I’d start with a strong dose of belief in yourself and the ability to see your strengths and weaknesses. If someone or something gets in your way, remind yourself that your life is your story to write. Rather than seeing failure you can ask yourself how can I learn from this experience?
Zana Nanic has an M.B.A. from Stanford and is the founder and CEO of Reclaim, a fashion brand on the mission on simplify business casual for modern working women. She has worked at Google, Uber, McKinsey. Originally from Croatia, she grew up in the fashion industry in Italy.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I am a refugee — I was born in Zagreb, raised in Italy and had life chapters in Dublin, Milan, New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Singapore, London and Chicago.
Being an immigrant means growing up faster. At a very young age, I was involved in the family business — an apparel company. I have had to learn to translate documents, bills, and even laws to my immigrant parents while spending every other moment hustling to grow the business, talking to customers and manufacturers. Needless to say, I became passionate about branding, commerce, and retail.
After working at McKinsey, Uber and Google and getting my MBA at Stanford, I just launched my clothing brand Raclaim to merge Italian quality with Silicon Valley functionality. Check: thisisreclaim.com / @thisisreclaim.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Rules tend to favor the people who make the rules, and those people are typically already in power and winning. You need to be interesting,memorable, and able to stand out in ways that encourage others to want to know you and get close to you.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a refugee, I often felt out of place and that I didn’t belong. I started using clothes to make me feel strong and confident. I loved creating powerful outfits that let me envision who I wanted to be: a power suit to meet my opponents in the courtroom, a minimal dress to present to my colleagues in the boardroom, a deconstructed jacket and jeans to show off my creative side. The right outfit made me step into who I wanted to be and escaped the reality of not having the opportunities I wished to have.
And it worked. Dressing for success eventually led me to feel more comfortable in my own skin and pushed me to pursue opportunities at some of the most prestigious companies and schools in the world, such as Google and Stanford.
With Reclaim, I am setting out to create a new standard for fashion based on the science of how your clothes make you feel — the field of enclothed cognition. I interviewed 178 working women and distilled what makes women feel invincible into the Reclaim clothing line, and I don’t plan on stopping here.
Reclaim is my way of helping women always feel connected to themselves, others, and opportunities because I know what it means to feel out of place and uncomfortable in your own skin.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I had this amazing teacher in middle school. She was wicked. Sharp. Hilarious. Quick-witted. Irreverent. Also: kind, responsible, ethical, serious. Direct. A meritocrat. She loved to make students laugh or think. She followed rules carefully and broke them knowingly. She loved wielding her power. Once she did it for me: she picked the right high school for me. Where one goes to high school is a big deal in Italy and is the foundation for college. As my 12 years old self and immigrant parents did not know any better, we had optimized for proximity, but she ended up ignoring my selection and instead signing me up for a school more than an hour away — the best one in the region. That was the start of a career of academic excellence that led me to Stanford Business School.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
For me resilience is the unshakable belief in yourself and your vision. It’s genuinely enjoying a challenge and seeing setbacks along the way as opportunities to reframe the path rather than failures. Resilience is the ability to work towards goals with sheer willpower where others might give up and move on because you have a vision that cannot be shattered.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
There are a lot of entrepreneurs that come to mind from Katrina Lake who ran Stitch Fix out of her apartment for the first few years to Sara Blakely who literally sold undergarments on the street. However, the person that comes to my mind is my mother.
My mom grew up in communist Yugoslavia, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with her parents and three siblings in a Bosnian region. Early on, she learned to be resourceful. In fact, she smuggled Levi’s blue jeans into the country, as it was something everyone wanted and no one could find.
Yugoslavians were allowed to buy two pairs of jeans in the West, but my mom drove to Italy each weekend and bought multiple in different sizes. She’d wear them on top of each other and under an oversized skirt, hoping she wouldn’t get busted at the border. From her clandestine shop, they sold well. Her eventual customers were buying a statement, a symbol of freedom and desire for a different life.
Years later when the unrest in Yugoslavia started, my mom was the one who took the family to Italy. We arrived there in spring 1991 intending to stay a few weeks. But that June, Croatia declared independence and the war started. We found ourselves locked out of our homeland with passports from a country that no longer existed.
Two years into the wait, my parents started running out of money. They tried to get jobs, but with their limited Italian, nobody hired them. Then, my mom had an idea. With their last savings, she took my dad to a local factory and bought the cheapest floral dresses she could find. Next day, my parents took me and the dresses door to door.
Today she runs multiple stores. She is my example of resilience.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Every single time. I always had to prove the naysayers wrong. When I decided to apply to places such McKinsey, Google, Uber, Stanford… Nobody believed I would ever get in, but I did.
For Reclaim too. When I hoped to receive the angel check to start the company from one of the most prominent billionaires in Silicon Valley, people thought that it would be impossible and that there were million good reasons why it would never happen. It happened.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
As a child refugee, I was known as the daughter of the beggars from the beach stand in school. Coming from a Slavic region earned me a nickname: “Slave.” I heard classmates whisper it; some would say it straight to my face. One day, written on my desk, I found “Go back to your home, Slave.”
Loneliness and feeling disconnected can be anyone’s story. My greatest achievement is deciding to reshape the narrative around my being a refugee and turn the darkest experience of my life into the ability to power through adversity.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
For much of my life, I have been disconnected from the people and places I
wanted to embrace me and from opportunities others got easily. Being uncomfortable has always been my comfort zone.
My first memories in this world are selling dresses door to door. I thought each sale was an accomplishment. I found my joy helping my parents at the stand. I cleaned, picked sizes for customers, and taught my parents the Italian I was learning at school. At an early age, I was attending business meetings to translate for my father.
That resulted in my developing a lot of grit and drive to make something of myself.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
This is a really hard question, and I am unsure if resilience can truly be learned. Personally, it was something that was instilled in me at a very young age. I’d start with a strong dose of belief in yourself and the ability to see your strengths and weaknesses. If someone or something gets in your way, remind yourself that your life is your story to write. Rather than seeing failure you can ask yourself how can I learn from this experience? Next, have a diary to write down learnings, but move on quickly. Dwelling on things can help internalize a lot of moments, but for me it is something that sends me into a negative spiral. I prefer to move on and look forward, rather than dwelling on the past and asking what if. Third, build your support network. When shit hits the fan — pardon my French — you need to be able to call someone you trust. As an entrepreneur I go through a million highs and lows (a day), but I have created a system to stay sane and focused. Every Sunday I have a check in with another founder where we debrief our week and coach each other. We share our wins, get perspective on our losses, and give each other goals for next time. You need someone to be there for you to give you perspective and support. Next, reach out to people you admire. I am always reaching out to people I find inspiring and asking them for coffee. It makes your dream more real and helps you answer a lot of questions along the way. Lastly, sign up for yoga, meditation or any other form of self care. We don’t get enough of this, yet it’s the key to being able to approach life with strength and resilience.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Connection. In a world where borders are being closed, immigrants are being turned down, and discrimination is leading to hate, I would love for everyone to expand their circle of trust and connect people to each other. It is a special gift for bringing the world together.
Once in Thailand, I met a guy who was struggling to get his dream job in the non-profit sector in the UK. Over tom yom soup, I helped him figure out where to go and who to contact, and a few months later he joined Amnesty International in London. On a larger scale, each year I organize a get together for 25–30 people to merge my many different networks and introduce people, who could possibly support one another in their fields. Nevertheless, at any scale, connection improves peoples’ lives and solves problems.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Oprah. I would do anything for breakfast with Oprah. She is the real deal: inspiring, humble, energetic, compassionate…a gem to this world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Sure, I am on instagram as @zanaonthego, and Reclaim’s official account is @thisisreclaim.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!