In the earliest years of this company, Natalie Chanin was a “design team” of one—one person to dream and research and sketch and make. While she was lucky to have a talented team to consult with (people like Diane Hall and Steven Smith), the heavy lifting was done by a single person. As Alabama Chanin grew and expanded our reach, Natalie carefully assembled a talented team of people who understood the company’s mission and vision, and who had the imagination to see where and how we could grow. Our design team is now a collective of individuals who take a collaborative approach to making and who challenge one another in the best possible ways. Natalie Chanin remains our lead designer, but she now works closely with Erin Reitz, Margaret May, and Olivia Sherif to create our collections and plan for the future.
Our team has developed a symbiotic relationship where each person relies upon and is driven and inspired by the others. Erin is based out of Charleston where she starts building many of our design concepts, and about once a month she travels to the Factory to work on-site; she works closely with Natalie to develop our collections, garment concepts, and to plan how to execute each idea. Margaret manages a good deal of our day-to-day processes—creating patterns, developing samples, problem solving, and offering logistical direction on the production side. She oversees our Building 14 production team that includes Sue, Luda, and Victoria—valuable team members who are creating the products on the sewing machines. Olivia works in research and development, particularly with stencil designs, and is currently managing production of our Patagonia scarf collaboration with Nina.
One of the most essential questions that we always seek to address—through research and when creating processes—is “why”? Why does this product fit within our value set? Why does it improve upon what we are doing? Why is it important? We are storytellers in every way, and no story is well told without logic. A truly collaborative team can effectively communicate and challenge one another and look for new and meaningful perspectives on how to tell our stories. Each member of our design team has things in common but has her own style and sensibility. Our design environment also encourages creative freedom, innovation, and exploration because our feedback process is built upon organic growth and critical thinking, rather than fear or uncertainty. By building trust, we build a better product and a better brand.
These last years have been instrumental in the company’s growth because—through our growing design team—we have seen that how we make informs what we make. Our design and production teams work so closely together because our communication processes are fluid. Though we have team members who are dedicated to design work and others who focus on production, the integration of those functions is nearly seamless. Alabama Chanin’s employees and design team are the watchdogs of our brand. Their work ensures that the things we make truly represent who we are.
Our design team—part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.