Shen's designer, Mary-Ellen, has been in the industry for over 25 years. Throughout that time she has seen the idea of sustainability come into vogue in an industry that used to care more about the runway than the environment. Fortunately, that’s changing rapidly and knowing the story behind the fabrics is becoming just as important as the fit of a garment, it certainly always has been for Shen’s designs.
For Mary-Ellen, sustainability involves considering the entire design process from sourcing fabrics and trims, to the use of dyes, through to the ultimate needs of those who wear the garments: "As much as possible Shen uses natural fibres that are biodegradable. With a limited range and supply of affordable natural fabric in Aotearoa New Zealand we use it as much as we can. Whether sourced locally or offshore, knowing where our fabrics are from and how their production will impact on the environment is part of the design.”
Shen’s new kimono collection has been developed using sustainable silk. Sourced from Mr Shen (the name is a wonderful coincidence) Mr Shen has been producing silk in his home region of Jiangsu, China for over forty years. His silks are grown, woven, dyed and printed in-house to Bluesign certification. Bluesign is a holistic system that provides solutions in sustainable processing and manufacturing. It is based on strict criteria, to support the company specifically in its sustainable development.
All Shen kimonos are made by a local manufacturer, Leon, from Ming Fashion in West Auckland. Mary-Ellen has been working with Leon for nearly 20 years.
Using local suppliers and skilled contractors where possible, Shen has small production runs, including making one-off garments. One constant for Shen is that thoughtful, sustainable design and fabric choices help both the environment and people involved in the process from manufacturing to wearing the garments.
For Mary-Ellen, fabric has always come first, "A considered choice of fabric can give great longevity to a garment. Producing well-made garments that will endure as ‘keepers’ that will be worn and loved for many years helps Shen play its wider role in the industry, reducing negative impacts on the environment. Some of Mary-Ellen's pieces are treasured for decades.
In a world of ever-growing fast fashion, Shen takes the slow considered approach. Mary-Ellen seeks to know the story of every thread in her garments and her customers share stories of how many times they enjoy wearing Shen pieces, year after year.