Before cameras followed her every move and made her a Real Housewife of New York City, Jill Zarin was making a name for herself in fashion. Now after the fourth season of the popular Bravo television series, Zarin is going back to her roots in fashion as a designer, and in doing so, she is giving business owners a design for success.
"I always knew, as a kid, that I wanted to own my own clothing store," said Zarin, who is currently launching Skweez Couture shapewear by Jill Zarin in Lord and Taylor and other retail stores.
Zarin said her decision to branch out into shapewear was as simple as seeing and trying to seize an opportunity.
Zarin was quoted in Women's Wear Daily as saying, "I'm obsessed with looking my best, and I wear (body-shaping undergarment) Spanx, but there's no competition out there."
She tells BusinessNewsDaily that her career in fashion started long before her days as a famous housewife.
"My career started when I was 13 years old. I used to volunteer in the basement of a local clothing store. They would give me clothes for free and they would let me take things home, but I basically worked for free."
Zarin’s resume has grown quite a bit from her days working in that basement. After graduating from Simmons School of Retail Management in Boston, Zarin went on to work as an assistant buyer to Jeffrey Kantor at Filene's. Short stints at Manhattan Industries, EG Smith and Royce Hosiery were followed by a run as the national sales manager of the Jockey division at Great American Knitting Mills.
“I was there until I married Bobby, and once I married Bobby [Zarin] I was traveling all the time," said Zarin, co-owner of Zarin Fabrics. "It was just too much. I had to give it up. So I left and went to work for Bobby at Zarin Fabrics just running his store.”
Success, however, did not come from hard work alone. Zarin credits paying her dues in several jobs and learning from both mistakes and triumphs at each organization as the major reasons behind her current achievements.
"What defined me [in business], was my three years working with Jeff Kantor as an assistant buyer [at Filene's] in men’s dress shirts,” said Zarin of Kantor, who is now president of Macy's Home Store. “I think that gave me the most experience in retail. If you are lucky in your life, you will have a rabbi or a mentor, and Jeff became mine.”
The importance of branding
With her mentor, Zarin was able to learn several important lessons. Chief among them was the importance of building a brand and promoting it.
“The first step in any brand is recognizing it, what it is and knowing the name of it," said Zarin, who is also the designer of Jill Zarin Home, a line of bedding products sold in Bed, Bath and Beyond. "Brand recognition [is crucial] so that when customers see it in the stores, they will have a familiarity and the security to know they wouldn't get something I wouldn't love myself. Confidence is key."
Ensuring success, however, does not come simply from building a brand during regular business hours. Zarin believes business owners must go above and beyond their job descriptions to promote and build their brand.
"Be your own self-promoter," said Zarin. "No one is going to know your business better than you. No one is going to be able to talk about it better than you. You need to be your own best self-promoter."
Despite one's best efforts in promotion and building a brand, some aspects of a successful business simply cannot be taught, said Zarin.
“I think some people are born and they know what they want to do with their life," said Zarin. "I knew I loved fashion and I knew I loved clothes, but I really don't know why. I think I was just born with it."
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