Whoever said vegan bags aren’t stylish or durable surely hasn’t heard of Jill Milan – the celebrity favourite brand that creates super-sleek accessories for daytime and evening. Founded by Jill Fraser and Milan Lazich, this US-based brand works with an Italian factory to create luxury handbags with traditional Florentine artisan techniques. We love the brand for its utterly gorgeous, high-gloss aesthetic as well as kind heart – part of the proceeds are donated to organizations that rescue and retrain former racehorses. Without the aid of these non-profit groups, frequently horses are at risk of being shipped to Canada or to Mexico for slaughter. Carried by celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria, this brand is on the forefront of a new vegan fashion wave – a very chic one to say the least. We caught up with Jill Fraser, one of the brand’s creators, and had a chat.
What gave you the idea and inspiration to start the brand?
I was trying to fill a personal unmet need – I could not find really high-quality handbags that were not derived from animals. I also wanted to create bags and accessories that did not compromise on quality.
Why did you choose vegan materials?
I’ve been a vegetarian since my college days at Oxford and then later became vegan. Therefore I did not want to use animal-based materials for our handbags. Long before we founded Jill Milan, we were helping to support charities that rescue horses who were at risk of going to slaughter and our company has created a number of products, and will continue to create products, that help animals. In addition to our non-profit partner, Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue, we have also sponsored the Genesis Awards and have contributed to many other animal welfare groups.
Are your materials eco-friendly? If so, how?
One hundred percent of our handbag manufacturing is done in Italy and by sourcing fabrics there, too, we keep our carbon footprint as small as possible. We never use PVCs and Jill Milan is creating a line of T-shirts in America to benefit our non-profit partner, Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue. Designed by a fine artist, these shirts are made in the United States of organic cotton. In keeping with our charitable interests, the shirts are printed by a non-profit organization based in San Francisco which aids young people recovering from poverty, substance abuse, and homelessness.
Another aspect of eco-friendliness that is often overlooked is that Italians have traditionally made bags that were passed down from one generation to the next. Florentine craftsmanship dates back to the medieval guilds and they take great pride in the longevity of their creations. Because these bags are so durable, they can last a lifetime, which is an important consideration when speaking about eco-friendliness.
How do you think a vegan bag (of good quality, such as the ones you make) compare to a leather one?
In our case, our Italian atelier makes bags only for Europe’s leading luxury brands. We use hardware that is handmade specifically for Jill Milan by a Florentine artisan. When you manufacture in Italy, use hand-stitching, custom palladium-coated hardware and very high-quality fabrics, the bags compare extremely well. I’ve seen Italian vegan fabrics that wholesale at $200 a yard — much more expensive than animal-based materials – which gives you an idea about how exquisite these materials can be.
What’s the inspiration behind your collection?
For this year, we are seeing a lot of 1950s influences in fashion and will introduce some bags that reflect this direction in fashion.
How do you go about working with your factory in Italy?
Our sketches are created here over a number of months by a top design team. We then make technical specifications that go to Italy. In Europe, our atelier then creates felt samples of the bags. We make revisions based on the samples and order fabric samples in each different style and color. While this group of artisans works on the bags, the metal worker creates custom detailing for the bags. After a few months we have finished samples. From these we select the bags we will ultimately produce. As you can imagine, it’s quite a long and arduous process and I’m typically in Italy for a few months of the year.
Has there been one (or a few!) particularly proud moment for your brand?
There have been a few. I was delighted when the brand gained such early acceptance from celebrities. Jill Milan has been carried to the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the SAG awards and has been carried on the red carpet many times by celebrities such as Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence, Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington.
What’s next for Jill Milan?
We are working on a line of jewelry and other accessories.
And what do you think is next for vegan fashion?
Vegan fashion items are gaining more acceptance. For instance, Altuzarra introduced faux leathers into his collection this year. I’m seeing more leading designers working with these materials every year. This is a good thing because I think it will change the perception of “vegan” fabrics.