By Kate Ferguson
It was the beautiful fabrics and gorgeous aesthetic that initially caught my eye about the clothing line Ziran, and a very added bonus to find out that all the items are made ethically and sustainably.
I spoke to Kelly Shanahan about starting the 100 percent hand-dyed silk line, what that creation process looks like today and the importance of making conscious choices along the way.
I’d love to hear about how you got started in fashion.
Growing up, I always liked to dress creatively and independently. In high school, I started thrifting clothes and repurposing vintage. I taught myself how to sew and would re-invent different garments according to the mood I was in.
Somedays it would be tomboy/ripped jean skirts/grunge band tees and other days 1950s housewife… I had fun…
Where did the concept for Ziran come from? What was that development process like? Did it evolve naturally?
Ziran is a concept in Daoist philosophy that means “self so, so of itself, and thus natural, spontaneous, and free.”
It advocates being natural and pushing away outside influence. Although I knew I wanted to start a conscious clothing line using xiang yun sha silk, the name “Ziran” took some time to figure out.
In terms of actually starting Ziran itself, it took me about 6 years from concept to actually making moves and doing it. In undergrad, I discovered the silk, then went to fashion design school, worked for a luxury brand for four years, went to business school, and then took the plunge and started Ziran.
Tell me about sustainability and why that’s important.
Sustainability — and being conscious and transparent — is important because we only have one planet. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the WORLD, after oil. It’s crazy how much waste is involved in our industry.
Fast fashion is lame. Clothing brands that don’t think about how/what they do is passé and uninspiring. The modern consumer is smart, conscious, and seeks information. They understand that sustainably produced products are more expensive because of the additional thought and protective measures that go into production.
What goes into the manufacturing process? What’s kept out?
On the manufacturing side, pursuing sustainability means making conscious decisions all along the supply chain. Here’s how we do it: our silkworms are allowed to live after spinning a cocoon (whereas most silkworms in traditional silk are boiled to death), our silk is printed digitally (no harsh chemicals), dyed naturally (with vegetable juice) and hand-sewn in downtown Los Angeles by a small group of skilled artisans.
We choose low-impact or climate-neutral materials (coconut wood buttons, recycled packaging, etc) in order to lessen harm to the environment. It’s hard but fulfilling.
Our silk is different than other silk. It’s really special and has been made in one town in southern China for the past 500 years. We’re the only ones who use it outside of Asia. It’s called “xiang yun sha” which literally translates to “perfumed cloud clothing” and is the highest quality silk in the world. It’s anti-microbial, wrinkle-resistant, skin-nourishing, and has an extremely buttery hand. Silk is fun. It moves, dances, and embodies the meaning of Ziran: natural, spontaneous, and free.
Tell me about the design and dye process, where do all the pieces/ingredients come from?
We source the fabric from a silk mill in southern China. We design our clothing in our studio near downtown LA. It is cut/sewn two miles away in the fashion district.
What happens on your China trips?
Our trips are a mixture of inspiration, exploring, visiting the silk farm, and meeting with our manufacturers! Chinese culture emphasizes food, and business is conducted around a table. So we eat a lot too 🙂
Tell me about the fit and shape of your clothes. How do you approach designing a collection?
We offer timeless luxury pieces that mix traditional fabrics with modern silhouettes. For example, 100% sustainable silk quilted robes, reimagined kimonos, classic coaches jackets, overalls, and camp collar shirts! My approach to design is creating easy, effortless pieces that transition from day to night. I am obsessed with our reversible bomber jackets! Two pieces in one 🙂
How big is your team?
There are three of us who work full time. We also regularly work with freelance photographers and artists.
How can we continue to increase the support of local business and sustainability?
Spend more and buy less! Only buy something if you are certain you’ll wear it at least 30 times. Ask questions. Demand transparency. Talk and share what you know.
Anything you haven’t done yet that you’d like to?
Learn more about indigenous and culturally significant manufacturing processes! Like Mongolian yak farmers, Japanese bamboo dyers, Rwandan weavers… there are so many artisans around the world who create beautiful and sustainable products. Without protection and preservation, these traditions will be lost. We can’t let that happen.
What inspires you outside of the fashion world?
Nature, punk rock and blues music, the subcultures of Los Angeles, cultural heritage, philosophy, my friends, my mother, yoga, and LIFE 🙂