By Karen Linsley
If you are in the market for a new camera bag, and you happen to be of female persuasion, you might want to look into Jill-e Designs.
Co-owner Jill Dorn and her partner traveled to Imaging USA last year and scoured the trade show looking for camera bags. They returned home determined to design, market and sell a line of camera bags and accessories specifically designed for women. Dorn has a background in sales and marketing, specifically for photo retail; her partner has a background in product management. They also enlisted the aid of their husbands. One is a professional wedding/portrait photographer whose feedback was instrumental in the design of the bags. The other helps with logistics. Together they formed Jill-e (rhymes with Billy) Designs, designed the bags, found a manufacturer to make them, and have hit the road. The Web site (www.jill-e.com) went live in June, and they sponsored PPA's Chicks Who Click retreat for women in photography, also in June, to great success.
The product line consists of large, medium and small camera bags, as well as wristlets, lens cloths and camera straps. Currently large bag orders have exceeded production, so there is a back order those items, but the small and medium bags will ship immediately.
The large bag has the best applications for the full-time working pro. It’s a rolling bag that accommodates a laptop, and, according to Jill-e Designs, will also hold two camera bodies, two lenses, two flash units, plus miscellaneous gear. There are four pockets on the outside of the bag, and a set of movable Velcro encrusted pads for the inside, plus a pocket for the laptop.
I had difficulty fitting all that gear into the bag and closing it—an extremely snug fit! I stored owner’s manuals, memory cards, batteries, and a wallet in the four pockets and tucked other miscellaneous items into the extra spaces created by the Velcro pads. This bag is perfect for travel; it's within the size specifications for carry-on bags, and you can easily pack in a laptop, one body, lens and flash, plus extras for a trip. The large bag currently comes only in black, but Jill-e plans to introduce a moss green suede with brown trim in the fall. This bag sells for $259.99.
In the field, the large bag felt very comfortable on my shoulder, fitting nicely into my waist. It rolled well and looked great! However, I had a tough time fitting the volume of gear that I like to carry to weddings: two cameras with lenses attached, two flashes, emergency care kit, manuals, spare cords for everything, lots of memory cards, lots of batteries, lens tissue and cleaner, squeaker (for kids and dogs), pens, business cards and my personal items such as wallet, lipstick and aspirin. I never did figure out what to do with my flash bracket, so I stuck it in another camera bag. All in all, this is a great bag that I will probably purchase when the new colors come out, but not to use for weddings, only for portraits and travel.
A rolling backpack with handle will be available around October. This bag will be larger than the rolling large bag, with a few more compartments.
The medium bag holds everything the large rolling bag holds, except the laptop. It also has four pockets on the outside, plus an attachable shoulder strap and a nifty little purse that attaches to the inside of the bag, for holding personal items. This bag currently comes in black, but will soon be released are chocolate brown suede with brown leather trim and bone with black trim. Price is $209.99
Jill-e says the small bags are designed to hold one body, one flash unit and two lenses. They are the same width as the medium bags, just not as high. They also have the same cute little purse for personal items and attachable shoulder strap. They come in red, yellow and bone leather, as well as a brown nylon waterproof version. These bags are designed for the part timer and the MWACs. They sell for $159.99.
You can buy any of the Jill-e products from Adorama, Calumet, Dodd Camera, Jack's Camera Shop, Pro Photo Supply, and Showcase. There is also a shopping cart on the Jill-e web site where you can purchase your bag directly. Contact Jill-e Designs at 1-888-445-4553.
Karen Linsley is owner of Image Angels, a portrait and wedding photography studio based in Lake Tahoe, California.