Shoshanna Gruss is the founder and creative director of Shoshanna, her eponymous collection which debuted in stores in November 1998. Gruss revolutionized dress departments nationwide with the launch of her first collection.
Gruss was born and raised in Manhattan where she honed her personal aesthetic and developed her eye for the distinctive details that have come to epitomize her collection. After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles with degrees in History and Art History, Gruss eschewed the prescribed career path and chose to explore her interests in fashion at the ground level, working at a lingerie factory.
Known for always catering to her ever-growing consumer base, Gruss recently debuted her premiere collection of evening wear dresses, called Shoshanna Midnight, with designs that pay homage to her effortlessly cheerful prints, yet also maintain an alluring sense of glamour and mystique with the new nighttime silhouettes. Gruss also recently partnered with Club Monaco to launch the retailer’s first-ever designer swimwear collaboration.
In Fall 2013, American heritage brand Elizabeth Arden named Gruss the company’s first official Style Director.
After 18 years of dedication and innovation, the Shoshanna collection has developed a legion of fans including Taylor Swift, Reese Witherspoon, Emmy Rossum, Mindy Kaling, Lupita Nyong’o, Anna Kendrick and Molly Sims. The collection can be found at luxury retailers like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales as well as over 500 specialty stores in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
Gruss is also very involved in philanthropic endeavors. Foremost among her philanthropic commitments is her chairmanship of the Associates Committee of The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering. Gruss is also actively involved in the board of Nightingale-Bamford, an all girls school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up, I was always so impressed and inspired by my mom. She made taking care of my brother and me look so seamless and easy. She always made me feel like she would drop the world to help me, but still taught me to be my own woman. This has definitely translated to both my personal and professional development.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Shoshanna?
I started working in fashion at the ground level, at a lingerie factory, right after college. This experience provided an invaluable education in design, fabric sourcing and garment construction.
When I started my company at 22, I knew I was taking a pretty daring career risk, especially since I had no formal background in business, but I wanted to get into the industry because I felt like the industry wasn’t into me. I started a line of clothing, right out of college, that was inclusive of more body types because I felt my body was not being addressed.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Shoshanna?
It has been such an honor to see women all around the world, of all different sizes, wear and feel beautiful in my clothes. From seeing celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Lupita Nyong’o, and Mindy Kaling in Shoshanna, to hearing from real women who send me their photos or tag us on Instagram, it really shows how the brand touches so many different women. A challenge we face everyday is staying relevant in this everchanging industry. We have to adapt to new environments, technologies, and trends while still staying true to our aesthetic and the Shoshanna brand.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Make sure you are bringing something new, better, and unique to the marketplace. To sell someone on your concept, you need to prove to them that people will need it. Make sure that they do!
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
One mistake I made early in was not going with my gut. When I first started my company, everyone with “experience” wanted to add in their two cents. Because I was new to the fashion business I sometimes let myself get swayed, but my gut, rather than the seasoned experts’ advice, was usually the right answer. Also, stay positive and don’t live in the negative.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I want my children to know that the key to a happy life is honesty, kindness and virtue. My children come 1st, 2nd and 3rd; so I am happy when they are happy. It’s important for me that they get to see that I truly enjoy working and creating, but more than anything I want them to know I am there, if they need me. My parents did the same for me. They gave me the kind of safety and unconditional love that allowed to take risks and feel safe to make mistakes. That background had a huge impact on my decision to launch Shoshanna, and to this day is a guidepost on how to find the balance between work & life. Because I own my own company, I am lucky enough to be able to bring my children to work with me whenever I need. I know that this is not an option for many women and it is something I never take for granted.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
One of the bigger issues for women is equal pay with their male counterparts. Women are still getting paid less than men for doing the same job. When I started my own company, I wanted to make sure that my employees are all given the same opportunities and feel empowered. Unfortunately this is not the case in many other industries and companies.
Women are also defined, even in the workplace, by their personal relationships in a way that their male co-workers aren’t. It saddens me when people (or headlines) refer to me as the ex-girlfriend of someone. It diminishes me as a woman, a mother, a business owner, a philanthropist, and just as a human. To presume that my greatest achievement is that I dated someone famous twenty years ago is completely sexist and anti-woman. If I were a man who had accomplished what I have in business, I don’t think anyone would ever bring up my past relationships, no matter how famous the people were.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
As a business founder, I take the opportunity to mentor my employees very seriously. I want everyone on the Shoshanna team to feel like they can come to me for advice and that the company feels like a safe place for them to grow and learn. Having a strong leadership figure to guide you in your career can make an incredible difference and help someone live up to their fullest potential. I credit much of what I know to my mentor, my dad. Ever since I was a child and still to this day, he teaches me invaluable lessons, both in and out of the workplace.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
From Michelle Obama, to Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner who created Lenny Letter, to fellow designers (and friends) Jennifer Meyer and Charlotte Ronson, I am constantly inspired by other women. I admire so many young rising, female entrepreneurs, and frankly, any woman who puts herself out there and won’t take no for an answer.
What do you want Shoshanna to accomplish in the next year?
I hope Shoshanna continues to grow (as it has over the past 18 plus years), continues to make women feel their most beautiful. I also look forward to increasing our offering in swim and the new Midnight collection.
This article first appeared in www.huffingtonpost.com
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