Empowering women, girls, and artists with Sharon Backurz

'Growing up, it was inspiring to see someone always want to know and learn more. One of the great lessons she taught me was to never stop with that first draft and always to go further'

Sharon Backurz has a knack for weaving together relationships and tactile experiences that share a common thread, empowering women, girls, and artists. A mission that infiltrates every seam of her professional pursuits. 

The contrast between her soft-spoken demeanor and expertly curated ensemble (which includes a blue Gingham dress, matching tennies, and tie-dyed socks) hints towards Sharon’s unique success as an artist, designer, and inspiration.

From East Coast, to West Coast, and the mountains in between, Sharon’s designs have traversed cities and categories. “On my 30th birthday I threw myself this big party [in New York City],” says Sharon, “Then I got on an airplane at five in the morning and flew to San Francisco.” The move launched Sharon into both a new city and continuing education, obtaining a degree in Multimedia Studies from San Francisco State University. “My first love is graphic design, and I’ve had a long, satisfying career doing print, web, and branding work.” San Francisco was a great place to be a designer, back then annual report design was huge. “These were great visual expressions of a company’s business story,” she explains, “Annual reports were a graphic designer’s dream and I feel I really crafted my design skills during that era. We got to work with all the best writers, photographers, and printers.”

But for Sharon, the most impactful outcome of moving to San Francisco wasn’t the great jobs or higher education. The real joy was in meeting her husband, Tim Waddell. A mutual friend introduced them soon after her move to the bay area. “Immediate heartbeat quickening,” Sharon describes, of seeing Tim for the first time, “We both had this huge crush on each other. We had this goofy, flirty, Kindergarten thing going on before we got together. It happened really fast. By the time I was 32, we were married.”

In 2008 Sharon headed north, but this time, as a brand new mom “[Tim] was working in digital advertising. After eight years of being together, we moved to Seattle. Microsoft moved us up there. That was phase two.” A phase that also included welcoming their daughter, Anna Maxine. 

Tim’s final career pivot came when he accepted a job with Adobe, which pulled them away from the Pacific Northwest and down into the mountains of Park City, Utah. This was a dream move for everyone in the family. And now, as a retiree, Tim happily spends his days enjoying all of Park City’s best golfing, skiing and biking. “I spent the impressionable years of high school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, so the mountain lifestyle has always been something my husband and I wanted for ourselves and our daughter,” says Sharon, “When Tim accepted the job with Adobe, moving to Park City was a natural choice. It was love at first sight.”  

Photo: Leah Mae // Zenzee effortless comfort and beauty with monochromatic sets

In Park City, Sharon redefined her path as a designer, becoming an investor in community wellbeing. “When we moved to Park City, I naturally fell into doing outdoor and nonprofit design work,” says Sharon, whose early collaborations include Mountain Town Music, Egyptian Theatre, Hoka, Soulpoles and other emerging brands.  

In the mountains, Sharon’s entrepreneurial spirit continued to flourish, “I got itchy to design products of my own. I started Zenzee as a side hustle several years ago, and now it’s my main focus,” says Sharon, explaining the birth of her clothing line, which launched first with women’s footwear, creating dreamy slides that combine comfort and fashion. Zenzee grew during the pandemic to include clothing that now forms the heart of the brand and fulfills a mission to create garments that are inspired by the space between relaxation and refinement, comfort and effortless style. “I want to make it easy for women to get dressed, to take the stress out of dressing. That’s why we have so many matching sets and monochromatic pieces that are easy to wear. Zenzee clothes help women feel cute and confident without working too hard.”

The path from graphic designer to fashion designer fulfills Sharon’s dream. “I used to ask myself, ‘If I could do it all over again, what would I be?’ I would think, ‘Fashion designer, I wish I would have gone into fashion,’” she laughs, acknowledging that through Zenzee, she was indeed a fashion designer. “I always secretly wanted to be a clothing designer, and it manifested somehow.”

Photo: Sharon Backurz // A peak inside the new Zenzee shop, located in SLC’s Maven District

 Zenzee is committed to sustainable best practices producing collections in small batches and paying fair wages. Zenzee’s practices earned it a space on Wolf & Badger’s exclusive B Certified platform and retail locations in Soho and West Hollywood. Zenzee collections also gained traction in Park City Pop Ups, and at local shops like Panache & Cole Sport, with its first dedicated retail location now open in Salt Lake City’s Maven District. “I’m over the moon excited to open this store and become a part of the locally-owned businesses in the Maven community.”

Opening a retail shop in the Maven District makes sense for Sharon. She and Tessa Arnold, the Maven District founder, share the same values – a brighter world is one where we lift each other up. The shopping and lifestyle area’s mural by Brooke Smart is a visual rendition of this belief – a depiction of women standing on the hands of other women, those who are being lifted, and in turn lifting others. 

In addition to leading Zenzee, Sharon is also the design director of ShePlace/SheMoney, a wonderful organization that started as a Utah-based women’s network and grew into a powerful platform for women in Utah. Jacki Zehner is the Founder of the network and describes herself as a financial feminist. The platform’s mission: To ignite the power of women+ by championing their path to financial freedom through education, networking, community, and experiences. ShePlace embraces “sistering up” or supporting one another with generosity, educational opportunities, and inspiration. “Our events and workshops are all about providing a holistic approach to wellbeing that includes financial health and gender equity,” says Sharon.

Events are Sharon’s opportunity to network and collaborate. “I love creatives and love connecting people,” she says, “I try to do that in my work for the Arts Council of Park City and Summit County, too…. I’ve been on the board for six years.” She volunteers her time and is very involved with the branding, marketing, programming, and advocacy work that the organization does. 

Photo: Deb Dekoff, Park City Photographers // Sharon and her daughter Anna

One of Sharon’s favorite Arts Council programs is coming up during the month of December, the well-loved BRAND PC, a PopUp shop (at the Outlet Malls) featuring collections from local artists and entrepreneurs. “I’ve never thrown myself into a community like I did Park City… It feels like my home more than anywhere I’ve ever lived.”

 Sharon’s ambitions for supporting women are a motivation for her daughter, who sums up her mother’s taste for community and purposeful growth. “Growing up, it was inspiring to see someone always want to know and learn more. One of the great lessons she taught me was to never stop with that first draft and always to go further,” Anna exclaims, glancing around the sleek Zenzee shop filled with cashmere and silks in bold hues and tie-dyes. “You can see that in her business and who she is. I take a lot of inspiration from her.”

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