Many fashion brands attach adjectives such as “luxury” and “quality” to their stories, but not all deliver equally on that promise. We had the opportunity to chat with Jill Fraser, the founder and CEO of fashion company Jill Milan, about starting a vegan fashion company in the luxury space, manufacturing in Italy and what it takes to be seen on the red carpet.
Q: You started Jill Milan only a few years ago, yet already have achieved significant recognition. What was it like launching a fashion brand in the luxury segment? It couldn’t have been easy, particularly for a vegan fashion brand.
A: It certainly had its challenges, but it was crucial to what we wanted to accomplish. I wanted to create a brand which offered high-quality, designer purses that did not use any animal-based materials. I am vegan and do not wear anything made with leather, fur or wool, but I could not find luxury handbags that did not use those materials. I envisioned Jill Milan as the brand that would fill that need in the market.
Q: But were there not other options for vegan handbags ?
A: Vegan bags yes, but we wanted to offer handbags which could sit next to bags from Gucci, Hermes, etc.
Q: How do you achieve that level of quality?
A: It starts with design. Our concepts are inspired by beauty found everywhere – art, fashion, architecture, nature. We know some brands are content to take designs from others and make just cosmetic changes such as changing a handle or lengthening a strap, but we want our bags to be unique. Then we look at materials, and by working in Italy we have access to some of the best fabrics in the world. Italy has been renowned since Medieval times for its textile production. Guilds in Florence specialized in textiles, metals and jewelry. Italian fabrics have been used to make handbags for European nobility for centuries.
Q: And of course Jill Milan bags are made in Italy.
A: That makes a big difference and is a significant differentiator for us. Many Italian-made handbags survive for generations because of the quality of their materials and their exquisite craftsmanship. I go to Italy myself to see the bags made and make sure they are the highest quality possible. Jill Milan bags are made in a family-owned Italian atelier that creates accessories for Europe's top luxury brands. The skill of the artisans there is incredible and it makes such a difference.
Q: How does making your bags in Italy factor in to your success?
A: It costs us more to produce there but we can see the difference in the final product. I understand that some brands choose to price their products lower, and to do so they produce in lower-cost parts of the world. But in Italy every stitch will be correct, no shortcuts are taken, and you can see the difference. The same craftsmen who make our bags also make bags for some of Europe’s best-known fashion brands.
Q: Are they fashion brand names most of us would recognize?
A: Yes, you would absolutely recognize their names.
Q: Not very many vegan Designer Purses Brands are recognized by the top fashion media, yet Jill Milan has been featured in W Magazine and other major publications.
A: Yes, W has actually highlighted Jill Milan several times, particularly in the “Most Wanted” feature. We have also appeared in The Rachel Zoe Report and at Vogue.com – it’s very gratifying to be recognized by acknowledged fashion authorities.
Q: Why do you think other vegan offerings have been unable to achieve the level of recognition that Jill Milan has?
A: I think some brands put “vegan” first and “fashion” second. At Jill Milan we want our products to appeal to consumers on the basis of fashion, not just because they’re vegan. From the beginning we were determined never to compromise on fashion. No woman should feel she has to choose between fashion and ethics.
Q: Clearly a lot of Hollywood agrees with you. Jill Milan is carried by many A-List actresses to movie premieres and other appearances on the red carpet.
A: Yes, we have been very fortunate that the quality of our bags has been noticed and appreciated by many top actresses and their stylists. Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence and Eva Longoria are just a few of the many talented actresses who have carried Jill Milan. I believe Jill Milan is the only fully vegan fashion brand to consistently appear on Hollywood’s red carpets.
Q: What is next for Jill Milan?
A: We will continue developing great designs for our vegan bags , and expanding our offerings to other accessories. I think it’s going to be fun.