As we continue in our commitment to elevate diversity, inclusion and equality conversations, FN is shining a light on Black-owned businesses in honor of Black Business Month. For these next few weeks, we encourage you to get to know these incredible Black-owned companies and support them all year round.
Aminah Abdul Jillil has spent a lot of time on stage — as a former professional dancer for Britney Spears and Janet Jackson and a Cirque du Soleil performer.
But the Las Vegas-based designer said she’s happiest in her current role behind the scenes, as a shoe designer at the helm of her namesake direct-to-consumer brand. Jillil’s feminine designs are clicking with consumers like never before. “It’s just been an amazing summer for us, one like no other.” the designer said. “When the pandemic first hit, we were pretty nervous and scared. After that, business just flourished.”
Jillil, who in 2019 was named Essence‘s accessory designer of the year, just debuted a new wedge sandal with an architectural heel spelling out LOVE. Many of her shoes stand out with bold accents — oversized bows, chain detailing and bejeweled ankle straps. Average price points are around $275.
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“During these times, people are still buying the heels. They still buy the glamour and the studs,” Jillil said. “But I have a little something for everyone. I started out with flat sandals.”
The Las Vegas-based brand launched in 2012 — and by that time, Jillil had decided to pursue fashion full time. “I’ve always had an interest, and in between my dance jobs, I would take courses in Santa Monica in fashion illustration and sewing. It started out as an outlet because I was dancing and rehearsing a lot. It was an itch I need to scratch,” she said.
Jillil acknowledged that there were a lot of daunting hurdles in the early years. “It was such a process because it’s an industry that no one has a guidebook for. It was something I strongly wanted to do, but I had very little money. I started it with the savings I had, and it was just me,” she said.
The designer quickly learned the ins and outs of partnering with factories in China, where her shoes are made, and effectively communicating with customers from all over the world. “No one wanted to take a chance on a small brand,” she recalled, noting that she quickly pivoted to more of a direct-to-consumer model.
Almost a decade later, Jillil has her operations running smoothly, which allows her to experiment as a designer. “I’m trying new things. I’m being more the complete creative, and putting my whole self in it. It feels great,” the designer said.
Along the way, she’s discovered that her designs differ from her own personal taste, which she describes as “edgy and masculine.”
“The stuff that comes out is pretty and feminine. It’s not necessarily what I buy,” noted Jillil, who is a size 10. While comfort is not how she defines her collection, she says she’s very picky about the fit of the shoes. “I hate luxury shoes,” she joked. “They don’t fit but I still buy them.”
While there has been increased attention on Black-owned brands and designers this summer amid important conversations about equality, Jillil said she doesn’t put herself into a box. “Way before hashtags, I was just someone who’s passionate. I work hard and I give it my all, no matter what’s going on around me,” she said.
Social media has been a huge part of the brand’s growth story — and Rihanna and Tracee Ellis Ross are among the big names who have worn the shoes. “Digital marketing is amazing in what it does for a smaller brand. You’re being put in front of a lot of people,” she said.
Today the brand ships to more than 50 countries, with the U.S. ranking as its biggest markest. Russia, Australia, the U.K., and the Middle East are also showing solid momentum.
While she’s relishing her current success, Jillil is also determined to live in the moment. “I’ve been taught that things change in the blink of an eye,” said the Alaska native. “I just hope I can continue to do what I love.”