Shoshanna Celebrates 20th Anniversary (and We Officially Feel Old)

by Ashley Baker

Has it really been 20 years since Shoshanna and its radically inclusive approach to fit and sizing emerged on the fashion scene? Indeed! On the brand’s 20th anniversary, its founder and designer, Shoshanna Gruss, looks back on that cherry-print bikini (and much more). 

When you started your brand 20 years ago, you were really revolutionary in terms of your approach to sizing. Will you please explain that, and what inspired you to pursue your own sizing method?
I started the Shoshanna collection out of my own frustration at not being able to wear clothes straight off the rack. Either I had to heavily alter garments or even add additional fabric to make things more wearable for my body. I can’t tell you how many times I had tried something on, but because it wasn’t bra friendly, I couldn’t wear it. I knew I wanted to design pieces that fit women, especially for those who had the same problem as I did. Every dress was designed to be wearable with a bra or featured its own support. I worked with my factories to develop interior bustiers that were sewn into my dresses. These provided all the support you would need to forego a bra. It was one of the first collections in the contemporary market to really think about and be more inclusive of women’s body types. In 2001, I launched my first-ever swim collection. At that time in the industry, almost all bikinis were sold as sets.  I for one did not fit into this industry ‘standard’ and knew I was not alone… so why were we being forced to buy swimwear that way? I wanted to design a bikini that fit as perfectly as my bras did and that let women choose their corresponding bottom size…  Can you imagine if someone made you buy your bra and underwear as a set? What is the corresponding bottom of a triple D top? I studied the construction of all of my favorite bras and incorporated their features into my swimwear design. We now offer over 15 different bikini styles all sized by your bra cup.



Do you remember how many styles were in the collection when you launched? What were some of your first best-sellers?
The first collection we shipped was three shapes in three different fabrics: a halter dress, a strapless dress, and a tank shape. They all featured the built-in interior constructions that I had been dreaming about. Stretch poplin was a huge fabric for us in that first collection, and we still use it a lot today! When we first launched swim, there were almost no contemporary swim lines. Name a popular swim line, and I almost guarantee it didn’t exist back then. When I started swim, there were only traditional swimsuit lines in the market. There were no young, fun, contemporary lines with a supportive fit. I actually had all my swimsuits custom made until my brand launched. When picking fabrics for my first line, I had very limited options. Everything was so ugly and looked like gymnastics-uniform spandex. We launched our first swim line with mostly solids and some Liberty cotton prints, which I loved, but are not the best swim fabric (I begged Liberty to do swim for me, but they wouldn’t, then years later they started doing swim fabrics). I was obsessed with the idea of doing a cherry print, but it was nowhere in the fabric market to be found. So I had to take a chance and design one… and order 1,000 yards!!! Do you know how many bikinis is in a thousands yards? A lot, but I really believed in it and went for it! We shipped black, white, solid red, and the cherry print for our first collection. Not only did we sell out of those 1,000 yards of cherry fabric, we had to do a recut and order even more of it! It was everywhere and every celebrity wanted it. It was featured on Sex in the City, which was just amazing! People come up to me, and tell me to this day, that they still have their cherry suit. It was really one of the first fashion print swimsuits to make a SPLASH!

Who have been some of your most loyal retail accounts and supporters over the years?
I’ve been so lucky to work with many of my accounts since the early years when the brand was born. Bloomingdale’s was the
first store to ever place an order and they still carry my collection today. Neiman Marcus, Saks, and Shopbop have all been writing the line for years, too. We’ve worked with the Monkees stores for over a decade now; it’s so fun to go to market and see the same faces I saw years ago at Coterie.

Who are your most trusted sounding boards?
Myself. I try every piece in my collection on before we move into production. If I am not crazy about it then we won’t make it. I only want to sell pieces that I truly love and get excited to wear. As of recently, I’ve been bouncing some ideas off my oldest daughter since she can wear the line now. I love that our collections cater to such a wide range of age groups and it’s so fun to have her involved in the whole process.

What are the most pronounced ways that the fashion industry has changed over the course of your career?
More ways than we have time for… and it’s still changing everyday! The biggest change that we’ve seen is the introduction into the digital world which has affected all facets of my company. Years ago, we used to mail hardcopy lookbooks to current and prospective accounts. Now all of our lookbooks are digital and can be in a buyer’s inbox with the click of a mouse. Magazines are also shifting away from hard copies into digitalized tablet issues and online articles. Now every magazine not only has market editors, but several online editors giving brands more opportunities to be featured. Though I still prefer to have a magazine in tote, having this option means that fashion is even more accessible and creates an entirely new shopping experience for readers. The introduction of e-commerce has had the biggest impact on the industry thus far. It’s allowed me to get my product in front of customers that may never have heard of the brand before. While the novelty of going into a store and touching a dress in person will never go away, the convenience of online shopping can’t be beat. Many of the orders placed on my site are expedited orders for women that need that last minute cocktail dress. It’s pretty incredible that they can order a Shoshanna dress on Tuesday and be wearing it Wednesday night. Lastly, the introduction of social media has completely transformed this industry. It has redefined how companies are perceived and allows a brand to have more personal relationship with their customer. There is now a direct line of communication between me and my customers. I am able to share sneak peeks into new collections and get live feedback from them. I love getting messages and tags of women wearing Shoshanna. It is so rewarding to see real women wearing Shoshanna, it makes all the hard work worth it. I would love to see pictures of you in your favorite Shoshanna pieces over the years. Post them using #20YearsOfShoshanna and you may see them reappear on our Instagram!

You produce over 75% of your collection right here in NYC. Why is that important to you?
As production overseas became less expensive, several companies went that route and left factories empty and people without work. It was important to me produce as many pieces domestically as possible and support the Garment District and New York. It also allows me to have more control over my pieces. If we want to make a last minute change, we can run down the street and make it happen.

How many accounts does your brand currently have? And how big is your team these days?
We have over 500 accounts worldwide and have a team of over 20 and are still growing. We’re going to have to add some new desks soon!

You’re a mom of three. What’s your best advice for entrepreneurial moms?
I often think, in 10 years, what will matter to me? Making it to this business meeting or being at my child’s school play…and then the answer is easy. Having been in business for as long as I have, I have wonderful, talented women working with me. They understand how important being a mom is to me and that my time at the office must be streamlined. When I first started my business, I used to stay at the office until I went out that night. Sometimes I would even change into Shoshanna dress sample and meet my friends for dinner straight from work. Those days are over, but I love the set-up I have now. I’m home almost every night with my children for dinner, and I take them to school every morning. These moments are important to me and I just don’t want to miss them. I don’t have a lot of me time and everything has to be planned with precision, but it works. I’m exhausted, but happy at the end of each day. Being a working mom is far from easy. I don’t think it ever will be, but it’s definitely worth the struggle, especially if you are lucky enough to do something you love.

What do your kids think of your job? Are they involved in the brand in any way?
My brand has always been inspired by my lifestyle, so when I first had Sienna 13 years ago, we launched our Baby Girl swim line. When I had my son, naturally the little boy’s swim line followed. I love that my children see me work and understand how important it is to me that I do a good job. I constantly bring my children to the office, I let them design and play and understand what it is to create. I remember going to my father’s office all the time when I was little, and just wandering around, playing on the typewriters, messing around with the punch computers. I loved the office environment. Even back then, I knew I was going to start my own business just like my father did. I always talk to my children about having  a purpose and contributing to the world. I’m excited to watch the paths they follow as they grow.

Where do you go or what do you do to relax and rejuvenate?
I go out East to my house in Sag Harbor, no matter the time of year. I love the change of pace and being able to spend time outside. It helps me reset. Even though I am a born-and-bred city girl, I’m a beach girl at heart.

What have been some of your favorite celebrities-in-Shoshanna moments over the course of your career?
Taylor Swift has been a longtime fan. She always puts her own spin on the clothes, which is fun to see. Lupita N’yongo loves our swimwear. She posted a photo wearing our rainbow crochet bikini last year which is one of my favorite photos to date. This Summer, the Duchess of Sussex wore Shoshanna. It was pretty remarkable to see my dress photographed alongside the Royal Family.

What does it feel like to have been such a pioneer in your inclusive approach to sizing that, twenty years later, so much of the industry is finally embracing?
I am thrilled that the industry is finally embracing all different shapes and sizes… it’s about time! I think we have the digital world to thank for this. Women voiced their opinions and the industry heard them. We have expanded our collection into petites with some retailers and will be launching an exclusive line with Gwynnie Bee in January featuring even more sizing options. At the end of the day, my goal has always been the same. I want to design beautiful pieces that all women can wear and feel celebrated in.

Pro tip: Tag your favorite memories in Shoshanna using #20YearsofShoshanna, and you might just end up on the brand’s social channels. And! Earn 20% off of using the code 20years.  

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