The J. Jill Group, a Quincy, Mass.-based specialty retailer of high-quality women's apparel, accessories and footwear, has been named the recipient of the U.S. Cotton Champion Award.

The National Cotton Council presented the award to J. Jill Group representatives on behalf of its National Cotton Women's Committee during a ceremony at the NCC's Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio. The award recognizes the J. Jill Group's commitment to the use of U.S.-grown cotton in its clothing.

NCC officials said the J. Jill Group has a thriving core catalog business, rising Web site sales and expanding retail stores. The company began life in the mid-1950s as one of several catalogs under the holding company DM Management.

In 1994, the company's momentum increased with the re-positioning of the J. Jill catalog to address the needs of the baby boomer segment — active and affluent women, age 35-55 — with a preference for comfortable, casual, yet fashion-forward clothing.

Gordon Cooke, chief executive officer since 1996, revamped the company further in the retail marketplace moving its products increasingly toward natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool and cashmere; versatile colors; and primarily solids. The company also continues to design 100 percent of its lines in-house.

Promotion success

The company was nominated for the U.S. Cotton Champion Award, in part, because of a successful promotion it conducted this past year with Cotton Incorporated. The promotion was the first totally integrated multiple channel, catalog/internet/retail store major marketing effort for the J. Jill Group.

“We were extremely pleased, not only with the sales results, but with the level of creative execution achieved in every aspect of our promotional activities,” Cooke said. “Being chosen the recipient of the U.S. Cotton Champion award is an acknowledgment of the effectiveness of the campaign.”

Karen Brooks, a Cotton Women's Committee officer in Goodyear, Ariz., and a nominator of the company, said that on a recent shopping trip to the J. Jill store in Chandler, Ariz., both she and her daughters were impressed with the selection of cotton clothing.

“They have a great variety of cotton clothing in up-to-date styles, and we were drawn to the clothing because the store had displayed cotton bolls and other cotton decorations in their store,” she said. “I had never seen anything like that before.”

The J. Jill Group launched its e-commerce Web site, http://www.jjill.com”>www.jjill.com</a>, and its first J. Jill retail store, both in 1999. The company continues to roll out stores at an aggressive pace, and by the end of 2003, the brand housed some 125 retail locations in 32 states. The company's sales also have grown from $22.6 million in 1996 to a projected $376 million by the end of 2003.

In 2002, the company established the J. Jill Compassion Fund at the Boston Foundation, and works closely with select nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing homeless women and children with the support and skills they need to move from a reliance on public assistance to economic independence.

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