It’s not often we meet successful, career-driven individuals who are humble and remember where they came from. One might wonder why it is so hard to achieve a balance between the ego that may come along with success and putting others first. Especially at this time of year, we are all struggling with maintaining this balance and remembering who we are at our core, trying to uphold the traditions and values that we know will lead us on the right path.
In the fashion industry, it is even harder to be successful and in the public eye while still continuing to show respect for others and pay attention to each individual. Shani Grosz, founder and designer of SHANI Collection, is a woman who knows what her core values are. She sells to every major department store nationwide, is at the epicenter of Hollywood, and designs for a multitude of celebrities and women in media. All of these triumphs would certainly make anyone feel good, and she has many reasons to celebrate.
But what struck me the most about Shani is not only her accomplishments, but the generous way that she has continued to treat those around her as she climbs the ladder of success. Her customers and friends call her the “fairy dressmaker” because she strives to make others feel better about themselves. SHANI Collection is a perfect reflection of the woman behind the brand. While her impeccably tailored, elegant dresses continue to dazzle season after season, what dazzles the most is Shani’s mission to include everyone.
Michal Goldfein: What inspired you to start your brand, SHANI Collection?
Shani Grosz: I have always had an entrepreneurial sense and work best when I feel like the sky is the limit. I strive to aim high and push boundaries. I never like to be told no or that something isn’t possible.
I’ve always been interested in fashion and transformation. I started this label as a “trade.” I was very young and making inroads in the dress world, and a company approached me to come work for them. I remember feeling very young and inexperienced, sitting with some very well-seasoned fashion executives. Somehow I got the nerve to make them a proposal that changed the trajectory of my life. I told them, “I’ll work for you if you finance my own label as well.”
Looking back on that now, I can’t believe I took such a bold step. But not even 24 hours later they had called me back and agreed to do it. And the SHANI label was created. It’s definitely been a journey of a lot of hard work, a lot of personal sacrifices, and a life of dedication. It is not a 9 to 5 job for me – it is a total lifestyle. I live and breathe fashion. Creativity runs through my veins. Since most of our designs are produced overseas, I spend a lot of time abroad setting up our factories and sourcing channels and creating new collections. I sacrifice a lot of my personal time to create this vision.
How would you describe the aesthetic of your brand?
I focus my designs around my customers first and foremost. Rather than forcing my ideal aesthetic on the customer, I look to see what would look beautiful on women and then create a product that would work for them. My customer is not necessarily 20 with the perfect body. She is a real woman who maybe had kids or is a working woman who wants a dress that helps hide flaws. We are conscious of creating dresses to help a woman look flawless even if she isn’t. I design for real women.
Our attention is on design and quality. We spend a lot of time researching the best fabrics, the best designs, and the best factories to produce in. We create our own embroideries and appliqués from scratch. Every dress is as unique as the woman who is wearing it.
How would you say your family and cultural background has shaped you and your career? What traditions and values have had the most impact on you?
One thing I value from my Orthodox Jewish background is the importance of community. There’s strength in numbers, and having a support group is crucial for living a fulfilling and successful life. I run my business like a family business – it’s very communal and I try to foster a supportive culture. Everyone has each other’s backs, and we are all focused on a singular goal.
I also believe that there’s a higher power that’s greater than myself. In business there are always uncertain moments. But I believe that we are not in control of events. If something doesn’t go right, maybe it was meant to be that way. If we don’t get every deal we go after, I have a belief that maybe the timing is wrong, and it will come later. Or maybe it’s not meant to be.
You’ve been recently featured on the cover of three publications – Metropolitan Magazine, Metropolitan Palm Beach, 25A Long Islands Gold Coast Luxury Magazine – and have had so many successes. To what do you attribute your success?
This industry has a lot of highs and lows and I think the biggest lesson is to never give up and have faith that there is something stronger that is guiding us. Every “no” can turn into a “yes.” The trick is not to get too caught up in the low points or the rejections. Every store that we sell to today said no to me at some point before they actually opened the door and gave me a chance. I think the mindset was always that you need to believe in what you’re doing so that you can keep doing it. A “no” means “not now,” but keep knocking on those doors and don’t give up!
You currently sell in every major high-end department store across the country such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Lord & Taylor, yet many of your clothes have more modest silhouettes. Why did you make this design choice?
I enjoy the challenge of designing beautiful, flattering clothing that addresses women’s problem areas – the spots they feel insecure about. It doesn’t matter what size they are. I design dresses to help women look and feel their best. Often that involves camouflaging areas that a woman may not like. Sometimes modesty happens to come with the package, but it is not the primary goal of my designs. SHANI Collection is the go-to brand for a woman that is looking for a daytime or occasion dress.
The show My Unorthodox Life has garnered a lot of discussion because the main character, Julia Haart, has rejected “Jewish fundamentalism” and religious mindsets and practices. You, however, have a completely different perspective. You grew up as a Modern Orthodox Jew, are completely self-made, and are recognized in Hollywood and nationwide. Why has your experience and your connectivity to your roots been different?
I can’t comment on the show; I’ve never seen it. I grew up in a Modern Orthodox home and I still cherish the values that were instilled in me from that upbringing. I am not strictly observant now, but I don’t dismiss the importance of religion, community, and the teachings of the Torah. Spirituality plays a strong role in my life. I don’t think the practice is as important as the kind of person you are, and how you behave with other people. Being a good person. Having strong middos. That’s what I take away from the Jewish religion. There are people who follow the letter of the law. And there are people who follow the flavor, and there’s nothing wrong with either choice. I’ve learned to accept and love myself, and I give the same respect to others. Part of Judaism is loving your neighbor, no matter what religion they are, how they practice, or where they come from.
One of your mantras is that “everything happens for a reason” and that “G-d has a plan.” How has this informed your work life and shaped your everyday business dealings?
I have a deep love for what I do and a deep sense of appreciation for the people that are around me that help me bring my vision to life. That includes my very talented employees, my financial partner, all the factories around the world that produce for us, and the stores that continuously give me the opportunity to bring my dreams and vision to life. I take none of this for granted. And if there’s one thing that Covid taught us, it’s that nothing in life is given and that anything can be taken away.
I learned gratitude, flexibility, resourcefulness, and perseverance – important life lessons – from my late father, who passed away suddenly two years ago. I was very close to my father. He was definitely my single biggest cheerleader in life and always believed in me. He taught me it’s always better to be on the giving side than the receiving side. My generous streak comes from him. When he passed away two years ago, I went to clean out his office. I saw that he kept every article that was written about my company and every photo that was ever printed. He was very proud of me. I feel like he still guides me today from above.
Your dresses, which are made with beautiful embellishments and embroidery, truly celebrate the female form with sophistication and help women feel empowered, self-confident, and self-assured. How do you think women can support each other and themselves in the fashion industry and beyond?
We dress many celebrities and women in the media as well as wardrobe for movies and television. Our brand is circulating fast among Hollywood celebs and executives. We are involved with many makeover TV segments such as Ambush Makeover on NBC and many morning talk shows. Most notably, we were featured on Good Morning America as having the miracle dress that women love to love.
I dress a lot of power women – anchorwomen, politicians, women in the public eye, and women who just want to look beautiful for a special occasion. I don’t just dress my clients; I am often friends with my clients. I listen to what their needs are and design for their specific situations. I support them, and in return, they support me. The only way to be successful is to have a strong support network of friends and family and to actively support one’s friends.
In Judaism there is the concept of the woman being an “akeret habayit,” the “mainstay” of the home. Your designs and brand really do celebrate women and the woman’s integral part of the family unit. Why is this so important to you?
Jewish women have a primary role as the mainstay of the home. And in order to be that strong, central pillar of the community, women have to feel good about themselves and feel confident enough to access their power. My clothes are a celebration of women. I design to help women feel strong and confident, and feel better about themselves. Clothing takes you from the ordinary to the extraordinary. I love being able to create something that’s transformative. I want a woman to put on one of my dresses and feel beautiful and feel as if she can conquer the world. Once a woman feels good about her appearance, she is confident in other aspects of her life. I find satisfaction in designing clothes for everyday women, and helping them feel a little more confident, a little more special, and a little more beautiful. It’s very fulfilling for me.
One thing that you are renowned for is your openness to people from all walks of life. You’ve dressed so many people in the industry and everyday women as well. What have these experiences taught you?
That we are all the same. We may have different religions, skin colors, languages, or overall demographics, but somehow on a very human level we as women are all the same. We are all going through our journey of life. We all have challenges. We have great highs and sometimes great lows. It doesn’t matter where you came from, what background you have, or religion you practice, we are united as humans and specifically as women. If I can bring a little joy through my dresses and a lot of friendship along the way, then I feel accomplished.
What are your goals for the future of your brand, SHANI Collection?
To keep growing. I am also launching a beauty line and fine jewelry collection which I can’t wait to share with the world.