Interview: Speaking With Jilian Naiberg of Jonah Jay After Toronto Startup Fashion Week 2018
Last week, Toronto Startup Fashion Week kicked off its fifth year as a platform for local fashion entrepreneurs to showcase their talents. The five-day event brought together people throughout the city who are just beginning to launch their fashion careers. The week included panel discussions on topics about redefining gender in fashion and how to launch a successful fashion business, finishing off on the Friday with an exciting runway show. Of the hundreds of applicants who applied to showcase their design work, only 30 were selected—Jilian Naiberg was one of the few to make the cut. Naiberg is the founder of Jonah Jay, a vegan leather brand that prides itself on its high-end quality. Coming from an extensive fashion design background, Naiberg’s pieces are unique to her own vision, making Jonah Jay a stand-out brand for any animal-loving leather wearer. We sat down with Naiberg to discuss the collection, how the industry is changing for women and what it’s like to start your own business.
When did you launch Jonah Jay?
I launched it a year and a half ago. So last June. There was about 6-8 months of prep before that—probably even longer. There was a lot of brainstorming before that, a lot of research and then my first collection went up on the website in June 2017.
What made you decide to create this brand?
I was working as a fashion designer for a couple of years. It was for another company and I designed collections for other people. Bloggers, youtubers, people like that. But then there was just a point where I wanted to do what I wanted to do, because as much as I love those collaborations, they weren’t always my style or my taste but I had to accommodate their wants and needs. I knew, like I just knew I had to go out there and just do it otherwise it would never happen.
How did you go about getting the resources to start a company, like manufacturers, website design etc?
That was one thing that I was really lucky from my last job. I started there as an intern and then two weeks later my boss quit and they were like congratulations the job is yours. I had just moved back to toronto from school, I didn’t know anyone in the industry but I learned everything I needed to know on someone else’s dime. So I found my fabric suppliers, my sample makers, I found a couple manufacturers and then from there you just start planning everything else out. So that was super helpful and then I took all those resources and pooled them all together.
What sets Jonah Jay apart from other brands?
I haven’t gone into faux fur yet, I’m doing faux leather and faux suede. I think really what makes it different is the quality. It’s not a plasticy feel. I really pride myself on the quality of the look and feel of the leather I use. It’s 100% polyurethane, so it really mimic s the drape of a leather. On top of it, it’s easy to wear, easy to wash. You can throw all of my faux leather pieces into the cold wash in the washing machine—don’t put it in the dryer! But you can iron it also. So if you want to pack your leather there’s an option to pack it in a bag because when you take it out you can iron it on the reverse side and where it wherever you are.
With the #Metoo movement in Hollywood, have you seen a change in the fashion community to open up more discussions about these topics?
I read about it all the time. As a startup, I haven’t had to work with someone so big or really had the opportunity first-hand with those who experienced it but, I think the fashion industry is a huge part of the Metoo movement. There are models being taken advantage of, designers being taken advantage of. We want as much exposure as we possibly can get with photographers and magazines and any kind of marketing and unfortunately in the past, there’s been a lot taking advantage [of women]. But just like every other industry, we’re just going to keep moving forward and everyone’s pushing back now which is what needs to happen.
So you said this was your first fashion show—what has Startup Fashion Week taught you about putting together a runway show?
In terms of the line going down the runway, I’ll have to wait until I see it. See how it actually goes on. I mean, I do all black faux leather, so how am I going to make that faux leather stand out when I’m showing alongside other designers who might have brighter colours or birghter designs. Especially since my look is pretty clean. I don’t do all the belting and stuff that other people do, so how am I going to style them to make sure that I stand out.
How do you handle the funding for starting a new brand?
It’s what you do with the funds and how you make it work. I know people were saying [at the business panel] “oh you always go over budget,” which is true, but you have to also...if you are a good partner with your vendors, if you start off paying them on time and then there’s one month where maybe you need an extra week, if you have that relation with your vendors they are going to accommodate you. Especially because I’m doing everything local. Maybe it would be different if I was overseas, but because I can just text message my suppliers and vendors, it’s never an issue. We built that repore.
Where will we be able to purchase Jonah Jay?
Primarily my website, jonahjay.com. Most of my sales are through there and then starting this past fall I shipped out to a few different boutique stores, in and around Ontario. I’m doing some random events as well like the women’s show and I’ll have a booth there, so people can actually feel the product.
By Robyn Bell