How Jill Zarin Created An Empire With This Pandemic Business

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way everyone does business — and in some cases, it actually created new business opportunities. Jill Zarin is living proof of that: Although she was ousted early from her Real Housewives of New York stint, she’s found a new passion that combines her fashion savvy with a public health need. 

When the virus entered the U.S, and became a national crisis within weeks, health experts began recommending that the public begin wearing face masks outdoors to help slow the spread of the highly infectious disease. To help meet the surging demand for masks, home crafters began making them for themselves and friends. Among them: Zarin’s daughter Allyson Shapiro, who’d just learned how to tie-dye material and experimented with the technique on some plain white cloth masks (via BravoTV). 

As their website explains, her Instagram followers adored the style and asked if they could buy ones of their own. Seeing an opportunity in the making, Shapiro and Zarin founded Jill & Ally, which has skyrocketed to success in just a few short months. In addition to their signature masks and mask necklaces, the company also offers mask cases, hand sanitizer, and scented candles (one fragrance is called “Real Housewife in Training”), with sweatshirts and hoodies soon to come. 

Jill Zarin's company has a give-back philosophy

The Jill & Ally brand is more than just a bank-account padder, however. From the beginning, Zarin and Shapiro were determined to get their masks into the hands of the people who needed them most: first responders. For every mask purchased, they donate one to healthcare workers, with more than 25,000 donations to date. They also supplied 5,000 masks to service members during the week of Veterans Day. Ally explains on the site, “We didn’t come out with masks to start a fashion brand. We made the masks and then became a fashion brand.” 

That brand is now sold in some 5,000 retail outlets as well as through their site and on Amazon. Zarin and Shapiro have added more staffers to keep up with the demand, but the masks are still made right in Jill’s home, and their staff is made up solely of women. 

The appeal of owning a Housewife-designed mask is one secret to their success, but the comfort and quality may be what keeps buyers coming back. A staffer for the Today show raves that the cotton masks are “so buttery-soft and lightweight that you’d hardly know it’s there.” 

Zarin told the reporter, “Fit was the most important. And we were able to find an incredible source overseas that was able to supply us with what happens to be the most comfortable mask in the market.” As a fashion expert and former president of the Gold Toe sock brand, she should know.  

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