Long strips of flower patterned silk are laid out on grass.

Kelly Wang Shanahan: Designer and Owner of Ziran

The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Kelly Wang Shanahan to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.  

#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?

Kelly Wang Shanahan: We are solving a variety of problems, including: fast fashion, lack of cultural identity, and inclusiveness in fashion. Ziran is a slow fashion brand that exclusively uses a sustainable, all natural silk from China called Xiang Yun Sha. We are the first and only ones using this silk outside of Asia. The silk has been made for 500 years in one town. It is anti-­microbial, wrinkle­-resistant, and nourishes the skin. No harsh chemicals are used and the silk is only made four months out of the year. We import the silk from China and produce everything locally in Los Angeles. We work with small family run businesses and all of our materials (buttons, packaging, etc), are eco-­friendly. Fast fashion isn’t just for big, mass brands like H&M or Zara—luxury brands also fall victim to this mentality of waste and overconsumption.

#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?

KWS: I realized our innovation was a breakthrough before I even started making clothes. I knew no ­one else was using the silk. We are still the only ones.

#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?

KWS: Because the silk is only made four months out of the year (if it’s a rainy summer season the silk cannot be made), there are limitations on the production of the silk. This was an unexpected obstacle as we are aligned with the traditional fashion schedule—the silk does not work on this schedule. This means we need to plan and create our products far in advance.

#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?

KWS: I am inspired by my mother, Mother Nature, and preserving cultural heritage. The silk, and what we do, is very special to me and sharing it with others inspires me to keep going. I feel immense pride and joy when people first experience, touch, or wear the silk. They invariably scream in delight and note how our silk is unlike anything else on the market. It’s really special.

#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?

KWS: I am not an influencer, I am not wealthy, and I don’t know people in the fashion industry. I am carving my own path. I hope that young women coming behind me realize they can carve their own paths too—that taking small, conscious steps toward realizing their dreams IS possible and achievable. It takes dedication and passion. Also, to speak up, share their ideas, and collaborate with others. Spread the word, open your heart, and put in the work.

#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?

KWS: Women are the gatekeepers of everything! Women offer a unique perspective in creativity and business. We are so important to pushing the envelope and moving culture forward. We hold the keys.

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Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.