This week The Real Housewives of New York City Season 5 premiered on Bravo with new cast members—and without some of the old. Housewives alumna Jill Zarin reported on her blog, “I felt like I graduated high school and am in college now… going back to the high school to visit my old friends and some transfer students.” What’s Jill been up to; apparently, quite a lot. In addition to continuing a round of television appearances, Jill Zarin has been just a tad occupied—building an empire around her name with her Jill Zarin Home Bedding Collection, Skweez Couture shapewear line, and most recently her Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection. Fashion Reverie has had a chance to catch up with her to learn more about her newest ventures in the fashion and accessories industries.
Fashion Reverie: What inspired you to start Skweez Couture?
Jill Zarin: I had my “aha” moment while I was filming Season 4 of The Real Housewives of New York City when I was wearing someone else’s shapewear and getting out of the car and my whole leg was exposed. It was really squeezing my whole leg, very uncomfortable and very unattractive. It was at that moment, I told my husband that I have to make own shapewear, and I have to make it look pretty. I said I could do better, and I did!
FR: Can you go over your background for some of our readers who may not know of your professional background beyond The Real Housewives of New York City?
Jill Zarin: I started as a buyer at Filene’s Department Store in Boston, Massachusetts. My last job was President of Jockey Hosiery for Great American Knitting Mills. So I’ve really ran the gamut in ladies and menswear and undergarments, specifically from hosiery to tights, for over 10 of my 25 years in the business. Then I worked for my husband, Bobby, who has a fabric company, which allowed me to learn a lot about textiles and fabrication.
FR: What does your collection consist of?
Jill Zarin: It ranges from functional and affordable undergarments to a hybrid collection and outerwear. For example, I have a Bodyguard Bodysuit that can be worn under a blouse, under a sweater, under a dress, under anything to hold in your stomach, lift your rear end, to give you support because it has an underwire, and yet makes you feel very feminine and comfortable. You can also wear my shapewear by itself with a jacket, or a jacket over it with jeans, which is the way I like to wear it. So it can go from undergarment to outerwear. I also have items that are primarily for outerwear, but can be worn under clothes, which makes up my corset line.
So I have items that go under your clothes, items that are hybrid that can be worn under or out, corsets, then I have garments that are just phenomenal—soft, easy to wear, from velvet leggings to cotton capris to those that have more spandex and support. My favorite item allows you to wear your own bra: it’s called the Peek-a-boob. My biggest concern as a seller is bra size. This way, I can support all of them, no pun intended, by letting them wear their own bra and giving them an undergarment that surrounds it literally and sucks them in all the way down. At the bottom, I’ve added lace, which I love.
The side effect of these garments is that it gives you incredible back support, which all of us need. We’ll all leaning over our computers, we’re slouching as we get older, we’re tired, and we’re resting in that position. These garments force you to stay up straighter. It’s healthier for your body.
FR: Would you tell us about the fabrics you use?
Jill Zarin: I like to use fabrics that have incredible softness, which is the most important thing to me because I think the first thing you do when you open up your package is touch it. It’s really important for me that it passes a certain number of washing machine passes. It’s sort of like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. I should really apply for that! But we put the garments through our own testing. I have my own Jill Zarin Housekeeping Seal of Approval. So does HSN by the way. One of the things I am most proud about is being one of the suppliers of HSN.
FR: Please tell us the steps it took to put together Skweez Couture.
Jill Zarin: It’s been trial and error. I’ve never opened a business so aggressively and quickly in my life. My husband, Bobby, is an entrepreneur, and he helped guide me. I have a licensee that is my partner in making these goods and designing. That was the fastest way to do it. If I had tried to do it myself, it would have taken me another year or two. I had to make that choice to give part up a part of my business, but it was worth it. With that, there comes a lot of expertise and many, many years of experience.
Forbes Magazine recently named us one of the top 5 emerging shapewear brands in the world. They were doing an article on my competitor. This other company has been in the business for ten years and is now worth billions of dollars. And now Skweez Couture is on its heels.
FR: But you’re still actively involved in the design?
Jill Zarin: That’s where there was a bit of a challenge because they’re based in Boca Raton, Florida and I’m based in New York. So, FedEx is my best friend!
FR: What are you most proud of regarding your collection?
Jill Zarin: I think it would be the corsets because that was the most challenging. I literally took apart with a scissor one of my favorite corsets that I had bought years ago because I needed to find out what was annoying me so I could do it better. My weight would fluctuate up and down, but this thing had no stretch at all. I’d have to hold my breath while Bobby would struggle to try to help hook all the eyes. It had no straps and would slip,so I took it apart. One of the things I did was replace hooks and eyes with a very a practical zipper that has a safety latch on it. When I took it apart, I noticed the reason why it was hurting me so much was because the bones were so hard and wiry and tore through the fabric and dug into me. I wanted soft boning, which I had to source, and of course I wanted a really beautiful sateen finish, and a silk look.
My retail price is $75 for a gorgeous corset, which is unheard of at that price. I also added removable straps. I made the straps removable so people who didn’t want them could remove them, for example, smaller chested women who might not need the extra support.
I used the princess seaming 360 degrees around it. In fact, one of HSN hosts, Diana Perkovic, loved it so much that she picked me as the Host Pick, which is a big honor. WWD also featured that same corset.
FR: How did the Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection come about?
Jill Zarin: I’m a jewelry hoarder, like so many of my peers. I am a little bit careless, and I’ve lost a lot of jewelry, with that in mind I really wanted to make the collection affordable.
FR: What has the road been like since leaving the reality show and entering this new phase of your life as a fashion and jewelry entrepreneur?
Jill Zarin: It feels organic. I feel like my life is always evolving. That was a stage in my life for 5 years, and I was ready to leave. I never thought it would last as long as it did, and I’m grateful that it’s still on-air because people are still talking about the show.
I feel like I’ve graduated. It’s sort of like being in high school. They forced me to graduate.
FR: What was your experience like being on one of the most popular reality shows, and are there any regrets?
Jill Zarin: I don’t live with regrets. I’m sure I’ve had regrets, I just don’t remember them because I don’t live in the past. I did the show to have fun and to promote my brand. My brand at the time was solely Zarin Fabrics on the lower eastside, the largest discount drapery and upholstery fabric store in New York City. Then it became more about the Jill Zarin brand, and then I came up with Skweez Couture. It kept evolving.
The show also gave me a platform to write a book with my mother and sister, “Secrets of a Jewish Mother.” That was an advice book on everything from marriage to dating to career. It’s the kind of book that will live forever and will stand the test of time.
FR: I have heard from celebrities, especially those who are on TV on a weekly basis, that they are often approached by fans, who mistake them for the characters they portray. It must be doubly confusing for a reality star.
Jill Zarin: Actually it’s much easier as a reality star because I am my character. When I meet fans, they know a lot about me that is all true. I’m married to Bobby. My daughter is Ally. Sure, there are different storylines that may be exaggerated. But the core of who I am, what I do is all true. So people will just feel like I’m a familiar friend.
FR: Is there more you’d like to accomplish?
Jill Zarin: There’s always more; things I don’t know yet. I’m very creative, and I’m always coming up with new challenges and things for me to do. I’m working on twenty different projects I can’t even talk about. I’ll have a couple that I’ll be able to talk about in a couple of months.
Jill Zarin will appear on HSN June 15th at 8pm EST. Skweez Couture and the Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection can be purchased on www.jillzarin.com.
—Jeanine Jeo-Hi Kim