Flashback to the era of Beverly Hills, 90210 and the slip dress: That was when Shoshanna Gruss first noticed a gap in the marketplace and decided to upend the fashion industry by designing a collection for women with curves. “As a little girl, I always had a tough time getting dressed,” she says. “I was very athletic and in shape but had a curvaceous body that I felt insecure about and could never find anything to wear.”
Shoshanna’s secret weapon? Her mom, who—fortunately for her—was a whiz with a sewing machine. “I would always have to wear adult women’s dresses like Nicole Miller or Betsey Johnson that came with boning to fit my bust,” she says. “The problem was they were a little sexy, so my mom had to get creative. I remember this one off-the-shoulder dress. She bought these big wide headbands and we sewed them on as straps so that I could comfortably wear a bra.”
Still, it wasn’t until college at UCLA—while she was working at a boutique called Tracey Ross and double majoring in history and art history—that she had the idea to launch her own fashion line. “So many of my friends were getting things like swimsuits custom-made to fit their bodies at these cost-prohibitive places, but the quality was only so-so,” she says. “Simultaneously, I noticed my boss, Tracey, supporting lots of start-up fashion lines like Cherry Pie and Hard Candy in her shop. It planted the seed in my head that you don’t need a billion dollars to start a huge corporation. You need samples.”
So, Shoshanna set out to create them, ditching her plans to move to New York and pursue a lucrative career as a financial analyst. Instead, she moved in with her parents and borrowed cash from them to make samples of her first few designs. “All three dresses I made were gingham,” she laughs. “One was a halter shape with ruching and underwire, one was a tank dress shape and one had straps wide enough so you could wear a bra. I was also obsessed with the whole all-in-one outfit thing, so I created a gingham thong and bag to match each one.”
Her lucky break came in a rented showroom that she shared with another designer. Bloomingdale's came in to see his work but took a liking to Shoshanna's designs, too. In November 1998, her first collection launched, and on Black Friday, she sold 68 dresses in a day. By spring, she had 70 accounts—including Tracey Ross, where she got her start.
Fast-forward 20 years and the mom of three (Sienna, 11, and Colby and Angelica, 4) has 19 people on her team and a mix-and-match swimwear line and kids' collections to boot—not to mention a slew of celeb fans like Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Jessica Alba. Up next, she’s launching bridal, but no matter how her brand expands, Shoshanna is firm about staying true to her original vision. “I always design from a customer point of view,” she says. “We try to have a range of pieces that fit different body types and we always stick to that formula. It's who we are.”
On how to always look pulled together and polished. “I love a dress. But it has to be one you feel great in and something you can transition from day to night. I also have jewelry that I wear every day like my Jennifer Meyer pieces that always make me feel like I actually put some effort in. I sleep in them. I shower in them. They’re my good luck charms, but they also make jeans and a T-shirt look like you have an outfit on.”
What she wishes she knew before having kids. “A lot of moms nervously joke around when they’re in the last trimester and say: ‘What if I don’t love my kid?’ or ‘What if they don’t like me?’ But the second my daughter was born, all I could think was: ‘This is what I was born to do.’ It made me feel very peaceful and my thoughts shifted to: ‘I’m going to pour everything good that I can into this person and hopefully she’ll make the world a better place.’ Basically, it’s easy to worry, but I’ve realized my job is to guide them in a way that’s safe and happy. I'm just trying to do my best.”
Her best advice for logging off. “I feel like the bedroom should always be a soft and easy place but, most importantly, a work-free zone. I even leave my calendar—which is paper, by the way—on a different floor. If it’s not in my room, I can’t reach for it in the middle of the night. Before bed, I glance at my morning schedule, set my alarm and leave all my to-dos in a separate space.”
Her go-to Instagram filter. “Dogpatch. It’s one of the newer ones. To access it, you have to scroll all the way to the end of the filter options in Instagram and tap Manage. There, you’ll find so many free bonus filters you didn’t know you had until you manually turn them on.”
The best advice she’s learned on the job. “Go with your gut. In life, with relationships, with work—your gut is always the correct barometer. If you're dating someone and he seems like a terrible guy, and you think, well, I should give him a chance. No. Same with work. What I do is a labor of love. It’s like another child. I started it because I had a gut feeling that what I was creating wasn’t out there and people would react to it. It’s all about trusting your instincts.”
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