Ziran Travels Across the Ocean for Sustainability
Sustainable fashion has long been criticized as being unable to go beyond the category of basics. Kelly Wang Shanahan hopes that her sustainable brand Ziran can bust that theory.
“The aesthetic of eco is minimal,” Shanahan said. “It’s minimal colors. There are not a lot of prints. There’s a void in the sustainable market for something that is different.”
The Los Angeles–based label hopes to present a sustainable alternative by offering women’s and men’s contemporary clothing using an eco-conscious Chinese silk called Xiang Yun Sha, which translates into “perfumed-cloud clothing.”
The silk has been made in China’s southern Guangdong Province for more than 500 years and is handmade and colored with natural dyes. Shanahan said that Ziran is one of the only U.S. brands using this fabric.
From Ziran’s offices, which are about a five-minute walk from the University of Southern California, Shanahan said that making sustainable clothing can seem like a cottage industry. Since launching in 2016, her brand is becoming more prominent but faces the challenges of many other small apparel businesses.
“We can’t say, ‘Here’s a PO [purchase order], we want to make this amount of units and order a huge amount from this factory.’ We inspect everything. We make sure everything is of high quality and is up to our standards. Especially with this silk, it can’t be mass cut. It has to be cut individually,” she said.
The apparel business has long been criticized as being one of the biggest industrial polluters, but a number of large companies, including Walmart, joined sustainable label Patagonia in 2009 to form the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to develop a universal, industrywide approach to measure sustainability.
While sustainability is her goal, Shanahan doesn’t consider Ziran a purist brand. Not every single element in the operation is 100 percent sustainable, but the label’s founder and colleagues believe a small business can make a big splash.
“We’re not changing anything,” said Mirko Antich, Ziran’s brand director. “It’s a long-term play where smaller brands like us are shifting the conversations for larger brands to think in a new way, where someone on that level can start change locally. But it starts with us at the grassroots.”
Shanahan and Antich’s point of difference in the brand is to put a contemporary, Southern California–inspired feel to the traditional fabrics.
Men’s looks include club-collar shirts inspired by Aloha shirts. Other styles include coach’s jackets and Baja-style pullover sweaters.
For women, there are jumpsuits, kimono-style jackets, bomber jackets, suit trousers and halter dresses. Last year, Kylie Jenner wore one of Ziran’s floral maxi robes on “Life of Kylie: Ask Kylie.” Retail price points range from under $100 to $750.
Ziran is scheduled to produce a trunk show this summer for its Fall/Winter ’18 collection at the prominent Los Angeles boutique Ron Herman. At New York Fashion Week, Ziran held a presentation for its Fall/Winter 2018 styles and screened a movie on the production of its silk.
Up next, Ziran might look for other traditional Chinese fabrics to use in its line. Dechel McKillian, owner of sustainable fashion boutique Galerie.LA, said that Ziran will be facing more competition from fashion-ready eco brands.
She noted that a lot of eco brands have focused on basics, but an increasing number of stylish, emerging brands are working with sustainable production methods.