Member Spotlight: Designer and Model Jillian Kate
Jillian Kate is a California girl living in Tokyo. Once a major fixture in the Los Angeles fashion and party scene (just Google her), Jillian is now settled down with her adorable family and expecting her second child. Here, this refreshingly no-BS mama gives us the full scoop on where she's been and where she's headed next.
What is the name and age of your little one?
Finn is one and a half years old and Luna is in Utero six months now.
We hear you've had quite the career journey. Tell us everything.
Well, I've been working in the fashion industry since I was around 10 years old. My dad owned a shipping and manufacturing company — he worked with brands like Nautica, Mossimo, Perry Ellis, and Calvin Klein, to name a few — as well as helped to start Earl, Seven, and Citizens of Humanity jeans. I went to MAGIC Tradeshow with him every year, when it was just MAGIC and assisted him as much as I could. In fact, I helped design some of the original pieces for Earl Jeans to help me fit into my uniform! (I was really skinny and there really wasn't a market at the time for trendy khaki, navy denim, and collared shirts — aka school uniform staples.) After about 2001/2002, he pulled out of the company because they wanted to keep it a "family business" and he started Seven and Citizens with the Koral brothers. (They eventually got into a huge lawsuit with each other, so my dad just went back to his main business.)
When I turned 16, I decided I wanted to work and experience the industry for myself. I was never a school person. With the help of my father, I landed my first internship, which turned into a job once I was legal. It was at notorious PR firm People's Revolution before MTV series The Hills made it famous. For three years I slaved away as Kelly’s minion and was the dictator/troublemaker of shop when she was not in town (this was before her famous quote "if you have to cry, go outside" — in the beginning I cried, oh I cried a lot!) I met an Aussie around this time and quit to move to Australia for six months to be with him. Unfortunately his mother got cancer, so I came home. My next phase was that I decided I needed to learn a bit more about marketing, so I enrolled and attended the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) for two years. It just wasn’t for me, so I left after nearly completing my second year. While I was at FIDM, I did some freelance PR, sales, and styling for friends and friends' brands in LA and Tokyo. I also threw a weekly party with Amanda Demme in Hollywood, and I also was an assistant to what was the beginning of Ed Banger Records. None of that was for me, so I flew to Israel and lived there for three months working retail at Insight Tel Aviv. (I had always been close to the Tsubi family). While in Israel I was offered an amazing opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to holy Hindu sights with my friend's guru in India, so after Israel I lived in an ashram and traveled around India for six months with this guru, marveling and collecting Indian tapestries and memories.
Next, I went to New York for three months, where I signed with Click NY than came home to LA and signed with NEXT Models. I started working in LA for Ed Banger artists in town and planning and executing HARD music festival in 2008 when it was just starting. I had no idea what I was doing, so I stopped music and went to work at Curve on Robertson for about two weeks when I got a call from a friend saying celebrity stylist Jessica Paster needed an assistant, so I left and went to work for her. This lasted about two years. I couldn’t take the pressure and abuse I was going through working there, so I eventually quit. (Mind you, all the while I was working with Click and Next.) About two weeks later, I ran into someone on Melrose who was a main editor for a fashion magazine called Sweet in Tokyo. She told me she had seen the shoots I had been doing with The Cobrasnake for Nylon Japan and some of the other campaigns I had done and she really liked them. She asked me if she could brand my image in Tokyo, which is something that wasn’t done pre-Instagram days. I started a blog which quickly gained a following in Tokyo due to my previous work there. I started working a lot more through my now three agency’s in Tokyo, LA, and NY. Some jobs where full editorial, some campaign, and some me styling my own editorials for magazines or other people for magazines.
After about three months, I started getting a lot of collaboration offers from big-money brands in Japan like Yumetembo — where they made an app where you could “dress me up” in their clothes, that was pretty cool — and a lot of things with 109, which is one of the major shopping destinations in Tokyo for young adults. I started traveling to Japan about 12 times a year, New York four times a year, and the rest of the time I would be working in bed in LA. About six months into this experience, we decided to start a young adult clothing line mainly for the Japanese market. For me, this line was more about learning and experience — I let my agent name it Under the Table. We remade my vintage clothing through our factory in South Korea, and also constructed samples of dress. These clothes where specifically made for the Japanese, and we used a variety of different fabrics, including denim. (I've learned that it's better to stick with a certain target market and not to mix denim with dress!) I continued down this path for about two and a half years, since the line was doing very well in Tokyo. My workload kept increasing and I didn’t have enough time in the day because I was modeling full-time, making samples every season, doing styling jobs, blog work, I was the main spokesperson for Maybelline Japan, doing collaborations, runway, mentoring people, and more. It all became too much, so we brought in a third party, a pretty big clothing company in LA and Japan to oversea my line and to kind of take the workload off of my shoulders. It got a bit out of hand and the line was hitting a flat line. I was just kind of spinning out of control. So, after I met my husband at Tokyo Girls Collection (a huge 30,000-60,000 crowd runway show featuring all the top models of Tokyo), I knew I was ready to settle down and I kind of just let everything else disappear.
I deleted my blog and social media, I didn’t want to continue the clothing line. I pretty much stopped taking jobs and I fired my agents. I moved back to LA where we went on a six-month road trip cross-country. I got pregnant within eight months. Lost the first baby. Came back to Tokyo for six months because my husband had work there, did some sales for my friend's line Jac Vanek, got pregnant again, had Finn and just fell in love with being a mum! I want a huge family and don't want to feel the way I felt in my 20s — overwhelmed, stressed, overworked — ever again.
Now that's a story! What are you doing these days?
I recently just put a new blog online mainly focusing on raising kids worldwide, recipes, modeling work (which I still do for friends), and my portfolio. My husband and I are drawing up plans to build a self-sustainable and organic "artist retreat” in Topanga Canyon. It will have horses and equine therapy, yurts to rent, and a whole artist complex separate from our living house which will include a pottery studio, dark room, painting studio, yoga studio and more. It will be kind of a hippy version of Golden Door but less expensive and more of a long stay, collaborative community kind of place. I am also in the works to start a new kids line, just as a hobby, collaborating with my friends' clothing lines but also having a steady small collection of minimalistic pieces using Japanese fabric.
Very cool. What is your top tip for raising a child in Japan?
Learn the language!
Favorite organizational tools/apps that help you balance work/mom life?
My brain and quirky planners from LOFT.
Current favorite kids clothing brands?
Lotus Springs for under one and a half years old. It's organic, very soft, minimalistic, and eco-friendly clothing. I also enjoy finding things at community markets and flea markets, Japanese stores, and making my own rompers from old T-shirts.
Current favorite grown-up clothing brands?
I have been on a rollercoaster of pregnancies since 2015, so I've fluctuated weight a lot. I’m starting to find myself again and nearing the end of my most recent pregnancy. So, I’m not as passionate about brands as I used to be. (Not to mention that I’m a Cali girl living in Tokyo, finding it difficult to dress with such drastic variations of weather!) I dress for comfort, so recently I would say Uniqlo Heat Tech, my Helmut Lang cashmere hoodie, my AG maternity jeans, and my fur MJ boots. ESKANDER everything — it's very "nomadic drifter" pregnancy style. Otherwise, I have always been a huge fan of Miu Miu. If I could wear Miu Miu shoes and long silk gowns every day, I would!
Beauty product you can't live without?
Thanks to advice from the Fashion Mamas members Facebook group, I use La Mer for my pregnancy skin. Otherwise, I've been living for Dr Lancer and the Dr Prudence Hall Center since I was 12 years old.
What's your best advice for women who want to succeed in your field?
The only person holding you back is yourself, so get the fuck up and do what you have to do to get shit done. Keep it simple, especially when it comes to starting a brand. Always be yourself. Be nice to everyone on the way up because you will see the same people on the way down.
Follow Jillian Kate's fashion and family adventures at @jilliankate.