Fashion has often had a reputation for putting aesthetics above ethics, a troublesome reality that Jill Fraser and her partner, Milan Lazich, set out to change in 2010 with the creation of Jill Milan, a luxury accessory brand designed to embrace haute couture without the guilty conscience.

As well as being entirely cruelty-free, Jill Milan handbags are a staple accessory for some of Hollywood's biggest stars. Trendsetters such as Kerry Washington, Anne Hathaway, Eva Longoria, Sarah Hyland and Jennifer Lawrence have carried their bags. Celebrities have carried their products to the Oscars, the Emmy Awards, the American Music Awards and the Golden Globes to name just a few upscale events.

 

Vegan, cruelty-free luxury

When faced with the challenge of finding high-end, leather-free products to suit her vegan lifestyle and promote animal welfare and animal-related charities, Jill Fraser co-founded Jill Milan. The principles are deceptively simple: no using animal products, no cruelty in the manufacture of the handbags, and supporting local artisans – all while maintaining the highest standards in both design and function. The result was a luxury brand of handbags designed by top talent from Prada and Judith Leiber, and painstakingly handcrafted by traditional Italian ateliers.

 

The Italian difference

Italy has an artisan tradition dating back many centuries, particularly its textile industry. Through techniques developed by master craftsmen and passed down through countless generations, Italian handbags have become synonymous with top-of-the-line quality and exquisite finished products that more than stand the test of time.

The Jill Milan bag creation process is long and difficult, but each stunning bag showcases the talent and passion of its creators. A skilled artisan is involved every step of the way, from the pattern makers to the fabric cutters to the stitchers. The ateliers are small, family-owned operations with good wages, health insurance and fair treatment, meaning your handbag is not mass produced in a sweatshop under horrible working conditions but by trained and well-paid master craftspeople who take great pride in their trade.

In Asia, the manufacturing cost can be as low as $2.00, while in Italy, it costs hundreds of dollars to make a handbag. However, the Italians have some of the most beautiful fabrics and the most highly skilled artisans.

 

Philanthropy and Animal Rights Advocacy

Jill Milan's dedication to animal rights goes far beyond the exclusion of all animal products and a strict adherence to vegan materials. The company proudly supports a range of philanthropic efforts aimed at raising awareness of animal abuse causes, fundraisers for shelters and rescue groups and general efforts to encourage environmental responsibility.

In addition to donating products for fundraisers, Jill Milan stipulates that more than 10 percent of the company's revenue goes to charitable causes and organizations. Among these include Juliana's Animal Sanctuary, South America's first animal sanctuary; Mercy for Animals, a watchdog organization devoted to exposing animal abuse on commercial farms; Muttville, a nonprofit which adopts and re-homes senior dogs; and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has as its goal securing the end of animal testing in medical research.

While the company was founded to help contribute to animal welfare issues, Jill Milan also promotes causes focused on supporting women. Some examples of Jill Milan's contributions include donating to the Catherine Tuck Foundation, which provides financial assistance to women battling breast cancer; Sense of Security California, another financial aid agency for women with not just breast, but also ovarian and related cancers; and Dress for Success, a nonprofit which aims to empower women through an array of career development services, including supplying professional attire.

Jill Milan set out to show that the fashion industry can, in fact, offer beautiful products that are ethically sourced and produced and entirely cruelty-free, whether that cruelty is toward animals or humans. It was a lofty goal, but the effort has paid off — and Jill Milan is dedicated to paying it forward.