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jill-e, laptop bags, camera bags

Camera, Laptop, & Tablet Bags Oh my: Accessory Brand Q&A with Gail Backal, President Jill-e Designs

news_juliette-lifestyle_If you've ever been the recipient of one of those awful black nylon laptop bags (I sure have), either as a gift or part of conference swag, or spent hours searching online for a stylish, functional laptop or camera bag (done that too), then you know what a challenge it can be to simply find something that looks like a purse or bag you would carry anyway, but that just happens to also fit and protect your iPad, Macbook or DSLR.

I typically travel with my laptop in an incase, tucked inside a black leather, monogrammed tote, my big camera wrapped in a sweater inside my suitcase. It's not ideal, so I immediately loved the bright colors, functional pockets and classic styles of Jill E Designs, a woman-owned company run by Kodak's former Product Manager, Gail Backal. Featuring two collections, Jill for women and Jack men (some of the best bags for men I have seen), and recently picked up by Apple (each bag contains a unique ID number, stitched into the inside, so once registered Jill-e can locate lost bags).

Curious to learn more about the company and how PR and marketing has supported their growth over the last seven years, I caught up with Gail as she travelled across the world to learn more.

Name:  Gail Backal
Title:  President
Company:  Jill-e Designs
Founded:  2007
# of employees:  7

How did the inspiration for Jill-e Designs come about?

My husband is a professional photographer and I worked as his assistant on weekends. I was also the Product Manager for Kodak’s Digital Camera Accessories Group at the time and part of my responsibilities included camera bags. As a result of the both experiences, I felt there was an unmet need in the pro and advanced amateur market for camera bags that were functional, yet fashionable.  At the time there were no camera bags on the market that looked nice aesthetically on the outside. I felt there was a need for this, since so many women were getting into photography, as a business or hobby. Bags are important to women and it only made sense to me that a camera bag could sport some style along with function.

Once you had the idea for the business, how did you go about making it a reality?

I was fortunate because I’d worked in product development and product management my whole career. The combination of skills and relationships I’d built helped me launch this business. The first step was to design the product.  This was straightforward since my experience working as a photographer meant I knew exactly what I wanted in a bag. The next step was to find a manufacturer. This is where my network of contacts proved invaluable.

What were some early challenges and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge in starting any business from the ground up is financing. Everything you do requires money, from ordering inventory, to setting up the warehouse and shipping logistics, to traveling to meetings to land sales. It all requires money to lay the foundation, before we actually put any money back into the business.  I began by financing though personal savings and loans from friends and family.

If you’ve built a reputation as a reliable person and can articulate your vision of the newly formed company with an approach you’ll take to be successful, your friends and family may be willing to help.


How did you begin to get the word out and get your first sales?

Again, here’s where my network of contacts helped. I was able to get meetings with a few key customers early on. The buyers came to the meeting skeptical, but the key was to show a product that was new and differentiated, along with statistics of the market that showed how many women were entering the field. This got their attention; they could not ignore the data that indicated a market in this category existed.

What do you believe to be the biggest benefit of a PR strategy? Biggest PR success thus far?

A PR strategy really helps get the word out to customers. Your products will only be of interest to a retailer if they sell. In the end, it’s the customer who’s willing to buy the product that will determine success or failure. Our biggest success so far occurred when we launched our Jack line of products.  We invested in targeted marketing and advertising to male photographers. It was interesting and rewarding to see customers respond in a positive way and purchase the product.

How did your exclusive collection for Apple come about?

Our products are known for their smart, classic and thoughtful designs made with high quality materials. We focus on protecting your electronic devices, providing organizing features like lots of pockets, while also paying close attention to the aesthetic details. As a result we have felt that our products are a good fit for the Apple brand. Our products and design approach are what made this exclusive opportunity a reality.

What trends or tools are informing your PR & marketing strategy for 2014?

We look at a variety of things in the marketplace, plus factor in our own product development strategy. Right now social media is playing a big role in informing consumers about products, so that will be a piece of our strategy. Also, it’s a crowded marketplace and people are busier than ever.  You need to respect that people have very little free time and must ensure your message is valuable and not intrusive.  Finally, we are all dependent upon our favorite device, whether it’s a smart phone, tablet or laptop. These mobile devices go everywhere today. In that light, our products must fit people’s needs and provide benefit to their daily lives.

Connect with Jill-e on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Fashion PR Fridays: PR, Marketing & Social Media News for the Week of April 7, 2014 Fashion PR Fridays: PR, Marketing & Social Media News for the Week of April 7, 2014

Design Your Own Prada Shoes, Selfie Taking Mirrors & Why PR Girls Will Run the World

  • An iconic piece of clothing can definitely shape a culture - here are 50 of the most important dresses from the last 100 years. Any you’d add? (via Never Underdressed)
  • Kind of like entrepreneurial godparent’s, J.Crew and Kate Spade are mentoring up and coming startups. (via Fast Co.)
  • Be the designer of your own shoe destiny! Prada is now offering customers the opportunity to design their own heels. (via Vogue UK)
  • Historic English department store Harrods hosted its first digital summit with eight influential fashion bloggers from around the world. (via Luxury Daily)
  • Documentary The Next Black gives an in-depth look at Fashion Tech beyond the present. (via Mashable)
  • Amiright, ladies? These can really only be described as #fashiogirlproblems. (via StyleCaster)
  • It’s a fact: PR girls are going to run the world. (via Thought Catalog)
  • Fashion in the era of smartphones and Instagram. (via the New York Times)
  • A mirror that will snap the perfect selfie and post it right to Twitter for you. Yep, this is an actual thing. (via Mashable)
  • is launching its first Fashion Tech podcast on April 14! Be the first to hear what they’ve been up to in this sneak peek. (via

Favorite Fashion Videos

Photo Credit: mStreetPhoto

I shot this.

Kenwerks Takes On Coachella (& Takes Over PR Couture Instagram)

We have been having so much fun this year, turning our PR Couture Instagram account over to PR agencies for amazing access and insider peeks like Linda Gaunt Communications' NYFW takeover. This week, we're excited to not only bring you Skirt PR on Friday, but we're headed (vicariously) to Coachella's first weekend, thanks to Kenneth Loo and his creative marketing team at Kenwerks.

If you've been working in the industry for a bit, you know that the big fashion editor focus on festival-wear is relatively new, and grows in scope every year. Fashion brands eager to connect directly with concert-goers, and the parties and celebrity sightings news in and of themselves, to say nothing of the music. To find out more about how fashion brands and fashion PR agencies approach Coachella, we got the inside scoop directly from Kenwerks about the relationship between the fashion industry and music festival, and how his team is ramped up and ready for the weekend.

Ken Loo

Kennneth Loo (Right), at Coachella 2013

What will the Kenwerks team be up to at Coachella 2014?

Our Coachella madness started January 1, when we started festival planning with all our clients. There have been countless emails and conference calls from product selection, to target lists to packaging. A good handful of our clients opted to send "outfit packages" to top tier talent before the festival…this week our UPS man has been overloaded. We recently added Jac Vanek  and That Madonna Girl to the Kenwerks roster and quickly moved to get their awesome gear out. Both Jac (Vanek) and Michelle (Madonna) are avid music festival attendees, so it's been amazing to be hand selected by them for their PR efforts.

First weekend–and the best weekend–our whole team will be on deck at Koolaburra's activation at the Music Lounge with the amazing team from BMF Media. After we wrap up the day there, we will all be attending the concert on behalf of our clients- each sporting pieces from their spring collections. I will be personally hanging out with our client Alissa from Mavi Jeans who is scoping out the scene for potential brand activation next year. It is always my recommendation for clients to personally experience any event they are interested in before they dedicate budget to an activation.

I've done many events at Coachella in the past and they have always been very successful. It's a crowded space with a lot of brands flexing massive marketing muscle, so you need to make sure that you have a really unique and “out there” event idea and product that people will LOVE.

Koolaburra launched their largest offering of Spring/Summer footwear ever for 2014 and it all has an amazing music festival attitude. Bringing them to Coachella was a no-brainer for us. A few seasons back I did this same BMF Media event with Koolaburra when they first launched Spring/Summer with six sandal styles. We landed sandals on major trendsetters, including Kristin Cavallari, who was spotted wearing them backstage at the festival that year. That moment (and photo) truly launched the Spring/Summer category for Koolaburra. That moment has been followed by spottings on Vanessa Hudgens, Pixie Lott and loads of other celeb sightings that have supported each season’s collection. I kind of feel like we are returning this year to recapture that magic, but, oh how the scene has intensified! I'm happy to be back with BMF Media in this event, they run a smart and fun program that delivers results. They also have one of the few events during most festivals where a larger brand has not bought out all categories exclusively. So you get a great mix of like-minded brands and always a great mix of talent and VIPs.

micehlle madonna

What are the biggest fashion PR opportunities connected to Coachella?

I wonder what it would be like for a brand to go old school and just set up a merchandise tent on the grounds and sell stuff...but I feel like those days might be over, LOL.

Clearly, dressing celebrities at Coachella is the goal of every fashion brand and there is plenty of top-tier talent doing outfit changes sometimes three or four times a day. I personally think you need to do a mix of sending items beforehand matched with an on-site event in order to get the best chance of landing on a celebrity. As I mentioned, the competition is the end the celebrities attending are getting tons of product so you need to make sure that what you send them is festival-perfection.

Parties are really the next opportunity to leverage Coachella, and that too is a crowded field. The Coachella Festival weekend is filled to the brim with a mélange of brands. Here's my list...although I'll probably end up at more.

The marquee player in the party space is H&M x Coachella. I would estimate they have a $5-10 million dollar spend on Coachella alone. H&M is not only the official fashion sponsor that creates a capsule collection and a huge party, but they have bought out coverage on a lot of media outlets like Refinery29's Festival Tracker. H&M's party with Santigold last year was the best event of the Chet and his team have high expectations.

This year all eyes are on the night time events: NYLON magazine partnered with the already popular Neon Carnival. I'm excited to see how this takes the event up a notch...the thought before the announcement was that the excitement for Neon had turned stale. NYLON should definitely bring a new energy to it this year. Jeremy Scott x Adidas is always a crazy hot mess of awesomeness, while Details on Friday has been losing its draw.

The biggest buzz this season is coming from Safilo, which is taking Marc by Marc Jacobs eyewear to Desert Gold at the Ace Hotel. I've talked to an insider who revealed her ridiculous guest list to me. I need my sunnies!!!

My friends at Lacoste are going to kick my butt for saying this, but they have the best day party of the weekend that needs to re-invent. So let's see what “Le Crocodile” has planned.

Opening Ceremony at the Saguaro Hotel Pool party, Vestal Village, Guess Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel....


What can we expect to see on the PR Couture Instagram?


What are your must see bands/parties/events this year?

Since I consider going to parties as "WERK"...let's focus on the bands!!!

Lana Del Rey: This girl has a lot to prove to everyone, especially me. I put the team at Interscope on blast last year for their mishandling. She had an amazing album that was completely overlooked because of poor calls by her management. Now she is a Sunday headliner going against Lorde on Saturday. Summertime Sadness is my anthem and her appearance at Coachella is long over due.

Pharrell: Something is going to happen here and it will be massive. I have no clue what to expect, except to expect.

And finally, this is my fiancé Monte's first "Kenwerks Coachella." He's never been, so along with PR Couture's Instagram followers he is getting a passenger seat perspective of one of my favorite events of the year. He's taking his should too.

#experienceeverything #kenwerks

Images via Kenwerks.

Meet Crosby Noricks

Hi. I'm Crosby, the founder of PR Couture and a fashion brand strategist. I care about supporting and celebrating fashion publicists as well as helping rad companies connect with their audiences in more meaningful ways. Recently, iMedia included me in their annual list of 25 Internet Marketing Leaders and Innovators, along with people from Starbucks, Twitter and Volkswagon, which I think is pretty neat. Like Elle Woods, I am a Gemini-vegetarian (that's about where the similarities end). Let's connect: Check out my full bio, Brand Elixer sessions or shoot me an electronic communiqué.