Crushing it in Croatia: Elisha and Marie of Oak & Olive

two women smiling
Elisha and Marie of Oak & Olive

PUBLISHED: 31.5.2024.

Welcome to Crushing it in Croatia, a series where we feature expats who have moved to Croatia.

In this series, we explore the realities of moving to Croatia, including how long it takes, what drew people here and what they do in their lives, shocks and challenges after moving, how Expat in Croatia’s resources made the transition easier, advice for the next wave, and whether or not it was all worth it in the end.

We spoke to Elisha Jelčić and Marie Pezić, founders of the home decor store Oak & Olive, who live in Zagreb. They share their stories, including their Croatian roots, moving to Croatia, starting their business, and what makes their shop different from others.

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Take it away, ladies!

Marija: Hey, Elisha and Marie! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Elisha: Hi Marija, I’m a proud wife and mother of three daughters: Matea, Iva, and Mila. Alongside my roles as a mother and wife, I’m also the co-founder of Oak & Olive, a venture close to my heart where we curate unique, artisanal home decor. I am a passionate traveler, having visited most continents of the world. Together with my family, I navigate the journey of entrepreneurship and cherish the moments we create along the way.

Marie: I’m a mum of 3 to Spencer, Fintan, and Eydie. We’ve been living in Zagreb for 5 years now, and we are originally from Melbourne, Australia. I am also the Co-Founder of Oak & Olive, which allows me to combine travel and interior design.

store
Oak & Olive, a home decor store in Zagreb, Croatia

Marija: Where do you live in Croatia? How did you decide to move here?

Elisha: I live in the heart of Zagreb, a stone’s throw away from Trg Bana Jelačića.

When I first met my husband as a 19-year-old, he told me that his plan had always been to live in Croatia after having been very connected his whole life. I did not think of this much at the time.

However, after coming to Croatia year after year for holidays with him, I began to see why this was his dream. We spoke about it for 10 years and decided we needed to make a move before our eldest daughter, now 8-year-old, started school. Our reasons for moving to Croatia were lifestyle, safety, and time with our children.

[Read: How to prepare your children for Croatian schools after relocation]

Marie: My family, husband, three kids, and I live in Donji Grad in Zagreb. We love city life and having everything on our doorstep. We have been living in Croatia since 2019 and relocated from Melbourne, Australia. It was needing a different pace of life that made us make the move.

Marija: How many times have you visited Croatia before you moved? Was there anything about Australia you were hoping to leave behind?

Elisha: From age 21, I have visited Croatia every summer for all but 3 years. I was hoping to leave behind the hectic pace of Sydney living, and I’m glad to say that’s certainly been the case. The relief of not enduring daily traffic jams and the constant rush from one end of the city to the other is truly a blessing.

Marie: A number of times. We traveled as a family in 2018, a year before our move. Croatia always felt like home, and we enjoyed seeing family. We also loved the slower pace of summer.

There was nothing about Australia that I wanted to leave behind; all our family and friends are still there, so we miss them greatly. If anything, I would say just the high pressure, the mortgages, and not having a balance in lifestyle.

Marija: On what basis did you apply for residence?

Elisha: My family all have Croatian citizenship on the basis of our family being Croatian. We planned our move for many years to help this be a successful long-term outcome for our family.

Marie: I was a Croatian citizen as was my husband, so on that end, it was relatively easy. Once we were here, we applied for the children.

[Read: How to apply for Croatian citizenship (hrvatsko državljanstvo)]

Marija: How did you find Expat in Croatia? Did we help with your transition to Croatia?

Elisha: Expat In Croatia would often appear on my social media platforms, and while I did not have help with my move, I had heard from others that I met once moving to Croatia that they found the services very helpful.

pillows
Oak & Olive’s pillows

Marija: Did you experience any shocks or challenges once you settled in Croatia? How did you overcome them?

Elisha: To be honest, I was not shocked by much once settled. A lot of people tend to talk about negative experiences rather than positive ones, and I had heard plenty of them, so I was prepared. Don’t get me wrong – there have been many challenges, but I have found most people to be helpful in overcoming them. It has been great that my family and I have met so many “returnees” with similar experiences and challenges, so this network has been great to call upon in times of need.

Most of the challenges that have arisen have been with opening the business. I do believe a lot of the challenges are a result of not knowing how everything operates sometimes. Processes can often seem long-winded and overcomplicated, probably because we are used to things being a little more black-and-white and streamlined in Australia.

[Read: Types of business in Croatia]

You have to take the good with the bad as we live a better life overall. We don’t spend our days in MUP or other Government offices like people previously did. This process has been improved drastically, and I believe the country will continue to move forward in this area.

Marie: There are always shocks and challenges, even with the simplest of things. You just learn as you go. The school system, doctors, but that’s with any place you move to. You just need to familiarise yourself with the system.

View our health guides:

Marija: Do you speak Croatian? How did you learn it?

Elisha: My Croatian has improved drastically since moving to Croatia. With my parents moving to Australia at the age of 4 and 5 years old, I grew up speaking mostly English at home and having basic Croatian conversations.

On the contrary, my husband speaks excellent Croatian, and my Croatian has begun to evolve since meeting him. I can confidently say, though, that since moving to Croatia, immersing myself with locals, and communicating with people for business, my vocabulary has expanded, and I am speaking much more confidently.

Marie: Yes, since childhood. Through family.

[Read: Biggest Croatian language schools in Croatia]

Marija: Tell us more about the Oak & Olive.

Elisha & Marie: Oak & Olive emerges from the concept that home is more than just a physical space; it embodies one’s uniqueness and serves as a haven for cherished moments. Our brand presents a meticulously curated selection of items, empowering individuals to personalize their sanctuary. We prioritize quality and sustainability and celebrate the craftsmanship of artisans.

Marie and I fulfill multiple roles within the business and collaborate closely on decision-making. Specifically, Marie runs procurement and manages our social media presence, while I manage financials and handle customer relations.

There has been great interest in our handwoven 100% wool rugs from Morocco, alongside our unique rattan light pendants and wooden and marble kitchen items.

colorful rugs
Rugs from Morocco

Marija: Who are your artisans? How do you pick the products you sell?

Elisha & Marie: We currently have a range of handcrafted products from artisans in Croatia, Morocco, Turkey, and India, with the plan to source more across the Mediterranean and globally. All products are hand-picked by Marie and I personally to offer a curated collection of goods.

Marija: Why did you start the business in Zagreb? What was your motivation?

Elisha & Marie: Marie and I would often discuss the prices and options of various goods in Croatia and outside of Croatia. What we would see was little variety and high pricing in Croatia, which is why people often shop in neighboring countries.

We observed a gap in the market for artisanal goods – pieces for your home that are both unique and of high quality. We selected Zagreb as our base due to its central location and because it’s our hometown. As two mothers, working close to home is a significant advantage for us.

[Read: 17 things to do in Zagreb when it rains]

Marija: How do you contribute to the Croatian market and society? What distinguishes you from other sellers?

Elisha & Marie: Oak & Olive brings a fresh offering to Croatia and the EU market, a boutique concept store, offering slow made, unique pieces that stand out from the rest of the market.

Marija: What are the challenges of being a small entrepreneur here? How does the Croatian market differ from the Australian?

Elisha & Marie: Navigating the legalities and establishing the business posed significant challenges for us, as each step was unfamiliar. In Australia, processes are more streamlined. However, in Croatia, we found ourselves in uncharted territory.

Despite the hurdles, we see potential in this less-crowded market. Unlike the saturated Australian market, we have the opportunity to introduce something fresh to customers, not only locally but also in the EU market.

Marija: Why did you decide to open a business together? What are the (dis)advantages of having a business partner?

Elisha & Marie: Marie and I connected instantly upon our first meeting. While we shared many similarities, our differences complement each other, creating a strong balance for the business. Given the challenges of starting a business in Croatia, tackling it together eased the process and the inherent risks associated with launching a new venture.

glasses
Oak & Olive’s glasses

Marija: Would you like to change or improve something in your “Croatian life”? What are your plans for the future?

Elisha: For my family, there is no doubt that this is a permanent move. Zagreb feels like home and with all the hard work we have put into making this dream a reality, we can certainly say this has been the right move for us. We are daily reminded that Croatia ticks off the main reasons for moving here in the first place.

As Oak & Olive is a new, small business, we can only hope that as time goes on, this venture will prove to be successful. We have achieved so much already, and we hope all of our hard work pays off.

Marie: Business is still in the early stages, so we are constantly facing challenges. However, I believe that based on what we have overcome, we can only grow, and hopefully, we will have a positive response from customers.

On a personal note, my family has adjusted to life in Croatia. We’ve found a sense of fulfillment here, and my children are thriving, enjoying newfound independence in this safe environment. After five years, there’s no doubt – we’re here to stay.

[Read: Is Croatia a safe country?]

Marija: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to move to Croatia in the future?

Elisha: Have a good plan and positive attitude. Call on the people around you for guidance- there is a great network of people and lots of support groups to help you in many ways. And finally, remember the reasons you want to move to Croatia.

Marie: Croatia is a great place to live. Embracing the expat community and seeking help when needed is the key. With opportunities and a balanced lifestyle awaiting, take the leap and make Croatia your home.

[Read: Available visas and residence permits for Croatia]

Marija: Would you like to share anything else with us?

Oak & Olive has a showroom located at Gundulićeva ulica 22A, Zagreb, for those interested in visiting us!

Contact Oak & Olive via:

View our other crushing-it-in-Croatia articles

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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