There are those of us who dress for function, throwing our clothes on in the morning without much attention to detail, and those who select each garment carefully, piecing together a look as if creating a work of art. For the latter, getting dressed is an exercise in self-expression, a daring walk along an intangible tightrope separating ‘effortless cool’ from ‘trying too hard’ that might prove too fearful for the average joe, but there is something to be said for placing value in what you put on. Whether you rock the same threads for years or you follow the trends, fashion involves personal decision, and new designers are placing more weight on the power of choice, seeking to influence not only where you spend your money, but what impact that purchase makes on the bigger picture. Kelly Shanahan is one of these conscious creatives. Her label Ziran is designed and manufactured with heart, creating garments that carry rich history through processes that support small communities, all the while making us look damn good. After sitting down to discuss everything from sourcing fabric to hand-stitching, we’ve got a whole new outlook on what we want in our wardrobe.
LF: How did you feel when you woke up this morning, what inspired you to get out of bed?
KS: I woke up happy, conscious, and hungry. I’m inspired to strengthen and grow the clothing line I’ve created. I’m inspired to make a difference through fashion. To connect with women who don’t just want beautiful clothes, but clothing that has meaning and a story to tell.
LF: How does fashion serve you in your life?
KS: Choosing what to wear is the first thing I do every morning. That choice expresses not only how I want present myself, but also how I want to be perceived by others. I disagree with anybody that says fashion is superficial, empty, and meaningless. Fashion is something we all partake in, every single day. Fashion isn’t everything, but it is an expression of individuality and choice. What other everyday material objects can do this? I know my toaster can’t.
LF: What or whom gave you that final push you needed to align your gears and jump-start this clothing label?
KS: Realizing that I wasn’t happy working for somebody else’s dream: I needed to work towards my own. I’ve also become disillusioned with the current fashion industry and its’ obsession with profit and fast fashion. Ziran is slow fashion and our pieces are meant to be treasured, not used and thrown away. Quality. Longevity. Sustainability. Clothing with purpose.
LF: Creating something from scratch can be incredibly challenging, and equally gratifying. How do you help yourself clear the path for positivity and forward progress when your creative process snags a hard corner?
KS: In the short time I’ve launched my company, I’ve already experienced soaring highs and frustrating lows. But I’ve learned that it’s best to always stay in the “middle” emotionally, and not jump between two extremes. I’m training myself to take everything with a grain of salt, and that there is always a solution to every setback. Having a strong support system of loved ones also helps me back away from the edge.
LF: Was creating a clothing label a life dream of yours, or a desire realized later on in your life?
KS: Since I was a child, I’ve loved manipulating and being creative with clothing. In middle school I was all about cutting, ripping, tying, bedazzling the shit out of my clothes. In high school I went thrifting every Friday after school and would alter and reconstruct whatever I could find. By the time college rolled around I decided to be a real grown up and become a transnational crime lawyer. But taking the LSAT was a big wake-up call and I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer but instead pursue my passion, fashion. I’m carving my own path and doing what I want, and it’s really exciting.
LF: Where does the label name “Ziran” derive from?
KS: Ziran literally translates to “self so, so of itself; natural, spontaneous, free.” It comes from an ancient Chinese text written in 571 BC by the great philosopher Laozi. This concept of Ziran drives everything we do and is the crux of Ziran’s purpose.
LF: What designers/creators have helped illuminate your own creativity and drive?
KS: I’ve seen some of my creative friends quit their day jobs and pursue their passions. None of them have regretted it and seeing their success and freedom has kicked me in the ass and gotten me going. Mirko Antich, a witty and genius artist, has helped me get my feet off the ground. I love the painter Michael Harnish’s (who painted all the foliage/cacti in the shoot) use of muted colors and demure femininity. I keep my eyes open at all times, and try to be as conscious as possible. I get inspired by everything, including the ways some homeless people dress, and the fire in their eyes. We’re all connected.
LF: What comes first, the choice of materials or the design?
KS: The choice of materials, for sure. When I see a certain pattern, color, or texture of fabric I immediately start brainstorming what kind of garment it should become. The materials are my favorite part of the process, and it’s from seeing, touching, and feeling, that I begin to design.
LF: What is special about the materials you use for your pieces?
KS: We are the first to use “xiang yun sha” silk in the United States. Nobody else is using it. Xiang yun sha literally translates to “perfumed cloud clothing” and is an all-natural, completely sustainable silk made in one small town in southern China. It is buttery, supple, anti-microbial, and even wrinkle-resistant. It is unlike any silk ever made. But it’s been made for over 500 years yet has been kept a rare and exclusive treasure. Until now.
LF: Designing wearable art is quite a unique process. You go through the creation of the designs, and then get experience the work in such a personal way. If you could associate a feeling with what is it like for you to wear something you’ve created, to be completely enveloped in it, what would that be?
KS: Effortlessly sexy and powerful.
LF: What feeling do you hope to bring clients that wear your pieces?
KS: I would like Ziran clients to feel smart, strong, and badass. These are women who could wear many other brands yet they choose Ziran because it allows them to embody themselves in their greatest form: natural, spontaneous, and free. They crave and need clothing that has a greater calling than just being cool, easy, or beautiful. They choose Ziran to help preserve culture, express creativity, and take a stand against thoughtless fashion. By doing this, these women are helping to change the world.
LF: If Ziran could be shown at any event around the world, where would make you most proud to see your designs?
KS: UN Climate Change Conference, any event that supports women empowerment.