Ziran Muse: Kelly, Ziran Founder
I figured it’s fitting to publicly share some thoughts and musings for the first time and my husband interviewed me. We also enlisted two friends to photograph what I've been working on. Our friend Brad Trone came to my studio in Roswell, New Mexico where our family is temporarily living for a yearlong residency. Then our friend and neighbor at the residency, Victor Yanez-Lazcano, took some photos of a completed Wu Wei patchwork tapestry I’ve recently completed.
You have released quite a few new collections since living in Roswell, New Mexico for the last year. Tell us what kind of changes living here has done for Ziran, and how it has made you look at your path and direction moving forward?
Living in an isolated place like Roswell has encouraged me to both slow down and speed up. I experience the world slowly here, like the changes in nature and the new animals that come with each season. Being without distractions means you notice the smallest nuances of life and how they transform. I'm able to be present with my daughter and move slowly through the day. I've picked up some new skills I would never do in LA, like baking. I now make pretty good vegan and gluten-free donuts! But living in Roswell has also made me speed up, especially with Ziran. I finally have time to plot and plan new collections, future projects, and use the resources in front of me. Instead of chasing to catch up with people, I’m spreading my arms wide and casting a net. It’s been so fun and rewarding to do the “Ziran Muse” series with the inspiring artists and fellow residents living here.
Moving forward I’m planning a long-awaited China trip to engage deeper with the brand’s core, the silk farm. I will spend some time on the farm with my family to absorb the life, process, and people that live and work at that special place.
Living in such a weird, random and rural place like Roswell has taught me that Ziran (and myself!) can thrive anywhere so long as there is internet access...
You are 14 months into being a Mother. Has this changed the direction of Ziran, and how has it affected your personal life, husband, friends, etc?
Ziran is my first baby. I’ve been nurturing it from the womb and it fully encompasses most of my time and energy over the past 7 years. So it’s been quite a transition having a REAL baby and I’ve struggled with balance. I’m constantly trying to Mother both things and it’s been hard on my body, my mind, and my relationships. There is a lot of guilt and shame around wanting to work… sometimes at the expense of caring for my baby. Yet I realize that these intimate moments with my baby are fleeting and pretty soon she will be in school and I’ll have all the "time" I need to get things done. So that guilt and shame I feel of “wanting to work” is real. We also don’t have any help with childcare so my husband and I are constantly bouncing caregiving back and forth between us.
We’re learning how to be parents and while it is exhausting and difficult, it is the greatest, most fulfilling, and deepest thing we’ve ever done. We are so grateful for our life. We’re very lucky to be pursuing our passions while raising our daughter together.
You are on a desert island you can only bring two snacks and they would last the rest of your life, what are said snacks?
I am a sweet and salty gal. I would choose some sort of dark chocolate almond butter cup for one snack and the other would be a crispy tortilla chip. If I could add some dipping sauce like salsa, hummus, or guacamole I would need nothing else.
What are you most excited about that you have been working on the last 6 months? Tell us about the patchwork and embroidery.
I am excited about a collaboration that’s been long in the works with artist Langley Fox, a patchwork collection made out of Wu Wei tapestries I’ve sewn out of scrap fabrics, and going back to Asia (finally!) to dive into the silk farm and work on developing new proprietary fabrics. Also a very special collaboration with my husband Lucien on some home decor.
I've making patchwork - which I call Wu Wei - for the last 3 years. I use scrap fabrics to construct different types of quilts and tapestries. Wu Wei is a concept in Daoism that means "action by non action." The basic idea is that by NOT doing you're actually doing. I apply this concept as I cut, arrange, and sew fabric in a loose and free style. Wu Wei teaches us that by not forcing things we accomplish what we need. We can obtain goals in many different ways and there is not a straight path. The point of Wu Wei is not to reach the end but to honor the process. This is the Ziran Way too.
This particular patchwork tapestry shown here was first photographed by Brad, who documented some parts of the creation process. Then Victor photographed the final tapestry, which measures 10 feet x 8 feet. I might use this piece, along with other completed tapestries, to make clothes in a future collection. Or I might just hoard it for something else.
The embroidery is another self-taught practice I've been working on over the years. The tedious repetition of stitching is a form of meditation, focus, and release. I may use the embroidered patches on a future Repurposed collection but again I'm not sure! Right now I'm just enjoying the flow of creation.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I hope to carve a greater sphere for Ziran and myself personally. My family will be grounded in our home (wherever in the world that may be) while Ziran continues to thrive. I hope to have a deeper relationship with the silk farm and expand my knowledge of my culture and the world. I hope to be raising our daughter with patience, kindness, and unwavering support. I hope to find more balance between my work and personal life. I hope to help more people. I hope to still be free.
You tend to want to dive in and learn about people and places wherever you go! Where does this art of storytelling stem from?
Before I realized I could hang out with my friends on the weekends, all I would do is read. I have distinct memories of my mom giving me a bowl of strawberries and I’d dip them in pure white sugar as I read page after page of young adult fiction books. I was (and still am) mesmerized by different worlds, people, and crave escaping into their lives. Ziran storytelling is my adult way of sharing and becoming enveloped in stories. It’s also a constant form of inspiration - everyone I meet has an interesting background and it’s so fulfilling to learn about them.
Perhaps Ziran is a conduit to storytelling which is the true core of my work as an artist. I also find it so refreshing to share different sorts of people in our clothes. The fashion industry is so narrow and exclusive, always propelling one narrative of beauty and “what looks good.” Our clothes look good on everyone and it’s fascinating to see how the clothes - and the people - change when they wear our pieces.
Favorite 3 designers of all time?
Vivienne Westwood is my favorite forever. A champion of activism, the earth, rebellion, her designs borrowed from old traditions but were remixed in brazen and fabulous ways. The corsets, plaids, the message…. I am a diehard Vivienne Westwood stan. Second favorite is Elsa Schiaperelli… both in the past (the surrealism-inspired pieces, shapes, the fact she hated Coco Chanel…) and in today’s elaborate, ornamental avant garde designs. My other favorite(s) are Issey Miyake, Consuelo Castiglioni of Marni, and Emily Bode of Bode.
Some contemporary brands I love: Maaari, Tigra Tigra, Nor Black Nor White, Baby Shine, and Story Mfg.
Favorite place to be? Not in a city but in nature?
Water, salt, sand, sun. The release and nothingness I feel moving in water.
Favorite city in the world?
I haven’t found it yet. Keep it moving.
If you were to describe yourself, who is Kelly Wang Shapiro?
Dang. I guess I’m a bunch of contradictory things that make a whole. An always changing work in progress who is firmly rooted in purpose. A messy, eccentric patron of aesthetics. An impulsive yet conscious consumer of the world, and (hopefully!) a loving and kind mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. I hope to always learn, grow, explore, change, and fly.
Creative Direction + Muse: Kelly Wang Shanahan (@theziran)
Questions: Lucien Shapiro (@lucienshapiro)
Studio Photography: Brad Trone (@bradtrone)
Patchwork Tapestry Photography: Victor Yanez-Lazcano (@yanezlazcano)
Shot in April and July, Roswell, New Mexico. 2023.