Kelly Shanahan is very familiar with stepping out of the norm and embracing her passion.
After years of education, Kelly realized law school wasn’t for her. Instead, she followed her love for fashion. Committed to making her “one day” dreams a reality, she threw herself into the unknown and created the company she runs today, Ziran.
We asked Kelly about what it took to start her business and where her inspiration came from. Keep reading to learn how her business idea came from a very unexpected place and the mindset she needed to build a successful brand. Don’t forget to check out Kelly’s page and her clothing line.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was raised in the beach-suburb of Los Angeles known as the South Bay. I am half-Chinese and half-Irish and have three degrees: a BA in Chinese Studies (UCSD ’10), an AA in Fashion Design (FIDM ’12) and a MBA in Entrepreneurship (LMU ’16). I’ve been working hard for the past ten years and I’ve been putting all that hard work to the test!
What sparked the inspiration for your clothing line?
In college, I wrote my thesis paper on fashion in China from the early 1900s to present day. Through my research I discovered this beautiful ancient Chinese silk called xiang yun sha. Completely enraptured, I decided that “one day” when I started my own line, I would use that silk.
Eventually I travelled to China and saw the entire production process first hand. Xiang yun sha silk is incredible: all-natural, completely sustainable, supple, buttery, and even wrinkle-resistant. It’s unlike any silk that’s ever been made. It’s handmade in small batches and every yard of silk is different.
Although it’s been made for over 500 years, it has been kept a rare and exclusive treasure to outsiders. I was lucky to discover it first, and then worked hard to make connections in China and gain access to it.
Finally after 6 years, Ziran was born.
How did you choose the name, Ziran?
Ziran means, “self so, natural, spontaneous, and free.” It comes from an ancient Daoist text written in 571 BC by the philosopher, Laozi. I chose the name because it ties together all aspects of my clothing line: the xiang yun sha silk, aesthetic of the clothes, and the lifestyle of the brand.
A Ziran woman is exactly what the name means. She pushes away outside influence and instead embraces herself as she is: natural, spontaneous, and free.
Did you always want to be a Fashion Designer?
Not exactly. I always loved sewing and altering clothes as a kid but never saw it as a possible career path. In college I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I took the LSAT and realized it was not for me. I thought about it for half a second and decided that rather than going to law school, I would go to fashion school. I haven’t looked back since.
What were those first few steps you took to getting your clothing line started?
The biggest step I took was deciding I didn’t have anymore time to waste working for someone else’s dream: I needed to work on my own. So I quit my real job and took the plunge!
What were the various elements that came together to think of creating a purpose driven company?
I worked in the luxury fashion market for four years and became disillusioned with the fashion industry.
There are so many problems in the industry including poor quality clothing, waste, and a lack of responsibility and cultural heritage. Profit margins are the most important thing, price is valued over quality, the environment is abused, and the industry promotes an endless cycle of consumption and disposal. This mass produced, cheaply made clothing that is manufactured, purchased, and thrown away in incredibly fast cycles is called “Fast Fashion.” Maxine Bedar said it perfectly, “Fast fashion is like fast food: empty calories that make us feel full.”
I’m tired of it, and I think consumers are too. So, I embraced “Slow Fashion.”
Slow fashion is thoughtfully produced clothing that is socially and environmentally responsible. Emphasis is not on profit margin but on high quality clothing with a story to tell.
Slow fashion clothing is made to be treasured, not used and thrown away.
What kinds of stories do you tell with your clothing?
We can trace every yard of Ziran silk to the farm where it was produced and the people who made it. This creates a unique narrative of cultural heritage, pride, and beauty. Every Ziran piece tells a story.
Every woman that wears Ziran continues the narrative. By wearing Ziran she signifies that she is smart, strong, and badass. She values clothing not because of the label that was sewn onto it, but because of where it came from. In this way, she tells a story that is wholly unique and completely her own.
What kinds of obstacles did you have to overcome as a fashion designer and entrepreneur and how were you able to overcome them?
I overcome obstacles everyday. I fill many roles in Ziran and am pulled in many different directions. Every obstacle and every solution is unique. This is what makes being an Entrepreneur challenging — but also so rewarding. It’s been a roller coaster of a ride and I’m not getting off anytime soon.
What are some tips you can give for others hoping to start their own businesses that align with their passions and a good cause?
Work hard. Have a good support team. Dream big. Strategize. Differentiate. Have fun!
Fun question: what’s your favorite article of clothing that you’ve designed?
That is a tough one but probably the Cobra Bomber Jacket! It is fully lined in xiang yun sha silk and is the most comfortable “throw on and go” jacket I’ve ever seen.