Tag Archives: Cotton

ALABAMA CHANIN - THE CLEAN TEE - 1

THE CLEAN TEES: MODERN MANUFACTURING

Florence, Alabama, was known as the “T-Shirt Capital of the World” during its prime as a textile manufacturing center during the 1980s and 1990s. (If you are new to the Journal, read back here, here, and here to learn more about that history.) Our team in Bldg. 14—part of the Alabama Chanin Family of Businesses—works to not only preserve that history but to tell a new story of modern manufacturing in our community and in the United States.

Our design and production team in Bldg. 14 has been working for over a year—sourcing fabrics, creating samples, and testing fits to bring you The Clean Tees.

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The Clean Tees are created using the same quality standards and local, ethical manufacturing practices we utilize in the Alabama Chanin Collection. The T-shirts are unisex styles, for women and men alike. Expect a relaxed fit, straight cut, and longer length. ­­­

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We’ve created three styles: Classic, Crew, and Ringer—each with their own unique details. These styles are available in two fabric types: Super-soft 7’s and Varsity weight.

Our new Super-soft 7’s organic cotton fabric is a knit jersey that falls in between our lightweight (4.76 ounces) and medium-weight (9.8 ounces). At 7 – 7.5 ounces per linear yard, this fabric feels like your favorite worn-in T-shirt. It is soft to touch and moves well with you. It is made from 100% certified organic cotton that is grown and spun overseas, and knit and dyed in California. We’ve carefully sourced it to provide another sustainable option in our rotation of organic fabrics.

If you are familiar with Alabama Chanin, you likely know our signature 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey. It’s the fabric that we’ve sourced for over a decade from farmers in Texas. The weight of this knit jersey, referred to as Varsity weight for our Crew and Ringer T-shirts, is 9.8 ounces per linear yard, giving it a sturdy and heavier feel for a T-shirt; it often referred to as “heavy weight” in the industry, though we call it medium-weight. It is made from 100% certified organic cotton that is grown in Texas, spun in North Carolina, knit and dyed in South Carolina— proudly grown-to-sewn in the US.

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The Classic Tee

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The Crew Tee

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The Ringer Tee

Shop The Clean Tees in the Bldg. 14 section of our website and learn more about our manufacturing initiatives, services, and partners.

P.S. – Our T-shirts are styled with American-made cone denim jeans from Imogene + Willie—a kindred company that also values the beauty of design, craftsmanship, and American manufacturing. Dress shoes are by Freda Salvador, who designs in California and handmakes their shoes in Spain.

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ALABAMA-CHANIN-SUPPLY-CHAIN-AND-DIY-UPDATES

SUPPLY CHAIN + DIY KIT COLLECTION UPDATES

One of our top priorities at The School of Making and Alabama Chanin is to be honest and transparent about our processes. On Tuesday, we posted about supply chain issues we’ve had in the past due to increased demand and decreased supply of our organic cotton. Last year, our cotton farmers in Texas faced challenges due to inconsistent temperatures and unpredictable weather which caused a decreased supply. Increased demand and decreased supply mean higher cost of goods. Last year, we raised the price of our 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey, but there are some areas that have not been adjusted, including our DIY Kits.

On Monday, February 19th, the prices of our DIY kits will experience a slight increase to reflect the rising cost of organic cotton—through the weekend you’ll find our DIY Kits (collection and custom) available at its current pricing. On Monday, we will also be retiring a number of kits and adding new DIY Collection Kits as well as updating this section for spring—including the silhouettes from our 2017 Build a Wardrobe as well as a selection of kits designed to accompany our new Craftsy class (launching in the coming weeks).

Shop our DIY Kits here, and look for “Last Chance” in the top right-hand corner of the photo on the kits page to indicate what’s going away. But don’t worry—you’ll still be able to order anything from our current collection through Custom DIY at our new prices if you miss out.

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MADE WITH LOVE. MADE BY US.

This Valentine’s Day, plan a night in—our Leisure Collection makes lounging comfortable, stylish, and sustainable. Dare we say you might even wear some of the garments out into the world.

We’ve designed undergarments and layering styles like our tank, boyshorts, and a long sleep dress in soft organic cotton rib-knit and a cozy cardigan, turtleneck, robe, and “thermals” in a plush waffle fabric. The fabric weights complement themselves to keep you warm.

And set the scene at home with glassware from The Shelter Collection and our organic cotton jersey napkins.

Shop our Valentine’s Gift Guide for sustainably and ethically made gifts. Proudly designed and Made in the USA.

ALABAMA CHANIN – NEW: DESIGN STACKS

NEW: DESIGN STACKS

We officially retired our Fat Eighths last year to make room for new and improved design tools to use in your studio at home. Today, we launch the Design Stack in Basic and Painted versions—available in 5” square or 10” x 16” sample block sizes—with 25 swatches that include one of each color from our Organic Cotton Color Card. The Painted Design Stack is available with our Magdalena stencil design in either tonal or metallic paint.

ALABAMA CHANIN – NEW: DESIGN STACKS

While we’ve always had color cards available for our Organic Cotton Jersey, this new format gives you larger pieces of fabric to use as you design your next project. Use the 5” Design Stack along with our Project Planner Worksheets as you plan out fabric and paint colors for your next handmade garment. The 10” x 16” Design Stack is perfect for testing out an embroidery technique on a small scale before applying it to a full project. This size also works perfectly with our Headers and Binders for keeping your swatches neatly organized in your very own swatch library. Or if you’d like for your completed swatches to be on display, use them to make a book cover, pillow, tote bag, clutch, or other small projects—or save them all and use them to make a colorful quilt.

Visit our website to purchase your own Basic or Painted Design Stack (or both) along with other supplies for designing and making at home.

SUPPLY CHAIN (+ DYE HOUSE) UPDATE

One of the challenges of running a company dedicated to sustainability is adjusting to the ebbs and flows of other small businesses in our supply chain—businesses that are devoted to sustainable practices themselves. Sadly for us, one of those companies has closed its doors after almost 20 years of operation. North Carolina-based Tumbling Colors, our dye house since 2008, worked with Natalie and the Alabama Chanin design team on color development for all of our fabrics. They dyed small batches of our 100% organic cotton jersey with low-impact dyes, producing custom colors for our Collections and DIY. To Chuck and the rest of the Tumbling Colors team: we have thoroughly enjoyed doing business with you.

Beginning last month, Green Textile, located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, became our dedicated dye house. We have employed them as our knitters since 2006 and now they will also be dyeing our fabric with the same low-impact processes we are used to.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SUPPLY CHAIN (+ DYE HOUSE) UPDATE

As a small business ourselves, we’re always navigating the challenges of supply and demand. Last fall, a portion of cotton was contaminated, lowering our stock of 100% organic cotton. Since then, we have been working to build up our stock. With recent changes in dyehouses, our stock in colors has been substantially reduced, and much of our fabric is currently low stock or backordered (as noted on the color cards). We appreciate everyone’s patience, and we are diligently working to match our supply with our demand.

If there is a fabric color you’d like to order that we currently stock, we encourage you to make your purchase now. We’ll have more updates soon and a lot of new DIY offerings in the coming months. Be sure to check back on our Journal and subscribe to our mailing list for the most up-to-date news.

Purchase our 100% medium-weight organic cotton jersey colors here.

SUPPLY CHAINS: A COMMITMENT TO COTTON

According to Wikipedia, supply chain is defined as “a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer.” At Alabama Chanin we strive to responsibly produce quality, sustainable products—at every level of the supply chain. We believe that responsibility means transparency and understanding where each material comes from and whose hands it touches before it arrives to the end consumer. For over a decade, we have worked tirelessly to secure a supply chain that is, as much as is humanly possible, Made in the USA.

With events like the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, consumers are asking questions about how and where their clothes are made. We’ve noticed an increase in emails, phone calls, and questions about our 100% organic cotton jersey fabric—and we welcome those questions. In response, we have compiled all the information here. Each time we take a closer look into our supply chain, we discover something new. This is the projected course of our supply chain in the best case scenario, which is often altered by Mother Nature. Unfortunately, there are always circumstances out of our control, so we share this information with that in mind. As of 2016, this is every step of the supply chain for our medium-weight cotton jersey—from Texas, to the Carolinas, to Alabama.

SUPPLY CHAINS: A COMMITMENT TO COTTON

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ALABAMA COTTON REVISITED

A warm “thank you” to Debbie Elliott and everyone at National Public Radio for their story about our collaboration with Billy Reid on Alabama grown cotton.

And, thank you to K.P. and Katy McNeill, Erin Dailey, and Lisa and Jimmy Lenz—they all know how to dream big (and work hard to get there).

If you haven’t heard this piece yet, you can listen online here.

REVIVING A SOUTHERN INDUSTRY, FROM COTTON FIELD TO CLOTHING RACK
National Public Radio, October 10, 2014

You’ve probably heard of “farm to table,” but how about “field to garment”? In Alabama, acclaimed fashion houses Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid have a new line of organic cotton clothing made from their own cotton field.

It’s not just an experiment in keeping production local; it’s an attempt to revive the long tradition of apparel-making in the Deep South. North Alabama was once a hub for textile manufacturing, with readily available cotton and access to cheap labor. But the industry all but disappeared after NAFTA became law, as operations moved overseas.

Now, Sue Hanback is again working a sewing machine in a cavernous building that was once part of the biggest cut-and-sew operation in Florence, Ala.

“I’m gonna five-thread this shirt,” she explains, stitching cuffs onto an organic-cotton sweatshirt.

Hanback was last laid off in 2006 when this was a T-shirt factory. Her husband worked in the dye house. She’s been a seamstress all her life.

“Ever since I was 18 years old,” Hanback says. “So that was like, 48 years.”

ALABAMA COTTON REVISITED

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HOMEGROWN COTTON

Two years ago this week, we were picking organic Alabama cotton. Today, The New York Times – T Magazine shares that journey. Thank you (and a BIG hug) to Rinne Allen for taking this journey with us.

From Rinne:

“Two years ago, I found myself knee-deep in a field in rural Alabama, picking organic cotton by hand. A few hundred other pickers were there too, bent over the rows of white cotton with bags at their hip, repeating the same hand-to-plant-to-bag motion over and over again. It was a picking party hosted by Natalie Chanin, the founder and creative director of the clothing line Alabama Chanin, and the fashion designer Billy Reid to celebrate and harvest their first homegrown, organic cotton crop.”

More here: Homegrown Cotton

A GIANT thank you to our entire community, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and the legions of friends, family, and perfect strangers who came to help.

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ALABAMA ORGANIC COTTON - PHOTO RINNE ALLEN

 

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Passion. It takes passion to make a difference. When you truly want something, you find a way to make it happen, naysayers be damned. In the moments when it seems your project is doomed for failure, you carry on. You learn to ask for help and to count your blessings. Our organic Alabama cotton is a story of passion.

Our company is built on the concepts of sustainability, ethical production, and using American-made and local resources. Organic materials are an integral part of our mission and our goals. Though sourcing organic materials is easier than when we began working over a decade ago, it is still difficult to obtain American-made organic materials in the quantity that we require.

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SUPPLY AND DEMAND: LIGHTWEIGHT FABRIC

We all understand the basic principles of supply and demand. In a perfect world, the two work in balance, supply always meeting the demand, one never exceeding or disappointing the other. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and as with any product driven business, there are occasional supply issues. Over the years, we have experienced one of those challenges with our lightweight cotton jersey.

In the past, we have struggled with stocking our lightweight cotton jersey in Black. It has been our most popular color, particularly for our Alabama Chanin Basics.  And we’ve learned that the supply chain is not so simple. It’s actually quite complicated, so we asked Phillip Glover, Vice President of Green Textile, from whom we buy all of our cotton jersey, to answer a couple questions and help us better understand supply chain issues.

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NATURALLY COLORED COTTON AND SALLY FOX

Here is a bit of information that may surprise you: not all cotton is white cotton. If you are like me, you may not have always known that natural cotton comes in plenty of hues. In fact, there were originally shades of cotton that ranged from many tones of brown, to dark green, to brown, black, red, and blue. These varieties of cotton were widely used by Native American peoples and, occasionally, those who were enslaved and tenant families were allowed to grow small plots of colored cotton because plantation owners considered it worthless. Colored cotton became obscure because farmers and manufacturers believed it too difficult to work with due to its short staple length, which makes the cotton problematic to spin. As a result, the varieties of colored cotton have dwindled. The Central Institute for Cotton Research in India has cultivated 6,000 varieties of cotton, only 40 of which are colored.

The white cotton we primarily see now was created by planting mono-crop, or only one variety of cotton. This type of cotton requires more pesticides than other varieties and the dyeing of this cotton is a massive cause of land and water pollution (not to mention its human impact). According to the ECO360 Trust, nearly 20% of all industrial water pollution results from textile dyeing and production methods. They have discovered at least 72 toxic chemicals that are present in our water system purely due to textile dyeing.

NATURAL COTTON COLORS SALLY FOX

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PICK 5: A RECIPE FOR CHANGE

I’ve written before about the importance of organic cotton and the residual chemical damage traditional cotton leaves behind in our land and our bodies. As many of you know, we planted and raised our own organic cotton here in Alabama last summer, and every Alabama Chanin product is made with 100% organic cotton. We are a sustainable design company, making as much use of everything we have so that we throw away very, very little. Cotton scraps become pulls for tying hair or curtains, smaller pieces are reworked into something larger. In honor of Earth Day this coming Monday, we’ve taken the EPA Pick 5 challenge to go a little deeper and consider some ways cotton can be reworked into our daily routines.

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NOP AND GOTS

As readers of our journal, many of you have read about our attempts to grow organic cotton here in Alabama. While researching the process and details of what it means to grow organic cotton, we discovered, to our surprise, that only a small amount of the world’s organic cotton is grown in the United States. We are part of an effort to change that, as are other companies, like Zkano. We must ask the questions – What makes cotton organic? Who makes the rules? And who regulates the whole system?

A food or agricultural product can be labeled as organic, meaning that it was inspected and met the USDA’s established regulations for organic products. Organic products cannot be grown using chemical fertilizers or any type of genetic engineering, among other criteria.  The National Organic Program (NOP) oversees all organic crops, including raw cotton fibers. While food crops and products must meet very rigid requirements to be labeled as organic, the same does not hold true for fibers or the products made with those fibers. While the NOP makes rules and manages the process of certifying cotton fiber as organic, it doesn’t make any rules about what happens to the fiber after it has been harvested.

NOP AND GOTS

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COTTON UPDATE

It’s been a busy past few months for Alabama Chanin. Shortly after our cotton picking party and field day came our biggest Black Friday sale, then the holidays, our Garage Sale, Craftsy launch, travels to Los Angeles, the Texas Playboys visit to Florence, and much more in between. All the while, we’ve been making headway with our Alabama cotton project.

Almost a year after we planted our cotton seed in the ground, we would like to share another update about our special crop. We are certain many of you – especially those who helped in the field – will be interested in its progress.

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YOU CAN’T FAKE FASHION (PART 2)

In 2005, I was inducted into The Council of Fashion Designers of America.  Long before that time (and during my days as a stylist in Europe), I didn’t really know what the CFDA was (or did). However, the organization was founded in 1962 by Eleanor Lambert as a not-for-profit trade organization to support American womenswear, menswear, jewelry, and accessory designers. Today, the CFDA consists of over 400 members across the nation (we have 2 from Alabama). Their mission statement has grown to reflect a desire to “advance artistic and professional standards within the fashion industry, establish and maintain a code of ethics and practices of mutual benefit in professional, public, trade relations, promote and improve understanding and appreciation of the fashion arts through leadership in quality and taste, and to support the overall growth of American fashion as a global industry.”

Some of the programs growing out of this agency include the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for which Alabama Chanin was a finalist in 2009 and which Billy Reid (the other CFDA member in the state of Alabama) won in 2010. Other programs include CFDA Fashion Awards, Made in Midtown, and the great {Fashion Incubator} program, among many others.

YOU CAN'T FAKE FASHION

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2012: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

It’s the time of year when most of us start to look back at the past year to take stock and plan for the next. As a company, Alabama Chanin is no different. With a lot of help from our friends, we’ve brought the year to a (BIG) close with our first online Garage Sale.

This online event seems indicative of what an amazing year (decade) it has been. We were, quite honestly, bowled over by the outreach of support, excitement, and, well, love for what we do at Alabama Chanin.  (We will be doing it again soon. Check our events page for updates and/or join our mailing list to stay in touch.)

Looking back on the whole year, it’s staggering to see just how many projects we’ve tackled, people we’ve met, and journeys we’ve taken – all infused with the same love that we experienced during our Garage Sale. Honestly, I can hardly believe that so many things happened all in one twelve-month span. It’s been 12 (REALLY) good ones.

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GIVING THANKS

Those of you who are frequent visitors to our blog may have read about the incredible Tom Hendrix and his beautiful tribute to his great-grandmother, The Wichahpi Commemorative Wall (known around here as simply, The Wall). Tom not only built an incredible monument for his great-grandmother, but he also took the time to tell her story in his book, If the Legends Fade. All proceeds from his book benefit his great-grandmother’s people, the Yuchi Nation.

All of us here at Alabama Chanin spent some days in the last months in a cotton field, picking our organic cotton. The work is difficult, repetitive, and, at the same time beautiful in that it brings out a meditative state. Though I was hot and tired in the field, I felt a stillness much like what I’ve experienced at The Wall.  While cotton is much lighter than stone, I think I understand Tom’s mission in a way I never did before. Slowing down and being conscious of your actions can be a way to honor the past. So often we are swept up in modern convenience that it is almost impossible to appreciate the struggles our ancestors endured.

Tom, his vision, and his actions constantly inspire me. I hope that, like each stone that he places on The Wall, our work is part of something larger. I hope that our efforts create beautiful and sustainable things, while honoring those that came before us.

Many years ago, a Yuchi woman inspired Mr. Hendrix to begin this wall, saying, “One step at a time, one stone at a time. Lay a stone for every step she made…We shall pass this earth. Only the stones will remain.”

Like our ancestors, we, too, shall pass this earth. What will we leave behind?

May we each spend some time today pondering what we are thankful for and what we want to leave behind.

Giving thanks for all of you…
From all of us @ Alabama Chanin

COTTON PICKING PARTY + FIELD DAY

Alabama Chanin + Billy Reid invite you to a Cotton Picking Party and Field Day
With many thanks to our hosts Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q

Thursday, November 8th, 2012
10:00 am – 3:00 pm

Trinity, Alabama 35673


LUBBOCK, TEXAS

I’ve heard Lubbock called the cotton capital of the United States, if not the world, by a handful of people in the industry. Flying into Lubbock, I saw farmland that continued as far as the eye could see.  Once I landed, those fields became stretches of white that reached out to the horizon.

Today, thanks to Kelly Pepper and the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, I visit these fields first-hand, along with a cotton breeding facility and test nurseries. For the first time, I will meet some of the farmers who grow our organic cotton face-to-face.

I’ll have a glimpse of the hard work that (as we have learned first-hand) goes into cotton’s growth and development. I will walk through the entire process, from the field to the gins and the warehouses where it is cleaned and stored, before it travels east to the Carolinas to be spun, knit, dyed, and finally sent to our factory in Florence.

I will listen and watch and then take this information back to Alabama so we can improve our field for next year’s crop. (Yes. Next year.)

All of us at Alabama Chanin are so grateful to Kelly Pepper and the entire Texas cooperative for paving the way for the future of Alabama organic cotton.

-Erin

#ACorganic

ORGANIC COTTON + BARBEQUE PICKING

We can’t thank everyone enough for coming out to the field on Saturday to help pick (and celebrate) our organic cotton. The skies were blue; the fields were alive with eager hands; we were standing in high cotton.

Thank you to Katherine at Eggton for this beautiful film about our day.

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ALABAMA CHANIN AND BILLY REID COTTON PICKING PARTY + FIELD DAY

Tomorrow, we will meet at the cotton field with friends, colleagues, family, and community to harvest our cotton. This harvest marks an exciting moment for us in our efforts to grow a sustainable and chemical-free crop.

We intended this project as our “test field”. It has allowed us to learn more about the beautiful white fiber, the hardships of farming, and the difference organic makes. Uncertain of whether or not the Alabama soil and climate would be suitable for our cottonseed varieties, the bolls are evidence of a successful yield. We are currently waiting for staple length test results to see if the fibers can be spun into yarn, which will then be knit into jersey fabric. Continue reading

THE HEART: MADE IN AMERICA

This week our Alabama Chanin fitted dress was included (ON SALE!) for the Chris Brown curated Made Collection titled “EXPLORE  AMERICA.” If you aren’t yet familiar with the Made collection, it is worth the time to create an account and browse their site.  The company, started by Dave Schiff, Scott Prindle, and John Kieselhorst is a self-titled “movement” with an amazing mission.

The company and their simple (fantastic) idea was recently covered by the New York Times:

“The old ‘Buy American’ is get something lousy and pay more,” said Mr. Schiff, 45. Now “it’s a premium product.” All of this touches on what brand changers Partners & Spade called the “Rebranding of America.”  Alex Williams in the New York Times writes:  “Style bloggers were among the early adopters. “ ‘Made in U.S.A.’ has gone through a rebranding of sorts,” said Michael Williams, whose popular men’s style blog, A Continuous Lean, has become an online clubhouse for devotees of American-made heritage labels like Red Wing Shoes and Filson.”

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/8/12 – 9/24/12

More and more volunteers continue to visit the field. Bolls are opening by the day. In addition to weeding, we’ve begun harvesting the cotton. In the studio, we are preparing for the quickly approaching Picking Party (and field work day). Look for details soon.

I took a trip out last weekend with my daughter Maggie, my friends the Champagnes and their four kids. In just a couple of hours of laughing, talking, and picking we had a pile that amounted to almost 70 pounds and the funny thing was… it was FUN. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is fun for those of us who know we can leave in a few hours, sit down for breaks as we feel like it, and laugh with our kids while working.  There have been times in this county when “cotton work” was very different and we wanted our children to know and understand that. So, the few hours were filled with looking for bugs, talk of seeds and pods, and the life of farming. The kids were amazed to see how much cotton comes from each little boll. Our eight year old friend Joe kept saying, “Look how much was on this one!” and holding up his harvest proudly.

xoNatalie

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DIFFERENT PLACES, SAME MISSION

As a company, we are in very different places this week: New York during the height of fashion week, and Alabama during the height of cotton season.

In celebration, we take a break from our regularly scheduled blog programming to share stories from each place. Check back for updates from the city and the field.


STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 8/3/12 – 9/7/12

—–Original Message—–
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2012 8:58 AM
Subject: Re: cotton field photos

I was thinking of you this morning and took a few pictures at the cotton field so you can feel like you are here this morning.  My photos are nothing to these that you have sent, but perhaps you will like to see your cotton babies.  I am so happy you found Kacie. She gave Jimmy a business card before he left the field yesterday and gave him the most beautiful garden stakes that she had made!

I had already left the field because I was exhausted. She was a dynamo and pulled weeds on her knees in that hot humid sticky field. She didn’t seem to want any credit for what she was doing. She farms herself in Tennessee.

I just had to take her photo with my phone because I can’t believe she was there and working so hard.  I really think she is an angel.  I will make a point to go to Huntsville and see her business someday. She will always be a very important part of this little cotton field.  She left her mark on the field and in my heart.

Love,
Lisa

—–Original Message—–
Sent: Sunday, September 02, 2012 3:43 PM
Subject: Organic cotton

Hello,

I am the cotton scout assigned to north Alabama and middle Tennessee for the Boll Weevil Eradication Program (SEBWEF).  I noticed the article in Saturdays edition of Times Daily.  My interest in your cotton field is to simply place a boll weevil trap nearby, and monitor it until mid-November.

Cotton growers in the state of Alabama and the Southeast have spent millions of dollars over the past 20 years to eradicate the boll weevil from our fields.  The eradication has also reduced pesticide use dramatically, and actually saved several million in costs and increased yield.

The only way to guarantee that we do not get a re-infestation is to monitor ALL cotton that is in the eradicated zones.  We receive information from USDA each season to locate each cotton field so that we can accomplish a successful monitoring program.  I do imagine that your cotton was not reported to the local USDA Service center because of its nature, but there is a state (AL) and federal law that the cotton must be monitored.  I can take care of this easily, but there will likely be a small fee assessed by SEBWEF.

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THE HEART: THE CHRONOLOGY OF OUR COTTON FIELD

For those of you who have read about (or visited) our cotton field, we’d like to share with you its beginnings and its progress over the last months. These small bolls are more than just crops in a field; rather, they hold a fiber that has shaped the history of our community and, as we have seen in our growing process, binds our community together.

We began our search for organic (non-GMO, non-treated) cottonseed back in March. We worked with Lynda Grose and the Textile Exchange to educate ourselves about the growing process and the many details surrounding the growing of organic cotton. As we pushed forward, we were told by some farmers that March was too late into the growing season to prepare and plant crops. These “magic beans.” as we like to call the cottonseed, were proving very difficult to find. Numerous internet searches and phone calls left us wondering if this endeavor would be possible. But with the help of Kelly from the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, we successfully found a supplier in Texas.

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/4/12

Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2012 6:58 AM
Subject: It will be alright

Soggy, sopping wet Cocker Spaniels. That is what the cotton looks like right now. It is droopy and matted and dirty with rainwater and splashed mud from the storms we had.  When I was a little girl my dearest friend was a Cocker Spaniel, and he and I spent many hours wading in the creek. The creek was over knee deep for me and up to his chin and his beautiful long ears would float out beside him as we walked along in the creek. We would both be covered with sand and mud and creek water, but those times were heavenly to us. The cotton bolls that were white fluffy clouds on Sunday afternoon are a memory now.

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/3/12

Sent: Monday, September 03, 2012 6:47 AM
Subject: Dayum (Georgia word for Damn) Rain

The rain and storms yesterday evening continued to send rain until this morning.  About 5:00 am the rain was coming in waves and it sounded like the ocean.  It is odd to me that Mother Nature that gives us so much beauty,  can wave her hand and destroy so much.   Anyway,  I’ll be taking a row boat to check our little cotton field as soon as I get some coffee.  Yesterday I was picking the beautiful first bolls that have opened on each plant.  It was so light and fluffy and gorgeous.

This morning the words “as soon as it rains on the open bolls they start to deteriorate” are causing my head and my heart to ache.  In review,  lets us all remember that the little cotton field was planted May 10 and got one light rain 3 days later and then the 6 week record breaking drought in Alabama began.  The cotton struggled to grow and survive without a drop of water for 6 weeks. In the final days suddenly one night it rained 6 inches and flooded creeks in the area and roadways.  The rain brought forth giant weeds but it brought the cotton from knee high and shriveled to waist high and loaded with bolls!  Now we are faced with the fact that cotton doesn’t open out all at once.

The first blooms on the lowest branch are the first bolls to open, and then the next level (node) of branches will have their bolls open and then the next and so on.  The first bolls are the ones that receive the most nutrients and are the best.  The top of the plants have blooms that will probably be killed by frost before they ever open into cotton.  People who picked cotton always picked a field twice.  The large machinery that harvests cotton picks once and leaves a tremendous amount on the ground.

Coffee is ready;  I’ll shut up now.  I’ll keep you posted,

Love always,
Lisa
(Poet Laureate of Cotton)

P.S.: At least there were no tornadoes and everyone is okay despite the strong storms.  Keep your fingers crossed for our little field. More on the Official Picking Party coming this week. xoNatalie

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 8/30/12 (+ 8/29 too)

Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:04 AM
Subject: Our first cotton angel

Hi Everyone,

I was at the cotton field this morning when a car pulled up and a tiny young lady got out and put on her work gloves and went to work!!  She is still there working!!!  I sent a photo from my phone to your phone with her name.  Can you believe she drove from Giles County Tennessee to Lawrence County Alabama to work in the hot steamy cotton field!

She is a wonderful person.  I hope she will be in touch with you so that you can know her.  Jimmy and I were so touched that she came such a long way and is such a hard worker.  She is devoted and she is one in a million.

Love you guys,
Lisa

P.S. when I left the cotton field this morning with my pillowcase pick sack, I drove straight to the Trinity Post Office to get them to weigh my pick sack!  I walked in covered with sweat from head to toe and carrying a pillow sack with a lump of cotton in it.  I’m sure they thought I was on Meth or Crack or something.  I picked 2 pounds and 9 ounces of cotton this morning.

Don’t laugh.  Imagine bending and stooping and sweating and gnats up your nose and ants biting your legs and stinging weeds with thorns..  It ain’t pretty work, that is for sure.  Jimmy informs me that he was paid $3.00 for picking 100 pounds of cotton.  Oh my god it makes my back hurt to think about it…..

 

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A PLEA FOR COTTON

If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve read about the rollercoaster that has been our first exposure to cotton farming. Having survived the terrible drought, the cotton has been carried through the summer by equal parts rainfall and sunshine. Right now, the bolls are looking healthy, but so are the weeds. Following the organic guidelines, we did not use any chemicals to eradicate the weeds. Lisa and “friend” Jimmy have done the leg, and arm, and back work.

Last Wednesday, the Alabama Chanin staff, along with Lisa and Jimmy, made a trip to weed the field. We arrived to a daunting 6 1/2 acres of beautifully forming cotton alongside big, ugly weeds. The next few weeks are crucial to a successful harvest of the first ever organic cotton crop in North Alabama (that is, since the invention of pesticides and genetically modified seeds). Our plants need ample light, air circulation, and nutrients from the soil to continue to develop and open.  We were overjoyed when Lisa sent images on Saturday morning of the first bolls that have opened. But some of the weeds have still got to go. If this crop is to see a successful harvest, it’s going to need more help to survive and thrive.

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EcoSalon: NATALIE CHANIN ON WORKING HER OWN ORGANIC COTTON FIELD

Thanks to Amy DuFault and EcoSalon for sharing the story of our cotton on their blog today:

Last week, the Alabama Chanin team, along with friends Lisa and Jimmy, took to the organic cotton field we share with the team from Billy Reid. With rubber boots, loppers, and gloves in hand, we were there helping our organic cotton bolls survive after a long summer of drought and heat followed by excessive rain and weed growth.

We walked the rows, hoed, chopped, and pulled until the sun and heat forced us out of the field. Hard to imagine the days in Alabama heat where people were not allowed out of the field. Makes me think about how things were, how things are, and how things will be.

Nine of us barely made a dent in the work that needs to be done. As we documented the day with black and white images, it looked so romantic and felt like a moment from a Willa Cather novel. But the reality behind the black and white is a sordid, ugly history. I can’t pretend that I didn’t think about those that did this work because they had no choice. But I live TODAY and I WANT to grow organic cotton in the state of Alabama TODAY.

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THE HEART: COTTON UPDATE + JIMMY AND LISA

Wednesday morning, Alabama Chanin closed its doors for half the day and made a trip out to the cotton field to visit (and weed with) Lisa and her husband, “friend” Jimmy (as he jokingly refers to himself). Jimmy and Lisa have been the determined and loving caretakers of our cotton these last months. Living near what we understand to be the FIRST privately owned organic cotton field in North Alabama (if not the entire state), they stop by each day to keep a watchful eye on our crop and monitor its progress.

Jimmy grew up less than a mile from the site of the field. His strong determination and easygoing personality, paired with a true farmer’s work ethic, have made him invaluable to the establishment of our field.  Recently retired, and a friend of K.P. and Katy McNeill of Billy Reid, Jimmy was interested in finding a way to occupy his newly acquired free time. He offered to plow, plant, and cultivate the cotton field. He and K.P. have spent many weekends in Trinity this summer, discussing and working the land. Having chopped and picked cotton growing up, Jimmy expressed (with some disdain) he did not want a role in those later processes. He knew better.

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THE HEART: ARTISAN NATURAL DYEWORKS

Sustainable. Natural. Organic. These are all words that are integral to the Alabama Chanin identity. Our core values compel us to take a holistic approach to our design methods, looking at every aspect, quality, material or person that may play a part in our production process. This way of thinking led us toward using natural dyes on our fabrics. One of the companies that carefully colors our fabrics is Artisan Natural Dyeworks based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Alabama Chanin was originally introduced to the women behind the company by a mutual acquaintance. At the time, the dye company was being run by sisters Alesandra and Sarah. The sisters, both transplants to Nashville, decided to start a business together, but wanted to make sure that it reflected their values, drew from their strengths and interests, and celebrated their deep love for the earth. Though neither sister had any experience with natural dyes (or apparel, or production), they ambitiously decided that establishing a natural dye house would perfectly integrate all of their requirements.

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OUR COTTON FIELD + AN ALABAMA DROUGHT

I was driving through the desert of New Mexico en route to Taos talking about our cotton. I can’t remember a summer as scorchingly hot as this one–and there were some hot ones in the late 60s and early 70s. In the last weeks, temperatures have consistently been over 100. If we have a few more summers like this one, our landscape might morph into something more like the desert. While a desert can be a beautiful landscape, it is much different from our home here in Alabama.

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UPDATE: PLANTING ORGANIC COTTON

Last Friday, before we left for New York for an inspiring week of MAKESHIFT, we received wonderful news: the cotton seed had been planted. The week before, Jimmy, K.P., and I met early in the morning at the site of the cotton field, prepared to spend the day planting. However, the soil needed to be broken up more finely in order to allow the planter to properly cover the seed. This set us back a few days, but after another day of plowing to break the soil, Jimmy was finally ready to plant.

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THE HEART: UPDATES FROM THE FIELD

We left off two weeks ago in search of a two-row planter that will help get our cottonseed in the ground. Fortunately, we were able to find one locally. The planter’s shovels have been adjusted. The soil has been finely chopped. There have been conference calls between the field, the Factory office, and Kelly’s office in Texas. More thanks to Kelly Pepper.

Upon receiving our soil test results, we are determining the proper nutrients needed and the best organic fertilizers for the field. Staff at Auburn University has been helpful answering questions, and we’ve had the chance to learn more about the organic certification process through a local advisor.

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THE HEART: PLANTING WITH BILLY REID AND OUR FRIEND, JIMMY

Yesterday, a well awaited package was delivered to the Factory: organic, or “black” cottonseed, as I’ve learned it is called. In our effort to grow organic cotton, we’ve taken a step-by-step approach. We started with the seed, and now we move on to the land. We are learning as we go, and taking every experience to heart.

The search for seed began and taught us some of the important facts of organic cotton and cottonseed. Organizations like Textile Exchange and Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative lent their support and gave us direction in our search for non-GMO, non-treated cottonseed. In our conversation with Lynda Grose at Sustainable Cotton Project, Lynda shared her thoughts on organic, sustainable textiles, and the importance of knowing and working with your local farmers.

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THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON Q&A WITH LYNDA GROSE

Last week, as we started to learn about organic cottonseed, we discovered that there are significant challenges associated with seed supply. Our conversation began with industry leaders, as we had our fair share of questions. This week we continue our discussion on the process of growing organic cotton in an interview with Lynda Grose.

Lynda has been involved with sustainable fashion and textiles since 1995 when she co-founded ESPRIT’s ecollection, which was the first ecologically responsible clothing line developed by a major corporation. Lynda currently serves as assistant professor in CCA’s Fashion Design Program and works with the Sustainable Cotton Project in California, and many more businesses and non-profits.

Lynda Grose, an inspired activist and friend for years – a part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin. Continue reading

THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON SEEDS

Our exploration into organic cotton growing continues. As we brainstorm, discuss, research, and learn all there is to know about growing our own organic cotton, we decided that the best place to begin is with a study of the seeds themselves. So this week Erin–who is new to our studio – dug in deep to learn more about seed supply and just how to find those organic seeds. Here are some of her reflections and discoveries:

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SUSTAINABLE DESIGN TUESDAY: ALABAMA CHANIN FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

As Alabama Chanin has grown and evolved, we have built a business model that I strongly believe in. Many of you have been with us from the beginning, and many of you have found us along the way. On a daily basis, we receive a bounty of emails, phone calls, and letters. Here we have compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions. Included are the mission and some history of Alabama Chanin. We invite you to explore, share, and of course let us know if there is something that we missed.

We sincerely appreciate every email, query, and compliment that comes our way; we look forward to continuing the conversation. While our FAQs is not meant to replace old-fashioned interaction we hope it gives anyone interested the opportunity to learn more about our company, just as we hope for opportunities to learn more about all of you.

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THE HEART: RICK BRAGG AND “THE CHOICE”

When I returned to Alabama over a decade ago to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin, I had NO IDEA that this simple project would surround me with stories of cotton, mill work, and, quite honestly, the history of the small community where I grew up. This blog is proof to the fact that I am STILL learning – each and every day.

While researching the post about Sweetwater Mills and reading William McDonald’s books a few weeks back, I came across Rick Bragg’s book, The Most They Ever Had. As an avid reader and, quite honestly, a Rick Bragg fan, I was surprised that I’d never read this book before. I have followed his work for years: from Anniston, Alabama, to The New York Times, through all the novels, the Pulitzer, to the controversy surrounding his departure from the Times. (Full disclosure, I know some of the parties attached to The New York Times scandal and have a few thoughts on that myself – we will save that for a later day or a face-to-face conversation.)

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THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON

Organic cotton is the heart of Alabama Chanin. It binds all aspects of the company: sustainability, fashion, DIY, and craft. All of our garments- couture or DIY- are made with these naturally grown fibers. We have examined the influence cotton has had on our community. We have thought about its global impact. We have voiced our concerns.

I have spent countless hours contemplating major business decisions because I feel it is vital to my own ethical truths and the philosophy of our company to buy and sell only organic cotton. But, we have our own supply chain issues that affect commitment to organic cotton (more to come on this very soon). Continue reading

THE HEART: A HISTORY OF TEXTILES (+ COMMUNITY)

It is no secret that I feel a commitment to my community; it is equally evident the role that growing up in Florence, Alabama, had on my development as a designer.  Textiles – the growing, picking, spinning, knitting, cutting, and sewing – were a part of the vernacular of small southern towns from the late 1800s until the signing of NAFTA. My community has been no different.

This textile history is present in our studio today and we are surrounded by friends, colleagues, and families who have worked textiles, their parents worked textiles, and their grandparents worked textiles. My great grandmother “worked socks” at the Sweetwater Mill in East Florence. Continue reading

ZERO WASTE (+ A BOX OF SCRAPS)

Finding ways to use fabric scraps could easily be a full time job at Alabama Chanin. Hopefully, our company will one day be large enough to facilitate an entire scrap development team; however, right now we are moonlighters and dabblers in the art of manipulating scraps of our organic cotton jersey into a variety of projects, products, and playthings.

Our goal of becoming a zero waste company means that every scrap of fabric we cut is taken seriously.  We are constantly looking for new ways to mold, shape, and incorporate these fabric cuttings into our everyday work – lest they overtake us like the roadside kudzu that swallows entire towns in the South. Continue reading

THE HEART: TERRY WYLIE

Most of you who follow this blog know that when I returned to Alabama in 2000, I didn’t have a grand plan to build the company that is now Alabama Chanin. Any plans I may have had seemed to fall away into something far larger than I ever anticipated. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in such a position and I readily admit that, at times, I was incredibly overwhelmed. However, as the initial “project” morphed into a business, I learned how to run it on the fly – one day at a time. I have often said that I am not a quick learner, but I finally realized that my community has such a wealth of knowledge as to the workings of cotton AND manufacturing. These two things had been part of the vernacular of this community for a century. So while it took time for me to understand, I finally realized I just needed to “go to the well” to draw upon that information. Here in Florence, Alabama, that “well” was Terry Wylie.

 

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2011 – A REVIEW

It seems unbelievable to me that 2011 is coming to a close.  The Alabama Chanin journal has covered so many topics over the 2011 year and we have been so grateful for the opportunity to share our thoughts, travels, milestones and inspirations with you. As the year’s end approaches, we thought we would recap some of the favorite topics of the year.

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A PLEA FOR ORGANIC COTTON

Thanks to everyone who reached out about and/or shared my post on organic cotton last Friday on @EcoSalon.

For the sake of making a plea for organic cotton, here it is again… spread the word.
xoNatalie

Pound for Pound:

I am pissed. It doesn’t happen often, but, it does happen.

I grew up in cotton country. My mother and her sisters picked cotton every summer to make money for new school clothes, as they didn’t want to head back in “handmade.” My aunts and uncles raised this cotton. I slept under blankets made from scrap cotton that grows after the harvest has taken place – the dregs that are left over.  I made a film about cotton and rural quilting. For better or for worse, cotton is part of the vernacular of my community, my childhood, and my life. I would venture that cotton plays a large role in your life as well.

Since this fiber is so prevalent in our lives, I think that there are 10 things you should know about it.

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A (PRE) LABOR DAY CELEBRATION

Please watch this beautiful film about the labor of making linen.

Thank you to our farmers in Texas, our spinners, and Green Textiles in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for laboring to spread cotton love.

Join the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative for their annual Fall Field Day on Thursday, October 20, 2011, in the heart of the South Plains of Texas.

And thank you to Eric and Beth at Etsy for sharing the  Be Linen Movie by Benoit Millot with us!

I want to make a film about the production of our organic cotton.

ONE WOMAN’S TESTAMENT TO THREAD AND NEEDLE

This is my first installment of a new bi-weekly fashion column for EcoSalon. Material Witness will offers my perspective on the fashion industry, textile history and what happens when love for community trumps all.

From EcoSalon – August 12, 2011

ONE WOMAN’S TESTAMENT TO THREAD AND NEEDLE

As a designer and entrepreneur in the fashion industry, it is a bit uncommon that I am also an author. A few weeks ago I turned in the very last edits to my third book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Truth be told, in my younger, bolder, high school days, I fancied myself an aspiring writer. I imagined traveling the globe with pen in hand, creating change at every turn. I fantasized leisurely lunches at Paris cafés. I subscribed to magazines; I was an avid reader. My only hindrance in achieving my dreams was that I was a rather lazy student and proper usage of English grammar and punctuation escaped me. Even today, the comma splice can present problems. So, it is a bit exciting, humbling, and, frankly, scary that I have been so graciously asked to contribute as a bi-weekly columnist at EcoSalon.

While I have had the opportunity to lunch in places like Paris over the years, I haven’t quite traveled the globe with pen in hand yet, though circumstances always change. These books I have written aren’t the next great American novel, they’re craft books. They’re books that teach the time-honored, hand-sewing techniques that are the basis of my fashion company, Alabama Chanin. The books are simply guides that speak to a sustainable lifestyle that is at the core of my work. I want to make that lifestyle available to all.

The decision to open-source Alabama Chanin for individuals through our books is not common in the fashion world, in an industry that is more accustomed to secrecy. However, you have to look at the whole of the picture to understand why sustainable designers do what we do.

My personal work is expensive because it is organic, custom-dyed cotton jersey that is cut, painted, sewn, and embellished completely by hand in America with skilled artisans who set a fair price for their work. Over the years, I heard rumblings in the media of my work being “elitist,” and “inaccessible” because of its price. And while our collections have been deemed “couture,” we run our business in the most down-to-earth way from a small community in North Alabama. Sustainability – both ecological and cultural – has defined our growth from the very beginning and “elitist” would actually be the antithesis of who we are.

When the thought of sharing our techniques and patterns to individual users arose, I understood that this could both sustain the needlework traditions that our company celebrates while making our work available to many more people. The concept of open-sourcing seemed a way to make our products more accessible.

Timing is everything and to understand my decision it’s important to understand the period in which I was working. As all of this was unfolding in 2003, open-sourcing was a new idea. Wired Magazine wrote about and provided music tracks for sampling that were free reign for anyone who had the desire to use them. The internet was spreading like fire and for the first time, vast amounts of information was, almost literally, at our fingertips. Books like The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson (on my required reading list), about the concept of selling less of more were being heatedly discussed. The world of business was changing and it seemed to me that sharing traditions that I did not invent was not only the right thing to do but the modern way to approach my business.

Of course, there were naysayers who firmly believed that, by openly sharing, I was putting the nails in my own coffin. They thought that once our “trade secrets” were common knowledge, no one would purchase our couture garments. Honestly, I was fearful when Alabama Stitch Book landed on the shelves around February 2008. However, the book sold well and, more importantly, interest in our couture collections continued to grow. My fears proved groundless. But then, isn’t that the way it usually goes?

Readers who work with the techniques described in the books now tell us that they understand not only why our garments cost so much but why they are worth so much. At the same time, a completely new part of our business has burgeoned. We now sell the supplies needed to make our designs (organic cotton jersey, thread, stencils, fabric paint, beads, and project kits) via the internet and host hands-on workshops both in our studio in Florence, Alabama and around the country.

So, all of this information is the story of how a feeling to do what is right – not perhaps what was right for my industry – changed my business and my life. I am not sitting in too many Paris cafes these days. But then, I have a five-year-old daughter and I imagine that she and I will have plenty of time for that together. I do write a lot these days – revisiting my younger, bolder, high school dreams – and, it seems that I am traveling the world, pen (or computer and camera) in hand and trying to make a difference. On this journey, I find it inspiring to start conversations about life, living and, of course, fashion.

The thing about fashion is this: I want to OWN my clothing on all levels – just like I want to own my life. I want to cut it up, sew it back, and make it MINE. I want a skirt I buy to make it through the first wash and a hundred more.  I want to take the time to make decisions about what I choose to put on my body with the same care that I decide what I put in my body.  I’m hopeful that you feel the same way. In fact, I want to know more about you and hope to start a conversation next time by answering ten reader inspired questions – fashion industry or otherwise.

 

 

EUCALYPTUS, LAVENDER, TRANQUILITY

In the autumn of last year, I was contacted by a New York University professor from the Liberal Studies department named Jessamyn Hatcher.  She had gotten my email address from our mutual friend Sally Singer and wanted to know if we would be willing to discuss a field trip that she was planning with her 30+ students from the Dean’s Circle, a University Scholars program.

Her email explained that the “theme for the 2010-2011 Dean’s Circle and Colloquium is ‘The Price of Fashion: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Global Garment Trade.’ The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire occurred on March 25, 1911, in what is now the Brown building.  146 people, most of who were between the ages of 16 and 21, died while manufacturing women’s blouses. Next year will mark its 100th anniversary, and we will use the anniversary as an occasion to explore issues surrounding the world garment trade, from mass production in sweatshops to the runways of the world’s fashion capitols to the ‘slow design’ movement.”

While I was fascinated by Jessamyn’s inquiry, in the first moment I wondered how a workshop could function with 30+ students in our studio.  My fears were unfounded.

Several weeks ago, the group arrived and the experience was one of wonder, exploration and pleasure.  Following a two day workshop in our studio, the students moved on to Rural Studio in Greensboro, Alabama, to continue their journey.

Jessamyn joked at one point how many of her colleagues had asked, “Why aren’t you going to Paris?”

The lovely thank you notes from the (18 – 20 year-old) students below explains it all.  I hope that the students don’t mind that I have shared their observations about our world.  I am appreciative to look at our work, our staff and our world through fresh eyes.

(And to have found a new friend in Jessamyn!)

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ORGANIC COTTON + WHITE GOLD

As I recently learned at the Textiles Futures Salon2, there is still a long way to go to understand the materials that we use and consume. We have been using organic cotton for the last year and plan to make the switch to 100% Organic by the spring of next year. And although this is just a small part of the picture, it is a good place to start.

Here are a few places to get started learning about the true cost of cotton:

White Gold – The True Cost of Cotton
A Report by the Environmental Justice Foundation

Green Basics: Organic Cotton
from Treehugger.com