CHRISTINE AND VERE SHARMA WITH CHILDREN ANNA-LISE SHARMA, LIAM SHARMA AND EMILY MILLER-SHARMA
In 1988, Vere and Christine Sharma — the former with a background in fashion and textiles, and the latter with experience in buying and retail — started their own textile business, De Vere Textiles, out of their then-home in Devonport, Auckland. Initially focused on importing and supplying fabric to customers both in New Zealand and offshore, the husband and wife team would, over the course of the next 20 years, branch out into fabric production and the importation and distribution of manufactured garments to their local and international clients. In 2008 came the company’s foray into retail with the purchase of fledgling New Zealand label and then-client, Ruby. Today, De Vere is a multifaceted business spanning both retail and corporate uniforms, with capabilities in design, fabric and garment production, logistics and distribution and retail store sales and operations.
Suffice to say, the Sharmas can’t do it alone. Thankfully, a dedicated staff of 75 helps to keep every aspect of the business ticking over — among them, three of Vere and Christine’s five adult children.
The eldest, Emily Miller-Sharma (34), is general manager of Ruby and designer for sister brand Liam. 27-year-old Anna-Lise Sharma started out as Ruby brand manager in 2013 after two years spent working in PR. She returned to the family business in 2017 following 18 months immersed in London’s fashion and retail scene, and now heads Ruby’s marketing and business development side. As well as spearheading streetwear label Modern Manners, which was launched under the De Vere umbrella in 2015, youngest sibling Liam Sharma, 22, manages Ruby’s social media channels and has been proactive in creating and maintaining the brand’s influencer relationships.
Sound like a recipe for a whole lot of squabbling? There’s no hint of it when the siblings are asked to talk up each other’s strengths. “Anna-Lise is incredibly strategic with impeccably high standards,” says Emily, who also acknowledges the “mischievous ideas” her brother Liam brings to the table, and how connected he is to what’s happening in the world and how the brand’s customers are reacting to it. Anna-Lise has similar praise for Liam (“he’s persuasive, charismatic… a digital-first thinker”) and for her combination of creative and commercial nous, describes Emily as “the jack and master of all trades”. Liam characterises his sisters succinctly: Emily is a “boss babe” and “design queen”; Anna-Lise his mentor.
Mum, of course, knows it’s not smooth sailing 24/7. “Siblings can have real trigger points for each other and this needs to be kept professional to maintain a healthy workplace,” says Christine, who, as Ruby’s managing director, oversees new stores and business opportunities and offers support whenever and wherever it’s needed — whether as a sounding board for the management team or an extra pair of hands to stick barcodes on garments. Her kids refer to her variously as “the soul of the company” and “the glue that holds everything together”.
With such a large family (Vere and Christine have two other children, New York-based fashion designer Jared, and Ryan, who was previously Ruby’s in-house accountant and now runs Bluebells Cakery with partner Karla Goodwin), strict work-life boundaries are essential to keeping the peace. Anna-Lise explains that work-related conversation is banned at home, “which is hard when there’s something stressful or exciting going on”.
“It’s easy for a family dinner to devolve into a work conversation,” confirms Emily, who in addition to conceptualising and overseeing the creation of each Liam collection is kept busy with forecasting and budgeting, purchasing and production, and staff management, training and recruitment. “You want to share with your family what’s going on in your work life,” she continues. “But when they’re part of that work life they can have their own agendas and perspectives — they’re not neutral commentators.”
Emily adds that the stress naturally compounds when the whole family is operating under pressure, but this is just testament to the fact that they all care so deeply about what they do. According to Anna-Lise, it’s also what makes them unstoppable. “When we’re met with a serious challenge we band together and work seamlessly.” Vere — officially managing director of De Vere but known to his children as chief negotiator and visionary — confirms that working day in, day out with multiple family members is not without its challenges. “But I love to watch their passion, drive and energy, and what we as a family can achieve. I’m proud of how our business has evolved and will continue to in these challenging times, and that comes from us singing off the same song sheet,” he says.