RHONY Alum Jill Zarin Talks Licensing, Rugs and Expanding Her Home Goods Line

Jill Zarin knows what her customers want. As she buzzed around the Unique Loom rug showroom at the recent High Point Market in High Point, N.C., Zarin greeted buyers, interior designers and fans all interested in tapping into the glamorous lifestyle she portrayed as an original cast member of “The Real Housewives of New York City.”

“What I’ve learned with all my product lines is that everything has to kind of relate back to me and my lifestyle, because that’s what my customer has told me over and over again that they want,” she said. “They see my homes, they see how I dress, they see how I look, and they don’t want me to give them anything except that.”

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Just before her stint as a main cast member on RHONY ended in 2011, Zarin launched her first product line, Skweez Couture shapewear. Since then, her product empire has grown to include Jill & Ally, a brand of accessories and candles born of daughter and co-owner Ally Shapiro’s handmade tie-dyed face masks, as well as a line of skin care, Jill Zarin Beauty, which launched in June.

On the home goods front, Zarin has several licensed lines, including a collection of cabinets, bookshelves and sideboards under the Jill Zarin Home brand, as well as her rug line with Unique Loom. Since launching several years ago, Unique Loom has added multiple collections to Zarin’s line, offering indoor and outdoor as well as machine-washable rugs in 33 different sizes and a variety of shapes.

“We carry 33 sizes because we own our own factories and we’re able to set the rugs on looms so that we can do so many different sizes,” she said. “I’m so blessed that the rugs aren’t made somewhere else and that they’re made in our own factories so we can control the production.”

At the High Point Market, Zarin introduced the latest collection from her rug line, dubbed “The Hamptons.” The rugs feature a classic cabana stripe inspired by Zarin’s beachy lifestyle in the New York resort area, and come in four neutral shades constructed of a combination of jute and cotton.

“I think there’s a need in the market for more natural rugs that are just easygoing,” Zarin said. “And what I’ve found in my business is that 60 percent of my sales come from neutral colors, so that makes me want to do more and more neutrals.”

Celebrities quoting sales stats and talking factories is rare in the home goods industry. Many famous faces lend their name recognition to licensed lines of furniture and accessories, but don’t take a hands-on approach to the actual products. Zarin said she’s just the opposite.

“I’m probably more involved than any celebrity with their licensed brand,” she said. “I’m very involved with the customers, and I go to all the customer dinners and meetings. I’m involved in the design process — I have a phone full of video and pictures of things that inspire me.”

Zarin said her background in fashion and textiles — including working alongside her late husband, Bobby, at his family’s New York City upholstery and drapery business, Zarin Fabrics — gives her insight into how her branded lines work that other celebrity licensees might not have.

“I could not have done it unless I’d had that experience,” she says. “I was a buyer at Filene’s department stores back in 1985, and from there I went into sales. And the relationships that I’ve made over the years are how we’ve gotten to where we are now.”

And Zarin said the relationship she has built with the team at Unique Loom has played a major role in that success.

“They are the most incredible partners you could ever ask for. And they listen to me and we work together, and it has grown into an incredible business.”

Zarin has more product launches she can’t comment on in the works, as well as the reality competition show, “The GOAT,” set to debut on Amazon in the spring. In the meantime, she’s focusing on cultivating her existing lines while keeping her eyes out for new opportunities.

“I’m looking to grow, and the irony is I don’t have a fabric line,” she said. “Anybody who wants to do a fabric collection out there, call me!”

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