowed us to tackle this thing. And it’s been an exciting growing moment for both of us! We’re still learning more about the marketing aspect of the E-commerce business because it’s extremely expensive, and these mistakes will cost you. It’s oftentimes hard to tell if throwing money at Instagram or Google is actually yielding tangible benefits. How much is your advertising budget? What products do you want to spend advertising dollars on? What is your return on investment? These are all questions that you need to ask yourself every single day and the power of online advertising has only increased with the pandemic.
A: Pre-pandemic, the biggest component of Jill Zarin Home was the store. Fostering strong relationships with the store, what the product displays would look like, if the layout was inviting, etc. Now, I think the retail space has shifted to be more consumer-centric. Although in-person shopping is ramping up again, E-commerce has a much greater presence than ever before. For safety, but for convenience reasons, too. In response to these trends, we’re focusing a lot more on the presentation of our website, google advertisements, and of course, social media.
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Q: How has The Real Housewives leveraged your business?
J: If it wasn’t for the show, I wouldn’t have the platform to promote what I was doing. I am lucky that I have a very loyal fan base who engages with me so much on social media. This has given me great insight into what the consumer wants out of these brands. Any place I can talk is a good place for me!
A: The key to a successful brand is the faces behind the brand. When people interact with my mom on social media, they are shocked that she answers. But that personal engagement is critical to creating a long-lasting business.
Q: What is the “why” behind your brands? In other words, what is your mission statement?
J: Jill Zarin Home started out of necessity. It wasn’t glamorous at all. My dog kept peeing on my expensive rugs and I wanted a solution. I wanted to come out with a dog-friendly rug line that would make my life and everybody’s lives easier. But more broadly, our mission statement is to achieve that once unattainable idea of affordable luxury. We’re trying to give the consumer the best quality at the best price because we believe everybody deserves that. We’re also catering to a specific niche, which many other furniture and home decor company lines don’t do. We want to target people who are moving into their first apartment or home. We’re not selling heirloom furniture. We’re selling furniture that’s going to improve people’s quality of living. We’re not necessarily selling to a specific demographic of people in terms of tax brackets etc, but we are selling to people in that starter stage of life.
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Q: What’s your secret to managing all these different projects at once?
A: I would attribute a lot of our success to the amazing team we have around us. We’ve also really learned the virtue of being flexible, especially in this crazy, unpredictable world. We’ve had a lot of roadblocks with shipping and production, so we’ve had to pivot and adjust accordingly. I grew up going to Fashion Week, and I was always so mesmerized by the fact that the brands were showing Fall clothes in the Spring and Spring clothes in the Fall. How could they possibly predict the trends so far in advance? Now being on the business side of things, I’ve learned how critical it is to be ahead of the curve and have a pulse on the industry trends before anybody else, all while being adaptable during a global crisis! It’s a very fine line to balance.
J: This entire experience has taught me how important it is to take that leap of faith, no matter what business you are in. Because we develop our products so far in advance, we don’t have any idea if they are going to be a huge success or a total flop. But I’ve learned that I need to just dive in, hope for the best, and trust the process.
Q: Where do you see the brand in the next 5-10 years?
J: I hope that we will launch a fuller line with more products in each category. I want to answer the demand of what my consumer asks me for because we really do listen. An exciting project we are working on is crystal candles which are super trendy right now. The idea behind them is self-love and manifestation, which are big buzzwords in the industry. Despite what people say, masks are not gone and we still need to wear them whether we like it or not. So we’re making these handmade crystal masks with chains that I’m sure will be around for a while.
A: It’s hard because the market is changing so rapidly. 5-10 years ago we would have no idea that there would be a need for face masks. So it’s always super hard to predict what’s going to come next, but I know it’s going to be exciting!
Photography by: Jamie Mcarthy, Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images For Accessories Council