Shoshanna Gruss’ namesake label, Shoshanna, has been dressing women for 20-plus years with no signs of slowing down. We recently got on the phone with the Sag Harbor–based designer for a socially distanced call to find out the secret to her longevity, and how she’s been raising three kids while running her own business.
How have you been getting through the year?
We’re going step by step. I was optimistic in the beginning. We worked up until the last minute and closed when we had to close in March. We do the majority of our production in New York, so in the early stages, we were okay when things were really only affecting China. I pulled a lot back from what we produced there, which seemed smart in the beginning, and then China reopened and we couldn’t really do much. We had already produced Swim and shipped it all. We were able to keep on everyone in the business, and everyone worked smoothly from home. One of my best pattern makers is a perfect size 4, so she’s our fit model! We’d do Zoom fittings. We’re making it work. It’s doable to do this remotely. My team adapted. The hardest part was that the stores wanted to cancel everything at first, then they wanted half and then they wanted more. It was terrifying and all over the place. We managed to cut back where we needed to, but it was a lot of adjusting and being flexible.
How have you been juggling being a mom with three kids and also working?
It was horrible! [Laughs] It really was. Anyone with kids who are in first grade through fourth grade with homeschooling had it the worst. My oldest daughter, who is in high school, would get breakfast, go in her room, and came out for lunch and dinner. She was able to do all the Zooms herself. My son’s class did a play. We recorded the lines, and they spliced it all together. It was beautiful. All the kids’ schools did a really nice job. I was never meant to be a teacher. I don’t think parents should be the kids’ teachers. It blurs the lines of so many different roles. We made it. Nobody celebrated harder than me on the last day of school!
Let’s talk about your line! Since we last chatted, the swimwear line went sustainable.
Yes! As a manufacturer, I feel a responsibility. Obviously the world we live in is going through some of the most painful times in my lifetime, and prior to this year we were concerned about the environment and each of us contributing. We wanted to make sure we were putting out beautiful quality and careful products that aren’t going to do any more damage. We were always trying to reduce our footprint. We’re constantly talking about how to use less material in shipping. We worked with this one company that was using this fabric made of recyclable plastic bottles that they found in the ocean. It was actually some of the nicest quality fabric we’ve ever used, so we decided to print on it and go full force. If I could make the whole collection that way, and maybe we can, it would be important to me and the people I work with. We’re hoping everyone joins along.
The brand is more than 20 years old now. Did you take a moment to take that in?
I look back and ask, how does this happen? 1998 was a different time in the world and fashion. The economy was different. The Internet wasn’t a thing yet. The styles have gone in so many different directions. One of the things is that we have stayed true to who we are. We know who our customer is. We’re a very inclusive brand. That was a big part of the DNA when we first started to be more inclusive of different women’s body types. A lot of [brands] give lip service, but they still don’t really do it. I’m obviously intrigued or even competitive when I hear other brands doing something, then I look and it’s no different. They just said it. They cut it bigger? That’s not exactly right. Women have come up to me since the beginning and said I’m the only one who makes swimsuits that fit them or I make dresses that address their body type. We’ve stayed true to that and celebrate all different body types with timeless pieces that women can wear over and over again. That’s another thing. Women say they’ve had their pieces for a million years. We don’t follow the trends, and we’re not too saturated in the market. Those aren’t huge ideas, but that’s what kept us going. I’ve watched a lot of the brands around me, I could think of 50, who aren’t around anymore. Sometimes if you’re the favorite child, you have nowhere to go but down. We’ve always been this tried-and-true brand. We’ve stayed true to our customer and haven’t tried to be everything to everyone. It’s still special. We’re still kind of indie, even if we sell to Neiman’s, Saks, and Bloomingdale’s.
We understand that every dress has its own name. Can you tell us a little more about that fun fact? How do you name them?
It all depends! Sometimes I think we need a baby name book. It started when I would name them after my friends or if a dress has a 1950s feel; we have fun with them. There are some names I don’t ever want said out loud! We have a list of banned names. It’s a fun way to talk about them as women. Sometimes we can’t name a look, and we feel really bad about it. But we usually come up with one. Sometimes I’m like, “How did this dress get this name?”
You’ve designed thousands of swimsuits at this point. Where are they? Do you archive them?
I have every bathing suit, fabric, and cover-up. Everything in the beachwear line is saved in boxes that are labeled at my house in Long Island. I kept the first three seasons of all the dresses, but then it got to be too much. Now I just save my favorites. My daughter bought a dress from my 1999 collection, my second collection, on a vintage website last week. She didn’t even know it was my dress.
What a compliment!
Except I thought it could have been sold for a little more! It was Liberty print fabric!
Do you wear your line all the time?
I wear a lot of jeans and sweatshirts. In the summer, I’m pretty much always in a bathing suit and a sweatshirt. I almost always wear my line. I love shopping and go once in awhile, but nothing ever fits me. My line fits me well, and I enjoy it. I haven’t bought anyone else’s slimline or beach cover-up since…I can’t remember. Before we were doing separates, department stores refused to buy the separates from me, and I said, “The line doesn’t work if we don’t do it that way. Do you sell your bras and underwear like that?” They said they didn’t and I said, “Why do you sell swim that way?” I said I would take back every piece that didn’t sell if it didn’t work. I didn’t have to take back a piece. Prior to that everything was small, medium, or large, and they were sold as that. Now you can’t find a line that sells that way.
You’ve been coming to the Hamptons since you were a kid. What do you love about the area? When did you come out this year?
We came here in the middle of March; I miss the city so much, but I’m not complaining to be out here. I always say that even though I’m a New York City girl and was born there and love it, I think I was born in the wrong spot. I would rather be barefoot all day long with sand in my hair. I like when sand is in my car! I like when I come at 7 p.m. and we’re covered in sand and we eat in wet bathing suits and everyone is red and shiny and we go to bed. That’s my favorite vision of life. I’m always on the beach and in the water. I’m sucked in by the shells, the animals, and the beauty out here. I was lucky to travel with my parents my whole life, and I’ve seen some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, but we have some of them right here. They are magnificent. It’s obviously changed a ton since I was little, but the stuff that I always loved is still the same. Once the weather changed [this year], my summer is kind of the same as it always has been. I’m not a super social creature out here as a grown-up. When I was younger, I was for sure.
What are your favorite spots in the area?
My treat, because we’ve been cooking a lot, is sushi from Sen [in Sag Harbor]. We love Ocean Road Beach in Bridgehampton, and Main Beach is super fun. My favorite spot in all the Hamptons is my two chairs outside and sitting at the water and looking at the sunset at night.