zizi li sen by zizi


When talking to fellow creatives, we often wonder: HOW DO THEY DO IT? To prevent Instagram stalking or doom-scrolling to figure out their secret sauces and success stories, we prefer to ask them face-to-face. Today: an unfiltered conversation with ZIZI LI, FOUNDER of SEN BY ZIZI. Cover photo: courtesy of Zizi Li


Sketching by the lotus pond in her mother’s hometown, Chengdu, in the summer breeze when she was 9 formed the solid basis for the career Zizi Li, founder of SEN BY ZIZI, she was about to pursue. Back then, she had no clue about the direction in which her life was heading. “I was preparing for my Gong-bi painting, a traditional Chinese watercolor style I’ve been practicing for over two decades. It ties me to my heritage. ” There, in the serene setting, she felt deeply connected to her roots, the healing beauty of nature, and the purpose of sharing the meditative feeling with others in the future.

Also, read Leo Lin: “Working 6 months for a fashion show of 8 minutes fascinates me endlessly”


The years went by, and Li developed herself into an Ikebana artist and certified teacher. She flies the world to host workshops where she guides others through the active meditation of Ikebana flower arrangement. “It’s a form of meditation that began as a Buddhist ritual thousands of years ago, where monks offered floral arrangements at the altar to honor the Buddha and the spirits. Ikebana sits at the unique cross-section between wellness, art, and culture.” Her talent, drive, and passion didn’t go unnoticed; besides her work being featured in multiple magazines, she collaborated with Soho House and many reclaimed fashion houses. It’s hard to catch Li due to her frequent business trips. It made her swear by slow morning rituals, setting the tone for a busy day ahead.

Please walk us through an average morning of yours.

“I begin my day by opening the window to let in fresh air and brewing a Chinese herbal tea. I enjoy it in bed while I let my body wake up to the natural light and the sounds of birds chirping. Then, I have a skincare ritual which involves gua sha, a Chinese medicine technique for improving blood circulation and restoring balance to the body.”

How do you stay present? 

“Staying present doesn’t come naturally to me since I’m a dreamer. I think that’s why the focus of Gong-bi painting when I was little resonated with me; I could paint for hours on end in one sitting, losing sight of time, one brushstroke after another. Using my hands to create things always brings me into the moment. Anything that engages my senses helps me stay present; that’s why being in nature is so incredible.”

What has driven you to start Sen by Zizi? 

“Painting Gong-bi for hours on end during my childhood became my form of meditation, allowing me to listen to nature and tune in with the seasons. It provided me immense peace when I needed it most – like finding an oasis in the desert. I’ve longed to share this experience with others and decided to become certified in the art of Ikebana to bring this same connection to people through 1–2-hour sessions. Once I became a teacher, my friends expressed interest in learning from me. Within the first month of becoming a teacher, I had over 100 students, and in a little over a year, I’ve had the privilege of hosting workshops in 8 countries at venues and brands like Soho House, Remedy Place, and Sulwhasoo.”

Zizi Li

Why should people engage in Ikebana? 

“Ikebana is about connection. I feel that more and more people long to connect with nature, seeking to tune out and reconnect with themselves and each other. Arranging flowers through observing, cutting, angling, and placing them brings us into the moment by engaging our senses of sight, touch, smell, and sound. At SEN, our experiences accompany Matcha from Kyoto, where I grew up, which rounds out the fifth sense of taste.”

How do you generate ideas and bring them to life?

“Being a visual person, I’ve always had the vision of my goals and aspirations appear in my mind’s eye. Coupled with my passion for the things I love—whether it’s a color, feeling, or scent—I feel like I’ve naturally manifested things through their repetition in my mind. Also, I tend to speak openly about my dreams and share them with others; it has opened many doors for me. In return, whenever I can connect with someone or open a door for them, I always do. I believe in this harmonious flow of energy, much like the balance of Yin and Yang. Essentially, it’s about practicing gratitude, which has helped me bring ideas to life in one way or another.”

What hiccups have you experienced along the way? 

“Having spent a decade in corporate roles at Chanel, Christie’s, and Deloitte Consulting across New York, London, and Tokyo before launching SEN, I’ve gained invaluable experience managing projects and people across various industries. Encountering all sorts of hiccups has been a real learning experience, helping me avoid repeating the same in my own company. Working across different cultures and industries has reinforced my belief that people want to be seen, heard, and valued, regardless of who they are. At SEN, we ensure that our guests feel valued by holding space for them to bring their full selves to our Ikebana meditation. After all, there’s nothing more valuable than presence.”

Zizi Li

What’s the best part of doing the work you do? 

“Being able to pursue what I love every day is the most fulfilling feeling in my life. Knowing that all the challenges I’ve overcome in the last decade have led me to open SEN gives me a lot of inner confidence and the courage to dream big. Each session, I’m moved by how my passion for Eastern tradition, flowers, and their healing beauty can resonate with people from different cultures because we’re all from nature and more alike than we are different.”

Is there a moment in your career that you’ll never forget?

“Our Ikebana workshop during Mother’s Day at Soho House was a deeply moving experience. Seeing the mother and daughter duos connect through Ikebana reminded me of my mother, who is currently in Japan. It was a full circle moment for me because the Gongbi painting I pursued to connect with her hometown and my heritage ultimately brought me worldwide to share Ikebana with others.”

What’s the most inspiring place you’ve ever visited? 

“My mother’s hometown of Chengdu. When I landed, it just felt familiar to me. It’s said that our DNA recognizes our motherland, and I felt that. That’s why I was moved to study abroad for a year there when I was 16, to fundraise for earthquake site kids through my paintings. It’s a city that’s given me so much, from my mother to Gong-bi painting to the Shu Xiu embroidery that my mom educated me on, which is how I choose my Kimonos, to know that art can be of use to others through the foundation I set up. It’s so rich in history and culture that I can draw inspiration from it for a lifetime, and it wouldn’t be enough. It’s also very comfortable for me because I speak the dialect fluently, and because my voice is quite low, it rolls off my tongue so effortlessly, and it is my preferred language to speak among English, Japanese, and Mandarin.”

What are you most proud of? 

“I’m most proud that I’ve been able to draw various elements from my first love of flowers and Gong-bi painting, as well as the entrepreneurial skills I picked up along the way in my corporate experience at Chanel, Christie’s, and Deloitte Consulting across New York, London, and Tokyo, to preserve the tradition of Ikebana flower arrangement by providing workshop experiences through SEN. A close friend once said that SEN was the essence of who I am, making me feel seen.”

Zizi Li

What’s currently on your vision board?

“Sharing the beauty of Ikebana with a broader audience. I’ve been told my voice is rather soothing, so I’m curious about exploring other mediums like podcasts or longer video formats to spread Ikebana mediation across more cultures. Honestly, with the support and love of everyone, I’ve managed to clear so much from the vision board that I’m renewing it, which is very exciting.”

What excites you most about the future?

“I’m excited about the celebration and recognition of the multihyphenate lifestyle. I like the idea that people are no longer being put into boxes or feeling the need to belong to anyone because if I had limited myself to any box, SEN wouldn’t have been born. Without my curiosity and love of nature, I wouldn’t have started exploring, and without my drawing background – I had worked with pastels, oils, Western watercolor, and pencil by the time I was 9 – I wouldn’t have been able to learn Gong-bi painting so quickly and find it enjoyable right away. Practicing solitude from a young age through painting gave me a strong sense of purpose, connected me to my ancestors, and instilled the discipline and peace of mind I needed during hardship. I used my painting portfolio to apply for Parsons in New York, where I studied business. Without my corporate experience at Chanel, Christie’s, and Deloitte Consulting across New York, London, and Tokyo, I wouldn’t know how to curate experiences that resonate with our generation.”

“That’s why I named my company SEN, which means ‘1000’ in Kanji characters. It comes from a poem about Yuan Fen, a deeply embedded Eastern philosophy about the universe’s natural affinities or energy that connects us. The poem expresses that hundreds of thousands of rebirths must occur for an encounter, highlighting how special each encounter is.”

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