Harman Grubiša was announced as the 2016 ‘Mercedes-Benz Presents’ designer in August, meaning it debuted the evening show at this year’s New Zealand Fashion Week. It opened its first retail store in Ponsonby a year ago, and has been in operation for just two years.
The label’s name is a combination of the founders’ surnames. Friends and founders Jessica Grubiša and Madeleine Harman met while studying at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design. Late at night, Jessica turned to Madeleine and proposed the idea of working together.
Their skills complement one another, with Jessica acting as production manager and Madeleine working behind the scenes on business development and with the online store. They design and attend fabric viewings together.
“It’s meant we’ve been able to move quickly in our business because her strengths are my weaknesses and vice-versa,” Jessica says.
Madeleine describes herself as being “more reflective” and at times, inundated with ideas, decisions to make and problems to solve, while Jessica can being her back down to earth with a logical, “one step at a time” approach.
Asked what their partnership means to one another, the two have separate answers:
“It means never having to be alone, it means putting things on her desk that I don’t want to do – to me it means having family,” Jessica says.
For Madeleine, working together means “always having someone to share the ride with.”
Harman Grubiša isn’t the only high-achieving Kiwi retail outfit run by women. Between them, sisters Margi Robertson and Liz Findlay account for two of the ‘London Four’ – labels invited to show at the 1999 London Fashion Week, widely considered to be the beginning of New Zealand’s presence on the world fashion stage – and self-titled labels Kathryn Wilson and Juliette Hogan are childhood friends who often site their stores nearby one another.
Sisters Kate Boyden and Emma Main named their flourishing Remuera boutique Maman in honour of their late mother, Debra Dixon, who had a store called The Camomile Lawn.
A multitude of mother and daughter teams keeps small to medium boutiques running across the country. Just a fraction of these are Thomasin Bollinger, who owns and operates the Iko Iko gift store with her daughter Rose; Lynn Kirkland and her daughter Sarah Cowan work together on skincare and healthcare company The Herb Farm; and Sheila and Erin Ford run BoxHill boutique in Wellington together.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 745 August/September 2016