By Rachael Lovette
Meet the designer behind the slow and sustainable fashion brand, Zenpui - occupying (in my opinion) the most important niche of the fashion arena.
If you were to describe Anielis Raas, you’d reach for the most genuine adjectives – kind, warm-hearted, passionate, and unassuming, as she has been described by everyone, from TV news anchors and former models to everyone in between. A certain affability and solace emanate from her, that isn’t just in her warm smile that made us (or at least me) gravitate towards her during our first meeting.
Her creations evoke vintage silhouettes and are the way she speaks to the world. Each item (fashion and jewelry) is handcrafted and made from upcycled materials, so not only do the designs tell a story, but the process and materials do, as well. That same distinctive style is mimicked in the way she approaches life.
Thank you for doing this! Tell me a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Venezuela. I was going to be an electric engineer, but I made a trip to the south of Venezuela, which changed my perspective of life. I decided to move to a mountain town, where I discovered I needed to explore the arts. I found jewelry making, I developed more techniques and I moved to Costa Rica, where I learned more advanced contemporary jewelry making. After my time there was over, I moved to Houston, TX where I found fashion design, then I moved to the Pacific Northwest where I developed more business skills and here I am!
How did you get started?
When I decided to explore art forms, I was also in a process of self-discovery. I was studying holistic therapies parallel to that discovery and one of the tools we had was using crystals to maintain a vibration that could lead us to deep change. Wearing crystals or using them helps us maintain a different vibration and frequency, after all, minerals have been here for longer than we have. I started wire wrapping stones and crystals for my classmates and eventually clients.
How did you come by your brand name?
In a conversation with my friend Vicente. We were talking about how I felt when creating and how that was a way I found peace and connection to divinity. We continued to talk about places and things that evoke that and the land of Tepuis came into the mix. I expressed that I liked that word, it means the house of the gods, but I didn’t want to appropriate the name, brainstorming we made up a word, Zenpui.
What is the main idea behind Zenpui?
To invite others to find what makes them happy, to be intentional. That’s why I attach a meaning, an affirmation, a blessing to every piece I create and that’s a way that I can expand on that connection to divinity I experience when I create.
How important is sustainability for you and your work as a designer?
Very, the land that changed my perspective of life is full of natural beauty but also minerals that in the process of removal rip the earth from its beauty. I love rivers, mountains, landscapes and the preservation of them is essential for life. I see a disconnect between our way of life as a collective and our very nature, using natural materials gets us closer to that. I use recycled metals, ethically sourced gemstones and I’m moving towards using minerals found in the region. For apparel, I use organic cotton and hemp blends, silks, wool, some synthetics but only deadstock, surplus, thrift, or repurposed fabrics. I use as much of the materials as possible and there’s minimal waste.
Where are you trying to take sustainable fashion in the future? What are your goals for Zenpui?
I want to continue to produce in-house, no matter the size of my business and with this retail concept I’m launching, I want to take it to other places.
What kind of people do you want to reach with your brand and clothing?
People who care and that don’t want to sacrifice style to follow their values.
What do you want people to know about Zenpui?
That it’s ever-evolving and every piece I create has a piece of my soul and heart into it.
What has been the biggest struggle or hurdle faced for you and Zenpui?
A permanent place to showcase my work, it is online along with the sea of products out there and I’ve noticed that people connect to my work differently when they feel the power in person and get the message it brings. Another one is access to capital, it’s not a given, even with years dedicated to the craft and a proven commitment, I’ve found it difficult. I’ve worked with non-traditional financial institutions, but they mostly support equipment purchases and not expenses related to space, purchasing inventory, hiring help, advertising, all of those things that at some point a business needs to grow. I keep another job to reduce uncertainty and I love what I do, but at the same time, it drives me away from creating more.
What would surprise people about you? Zenpui?
That I decided to open a storefront this year! The storefront hosts Zenpui’s creative area and other eco-conscious brands, artisan goods, and powerful art. It has a different name to encompass this new concept, it’s called Moonatic™ and it's located at 1458 NE Alberta St Portland, OR. Those interested in checking it out can make appointments for in-store visits as well as virtual ones on this link.
Would you say that your creative approach and the way you design has changed much over the years?
It has changed a lot. When I lived in the valley, my living room was my sewing area and my spare room/jewelry-making area. My house was my creative space, this year I moved to Portland and now I’m creating a space outside my home. As far as the process goes, I achieved a level of intuition with both jewelry and apparel, that I can let myself go and cut a piece of fabric or design as I build a piece of jewelry without a previous plan. I find materials that I like and I let them guide me.
Favorite piece in your jewelry line? Favorite garment?
I have a ring I wear every day, I forged two bands that have a different shape, soldered them together, and set a stone in tension. I changed the stone at least 3 times, but the last time was in 2013. My favorite garment is a wool sweater dress I made when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. It's beautiful, cozy, and comfortable, I wear it from fall to spring and I intend to create more like it.
What era inspires your style in terms of fashion statements?
I have to go with the late 60s early 70s. The silhouettes are simple and I would say that was the last era that was defined by the silhouette type, hemp lengths, necklines, after that it becomes all over the place. That’s also the time when synthetics had a huge boom, part of which I regret we did.
Do you think fashion has a strong impact on people? How can fashion make a positive change in society?
It does, I think it’s funny that fashion tends to be superficial because it is about our image, but to me, our image is an extension of who we are. We don’t think about where things come from too much, it has been more of a conversation in recent years. If we realize that our image is made up of forced labor, detrimental practices to the environment, fierce competition, and disposable culture, would we own that it’s an extension of who we are? If we see it that way, I think we’d slow down and value things differently, then fashion becomes more intentional, our image, our style, the expression of who we are becomes more genuine and that’s a force of change.
Tell me about the creative space you recently launched. Why did you choose to launch it now? What can we expect from it?
I was going full steam into events this year and they started to get canceled. I needed to find a place for my studio outside of the home because I didn’t have the space I did in the valley. On that search, I started noticing storefronts opening up and I found a great place where I could create and showcase not only my work but the work of others that I find beautiful and have similar values to mine.
You can expect a lot of moons, the jewelry I make with all its blessings as well as apparel, some pieces that are one size, one fabric because they were fabrics I found in limited quantities. There is curated fashion that’s classic, season-less, comfortable, stylish, and sustainable, as well accessories, artisan goods from all over the US, powerful art, regional stones, air plants. It’s everything I love!
What draws you to engage with other creatives?
The infinite ability we have to create, to form our way of creating, and the diverse nature of creation. I think creativity is inherently human and it’s fascinating.
Aside from the creative space, what’s next? Fashion Week? New collection? Spill.
I’ll be creating in my space piece by piece. I’m going to share my work differently, as I create it, rather than by collections. After all, my pieces are season-less, timeless, classic with a twist and they go well together. One day I’ll look back at my work and it’ll be a lifetime collection, just what I intuitively created throughout the years, no fashion calendar, just the creative process.
From making conscientious choices to work with environmentally friendly materials to rallying local designers in Portland to help provide PPE’s for essential medical workers at the start of the COVID19 pandemic, Ani has taken dramatic steps to make a difference. She draws inspiration from everywhere (including the moon and crystals), and as a fan of both her brand and mystical things I’ve found myself leaning hard into the sustainable niche. I’m excited to see what’s next for Zenpui, Ani, and most importantly introduce them both to the world.
Check out more of Ani’s fashion and jewelry designs on her website: www.zenpui.com
Stay up to date on what Zenpui is doing on Instagram: www.instagram.com/zenpui
Rachael Lovette is the Digital Director at Flower Bomb Media with a passion for everything K-Pop, fashion, model advocacy, and pop culture. Follow her on Instagram @kindofvoguish.