Designer Jessica Grubiša says she was born to do what she does

by Nicky Pellegrino / 30 April, 2017

Jessica Grubiša, standing, and Madeleine Harman. Photo/Getty Images

Is the entrepreneurial spirit Millennials need to survive?

Fashion designer Jessica Grubiša was 24 when she launched her womenswear label, Harman Grubiša, and at 27 is already thinking about taking it worldwide.

“From as young as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a designer, and I’ve worked towards that,” Grubiša says. “I’m a born-to-be: I believe I was born to do this and nothing else was ever an option.”

Fulfilling her ambition meant juggling three jobs and putting out a clothing range while studying fashion at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in Auckland, where she met her design partner, Madeleine Harman. She has enthusiastically worked for free to gain experience and knowledge. Her big OE was just a two-week holiday in New York. And now she puts in a seven-day week, overseeing production, designing clothes, managing staff, wooing sponsors and serving behind the counter at the Harman Grubiša store in Auckland’s Herne Bay.

“I’ve always had a very strong work ethic,” explains Grubiša. “I was brought up to believe that if you want something, you work for it. And I’m not afraid to take risks. We take a lot every day. Even having a product sitting in a store that is going to be worn by a woman is a risk. But you can’t not take risks because you’re afraid of a bad outcome otherwise you’d never do anything.”

There have been setbacks along the way, but Grubiša isn’t easily discouraged.

“We’ve been challenged a lot. When we started, we sought advice from lots of people in the industry who we admired, and they challenged us. Consistently, we’ve had to fight for what we’ve achieved. But if you really want to do something, you’re going to do whatever it takes to get it.”

Grubiša is forging her own individual path, following her passion and showing the entrepreneurial spirit her generation is being told it will need to survive. But she warns that it is vital to have a strong foundation before attempting to build a business.

“Madeleine and I always wanted to start a label together, but no one should ever do that straight off the back of university; you need to work and explore. My advice is to intern as much as possible and soak up information, figure out what you really want and equip yourself for it.”

This month, Harman Grubiša launches a footwear range, and the design duo have also recently collaborated with a jeweller. It is all part of a plan to become a lifestyle brand and find a niche internationally. “We want to be in every woman’s wardrobe. But we’re cautious, we’re building it gradually.”

Gritty and focused, Grubiša has no plans to skip from career to career. In 10 years, she expects to still be working seven-day weeks in fashion.

“It’s draining and intense and you do make a lot of sacrifices … but I love what I do.”

This article was first published in the March 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

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