Tag Archives: Heroes + Heroines



In the years since we met Rosanne Cash, we have grown from giddy fans, to dedicated admirers, to proud and honored friends. It is no secret how much we are inspired by Rosanne—as a supporter, an artist, and a beautiful person. We’ve done our best to express our admiration whenever the opportunity arises. We are still awestruck that we know someone so talented, so prolific, and so wise.

It has been a joy to see Rosanne and her singular creativity be acknowledged by so many, lately. Her album, The River and the Thread, which will always hold a special place in our hearts, won 3 Grammy Awards in February 2015, sweeping all categories for which it was nominated: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song, and Best American Roots Performance, for “A Feather’s Not a Bird”.

She has recently held a three-night residency at the Library of Congress, received the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, and curated a “Perspectives” series for Carnegie Hall that highlighted the best in Americana and roots music. (Among the artists included were Alabama Chanin favorites and Alabama natives, St. Paul and the Broken Bones.) Earlier this year, Rose was named the Country Music Hall of Fame’s 2015 Artist in Residence, which culminated in three concerts, including one instantly legendary evening of music by Rosanne, Lucinda Williams, and Emmylou Harris.


In October, Rosanne was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, an honor she was thrilled to receive. “This is the award I wanted. I started as a songwriter. I still consider myself, first and foremost, a songwriter, and dreamed that one day I would get this honor.” She and her father Johnny Cash are the only father/daughter members.

Rosanne seems to be always searching her own depths and looking for new sources of inspiration. She has recorded 15 albums and writes prolifically—everything from essays and fiction (in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Oxford American—among others) to her moving memoir, Composed. On top of all that, she also wrote three songs for season two of HBO’s True Detective and collaborated with Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson on a song released alongside Costello’s brand new memoir.

It is only natural that we would look to someone like Rosanne as part of our exploration of the creative process. We know that her method and her products are substantive, and we trusted that she would be completely, brutally honest with us. I recently read a quote of hers that I could relate to completely: “It’s only amateurs who only work when inspired. Music is a more trustworthy way to God than religion.” It is with this in mind that we consider Rosanne’s responses to our questions on creativity.

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Rosanne Cash: Before performances I have several things I do—stretching, breathing, feeling my feet on the ground, mentally clearing the space around me, a few words I always say to myself. In writing—no rituals, although I do have devices to break the constraints. Sometimes just a cup of tea will set things right.

AC: What makes you curious?

RC: Singularity makes me very curious. If someone is the foremost expert on wooden boats in the world, or knows everything about a certain brain tumor or a rare butterfly or deeply understands something that I only vaguely comprehend, like quantum physics or Mormonism, then I am riveted. I want to inhale everything they can tell me. And I’m curious about the personality that lives for one thing.

Dilettantes bore me.

My curiosity is also aroused by artists I love, but I don’t want to know about their artistic process. If I am moved by someone’s work, I want to know what they like to eat for breakfast, how much sleep they get, what their rituals are, if they watch television, their beverage of choice… I would KILL to know what Shakespeare did for amusement, who he slept with, and what his favorite food was.

AC: What do you daydream about?

RC: I daydream about color, water, silence, and nature.

Sometimes I daydream about how I would re-upholster my furniture.

AC: How important is education to your creative process?

RC: It’s important. I would use ‘discipline’ and ‘education’ together. It drives me crazy when people think what I do comes ‘naturally’ and that I don’t have to put effort into writing or performing or recording, or that songs happen because you get hit by a thunderbolt of inspiration and that’s all there is to it.

There are a lot of musicians and songwriters more talented than me. 85% of my success is because I’m tenacious and I show up for work.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

RC: Listening to music and looking at art inspires me. If I’m really stuck, I put on certain records to jiggle the door open, or go to a museum. If I hear a really good song, my competitive side might get triggered and I want to write something better.

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

RC: That’s what amateurs do. If I only worked when I was in the mood, this would be a hobby, not my profession.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

RC: Creativity is part of human nature. Mastery of creative work must be learned by doing.

AC: Creativity for me is_____.

RC: the reason I’m on the planet.

AC: How do you define success?

RC: Doing what you love and making a living at it.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

RC: The travel for performance is the ‘heaviest’. I get really, really tired of it. I love travel, in theory, but touring is brutal.

The ‘lightest’ is when I finish writing a song that I know is good.

AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

RC: Creativity IS spirituality.

AC: What makes you nervous?

RC: Doing things outside my wheelhouse. I’m about to perform with Wynton Marsalis for the first time. That makes me a little nervous. Those kinds of things.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

RC: I’d want to make it bigger.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

RC: Anxiety over my kids stops the whole circus.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

RC: No. There were things I didn’t put in my memoir because I didn’t want to hurt someone, but that’s different.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

RC: Nope.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

RC: I’d love to paint.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

RC: Excessively.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

RC: It made me try harder. I’ve been depressed and felt insecure about certain failures and rejections, but it never made me give up.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

RC: Someone who marries two very disparate ideas to create something entirely new, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”

RC: The musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: If you were to become a professor, what classes would you teach?

RC: Songwriting.

AC: What are your favorite things to do? What do you distinctly NOT like to do?

RC: I don’t like to unload the dishwasher.
I don’t like taking makeup off.
I don’t like to spend the day doing email.
I love reading.
I love putting the kettle on and anticipating tea time.
I love to sew with my girlfriends.

AC: Is there one single act that can open your imaginary mind?

RC: I wish I knew.

AC: Are there parts of your life that you always make a priority? That you struggle to make a priority?

RC: I always make my kids a priority.

I struggle to make doing nothing a priority.

(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts)

Photos courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride, Abraham Rowe, and Robert Rausch.



Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and we are honoring his legacy and observing the holiday through service to our community. In the past few weeks, the Civil Rights Movement along with the work of Dr. King has received much media attention, due in part to the film Selma. The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, tells the story of how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came to be and chronicles the events leading up to its monumental passing.

There were three marches that took place in March of 1965—the first is referred to as “Bloody Sunday” due to brutal attacks on the marchers, and the second march was cut short, as Dr. King felt the marchers needed protection by a federal court to prevent further violence. On March 21, 1965 the third march began—this time with the protection of the Army, Alabama National Guard, FBI Agents, and Federal Marshalls. The marchers arrived in Montgomery, at the State Capitol building, on March 25. The route taken from Selma to Montgomery is now a U.S. National Historic Trail.


Continue reading



I have known many storytellers in my life. Some have a natural and unrehearsed style that feels captivating and immediate; some present new or unfamiliar points of view; others are quite deliberate and thoughtful in approach; all of them are enthralling to me. As a storyteller born into a family of storytellers, I find master storyteller Gael Towey both compelling and inspiring. She has a distinct perspective and is skilled at many things: crafting a storyline, discovering and highlighting the unique qualities of her subjects, eliciting a response from the audience, and designing beautiful visual elements. Her work has informed contemporary visual language in a way we can barely imagine.

I was lucky to be among Gael’s subjects as part of her series of short films about artists called “Portraits in Creativity” www.portraitsincreativity.com (and I especially love her piece on friend and heroine Maira Kalman). Each of her portraits uncover the unique qualities of her subjects and reveal Towey’s fascination with the creative process. For over two years, we have been speaking with Gael about her past, her present, and the creative processes, media, and methods she uses to propel her ideas forward.

Gael was raised in New Jersey and was the oldest of six children. She revealed that, as a child, she was mildly dyslexic and almost flunked the second and third grade because she couldn’t spell; she reversed all her consonants and vowel combinations.  She was drawn to art and studied it enthusiastically through college. “I loved printmaking and accidentally signed up for a class in typography, and I fell in love with it from the first lecture,” Towey says. “I’d never looked at the design of a letter and had not noticed how beautiful they are.” She switched her major to graphic design and graduated from Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Gael said, “I was extraordinarily lucky. I have met so many young people who don’t know what they want to do, but I always knew.  I struggled academically and art was the only thing I was good at… And it’s funny that I wound up working in the publishing business since I had no confidence in my ability to write properly.”

DESIGN: GAEL TOWEYGael worked on the book, In the Russian Stylewith Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Continue reading



We often speak about our home, our state, and our community that provides an incredible amount of inspiration for our work. We are not alone: friend and occasional collaborator, Billy Reid, also headquarters in the same community. It has been mentioned (and is remarkable) that Alabama has the third largest membership in the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), numbering at two; we rank just behind New York and California. And just as there is a rich history of textile production in our community, there is a somewhat unknown or unrecognized group of designers that have emerged from our home state.


Continue reading



We at Alabama Chanin have long been obsessed with and inspired by Maira Kalman. She has a rich and singular voice – as a visual artist, author, illustrator, and storyteller – that imbues people, objects, and words with knowing wit and humanity.

Maira has written and illustrated 18 children’s books, all of which have been popular nighttime reading with my daughter Maggie. Maira’s illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style resides, beautiful and dog-eared, on my desk each day—as it has become part of our company style guide. And for years, I have traded and passed on copies of and links to her columns from the New York Times, The Principles of Uncertainty and The Pursuit of Happiness (both of which are now published exquisitely in book form).


Continue reading



Today, in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. week, we turn the spotlight to one of the unsung heroes (or heroines, rather) of the Civil Rights Movement: Georgia Gilmore.

Georgia (whom we have written about before) lived and worked in Montgomery, Alabama, and was a true servant to the cause of the movement. Georgia was a big lady with a big personality—frankly put, she didn’t take any bull from anybody. She worked as a midwife, as well as a cook at the National Lunch Company. After Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to leave her seat on a bus in December of 1955, a group of black ministers and community leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA)—and initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the Association often held secret meetings around the city. As soon as Georgia heard of Rosa Parks’ arrest on the radio, she joined the MIA, determined to aid the effort in any way she could.

Outspoken and feisty, Georgia let her disapproval of the discriminatory bus drivers be known—an action that got her fired from her job at the cafeteria. When that happened, Dr. King and other leaders helped her set up a restaurant in her home kitchen. Georgia was well-known around town for her fried chicken, pork chops, and stuffed bell peppers and often served these and other dishes to Dr. King and fellow supporters of the boycott. She even hosted secret MIA meetings there in her kitchen.

Georgia’s love (and talent) for cooking and her passion for equality and change led her to start a club with a few of her friends, named “The Club from Nowhere.” The ladies in the club, most of them maids and cooks, sold homemade pies and cakes (and even Georgia’s chicken dinners) to supporters of the movement in order to raise money for the boycott. The Club from Nowhere often set up shop in beauty parlors, Laundromats, and on street corners in downtown Montgomery. Both black and white supporters of the boycott were able to contribute anonymously. The Club from Nowhere used the money they collected to buy gas and station wagons, which were used to transport people to and from work during the boycott. Georgia always said that the money came “from nowhere.”

Continue reading



Alabama Chanin friend and inspiration, Rosanne Cash, has lived in New York for over 20 years, but her link to the South remains deep and undeniable. Her mother, Vivian Liberto, was born in Texas and her father, Johnny Cash, was an Arkansas native. Rosanne was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised for much of her life in California. As a young woman, she also spent time living in Los Angeles, Nashville, London, among other stops on the road. Though she did not grow up in the South, her connection to the region is profound, largely because of what the South meant to her family and how that shaped her growth. It is this connection to the South and the region’s physical, musical, and emotional landscape that she explores in her newest record, The River and the Thread.

Rosanne found herself traveling southward frequently when Arkansas State University began restoring her father’s childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas. Knowing how much her father would have loved the project, Rosanne agreed to participate – which initiated a series of visits. As she traveled, she began to reconnect with the Southern sense of place, so essential to her family identity. She, along with husband and longtime collaborator, John Leventhal, began to shape and create an entire series of songs, all about the South. Rosanne said, “I started going back to where I was born and these songs started arriving in me. My heart got expanded to the South, to the people I had known, to the people I met… We started finding these stories, these great stories, and melodies that went with these experiences.”




Friend (and heroine) Makalé Faber-Cullen is a storyteller and anthropologist who has worked with the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Festival of American Folklife, for which we collaborated on some t-shirts with Makalé a few years ago. She served as the first U.S. Director of Programs for Slow Food, where she co-launched and directed Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT), a coalition of seven of the most prominent non-profit food, agriculture, conservation, and education organizations dedicated to rescuing America’s diverse foods and food traditions. She also served on the Board of Directors for the Southern Foodways Alliance, where she helped produce The Global South and The Cultivated South symposiums. Her current project, Wilderness of Wish, gives context to unusual and out-of-place objects in the course of our daily lives. In Makalé’s words:

“I founded the Wilderness of Wish in 2010 to excite an interest in the artful presentation of contemporary ethnography and material culture. With carefully chosen client-partners we showcase the people, places and goods that give our lives meaning and our communities value. I enjoy merging anthropology, commerce and art for the public good. I’m particularly interested in occupational culture and the role of objects in our relationships — to ourselves and with each other, hence my company’s retail arm.”


Continue reading



As the Alabama Chanin team rushes around Manhattan with our new collection during New York Fashion Week, it is impossible not to remember this day twelve years ago. Twelve years of healing is not long enough. For most of us, this day will remain very personal for the rest of our lives. And yet, a dozen years is time enough for a new generation to grow up largely uninformed or dispassionate, if only because our reality has become a story to them, a tale, the way Pearl Harbor has become, to many, a history lesson and a bank holiday.

However, we will always remember those who perished that day, those who lost friends and loved ones, and all of the heroes who saved lives and found the humanity in recovery efforts. We recall the pain, but also the national pride as we joined together in silence and exercised resilience. We take the PeaceBuilders Pledge (again) with the continued hope that there will be an end to war and hate-driven tragedies in America and across the world.

Many of us on the Alabama Chanin team have lived in Manhattan. Some of us watched the towers burn from a few blocks away. Others arrived years later to a changed city skyline. But, no matter where each of us lived on that day, and since, we have watched America change. For so many, New York represents an opportunity for growth and transcendence. This day is a moment to remember compassion, love, and gratitude.




Last October, we held a One-Day Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia. DIY Kits for the workshop had been cut, packaged, and shipped days before the event, but they never arrived in Atlanta, lost in transit. This was a workshop crisis. However, this particular workshop turned out to be one of our best to date. In a beautiful expression of communal crafting, twelve people collaborated to create two Alabama Chanin Swing Skirts from the only kits I happened to carry with me. While we were initially disappointed over the lost box, we soon learned of the people in the Northeast who lost lives and homes as Hurricane Sandy beat down on the New Jersey and New York shores. We didn’t know how lucky we were.


Continue reading