Self-expression is the lingua franca of Los Angeles. At a time when an Instagram feed ostensibly substitutes for one’s identity, presentation becomes a priority. Substance sometimes follows.
With ZIRAN, L.A. native Kelly Shanahan has successfully woven the two together. A clothing line that reimagines an ancient textile from China with a West Coast sensibility, the company is situated at the intersection of high-end fashion and sustainable business practice. Shanahan is comfortable with the duality — indeed, she seems to inhabit it.
“I’ve always done well in school and have always had a creative side when it comes to fashion,” Shanahan says. “I’d sew clothes as a kid, rip stuff up and make new things.”
Raised by a Chinese mother and an American father, Shanahan attended weekend Chinese language courses and traveled to China to visit relatives each summer. She pursued a bachelor’s degree in Chinese studies and discovered xiang yun sha silk, the textile that would later define her brand.
“It’s all natural, completely sustainable. It doesn’t wrinkle, nourishes the skin and is anti-microbial,” Shanahan says. Its name means “perfumed cloud clothing,” a fitting epithet for fabric that moves like liquid and seems almost suspended in phase change.
Handcrafted using 500-year-old methods, the fabric is bathed in iron-rich mud from the Pearl River, dunked in vats of dye made from the ju-liang root (a yam-like vegetable), then rinsed, laid out under bamboo rods and baked in the sun for a week. The process takes 45 days and happens during only four months of the year in a single region of China.
As Shanahan summarizes, “The elements need to be perfect.”
The same can be said of launching a business, and Shanahan’s approach was accordingly systematic.
“I went into the [LMU M.B.A.] program knowing that I wanted to start my own company. I knew that when I was three months from graduating, I’d have everything in place to launch my brand,” Shanahan says.
Though still in its infancy, ZIRAN has deep roots, taking its name from a concept in Daoism that translates as “self-so,” or spontaneous, natural and free.
“It means self-confident and free to express yourself, to wear whatever you want. I naturally gravitate toward that idea. It’s who I am and what I stand for.”
Part mantra, part mission statement — unmistakably ZIRAN.