Many of my regular readers know a bit about my history… but to sum it up for those of you that are new:
In the year 1999, I took (what I thought to be) a four month sabbatical from my life and loves in Vienna, Austria. Beginning on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela, my plan was to end my travels in New York City, spend one month, then go home to Vienna. That never happened.
I went to New York City, one month became two, two months became three and – obviously – I never moved back to Vienna. In the course of my extended sabbatical, I cut apart and reconstructed a t-shirt and a company called Project Alabama was born. The history of Project Alabama and my subsequent move to Alabama Chanin has been well documented – no need to elaborate. However, the simplified version above skips over so many, many people who are intricate to making Alabama Chanin the company that it is today.
Julie Gilhart from Barneys New York is one of these people. She came to a make-shift “showroom” in the Hotel Chelsea and that first collection of recycled t-shirts came to life. She consequently went out into the fashion industry and told everyone she met about the work. Julie and the amazing buyers at Barneys have bought, sold and paid for every subsequent collection since the year 2001 – including the difficult time during the transition from Project Alabama to Alabama Chanin.
I luckily have had the opportunity to get to know Julie Gilhart over the last decade and the honor to call her “friend.” And through this friendship, I heard the following story about a year ago:
It was the year 2000 and Julie had taken some time at the end of the year to hear a lecture from the Dalai Lama. After this amazing experience, she returned to her office at Barneys early in 2001 to be confronted with a pile of fashion week invitations and catalogs that covered the span of her desk and reached above eye-level. The sheer amount of information was overwhelming. She sat there looking at the pile, wondering where to start when a colleague from Barneys stopped by her office. The visitor picked up a brochure from the Dalai Lama that Julie had lying on her desk, thumbed through and remarked, “This is everything we don’t do.” Julie looked at the colleague, replied, “You are right. We have to get out-of-here right now.” She looked at the pile of invitations and catalogs on her desk, reached for a random item and pulled out a hand-made catalog from a new company: Project Alabama.
Consequently, Julie called the number on the catalog, took a cab to the Hotel Chelsea, and Alabama Chanin came to life on that day.
Amazing to me that a decade of work can come from one simple moment of faith and belief… stemming from a committed, brilliant, beautiful, rich, spiritual, whole, funny, light, surfing, friend of a woman.
Since those simple beginnings in 2000, I have had the opportunity to lecture and hold workshops around the globe on sustainability in design and to act as an expert in the fields of micro-economics and the use of local labor. Alabama Chanin and me, Natalie Chanin, are what we are today because of the unfettered belief and support of Julie Gilhart. I am deeply indebted.
Julie’s recent departure from Barneys New York marks a new milestone in her own personal journey; a journey that I am sure will be filled with richness and beauty.
Life is, truly, in the details.
P.S.: Listen to 200 One-of-a-Kind T-shirts
**T-shirt #90 “Sister Shirt” – shown above – was part of that very first collection and photographed by me.
I am a new follower and a fan. I came on it from your first book and have followed your work since then. Reading your story is an inspiration to anyone who wants to follow their dreams. Your work is infused with such meaning and love that it could only have come about with fate having a hand. what a brilliant beginning…
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We met a while ago at a luncheon hosted by Maria Rodale (what was that magazine?) back in the nineties, i think. I instantly was drawn to what you stood for in the fashion industry and could relate to your desire for creativity, authenticity and local focus even then. Since then we have both undergone major changes in our companies and our lives. I love what you are doing and hope we meet again some day!
Sigrid… lovely to hear from you & thanks for your kind words! Look forward to catching up again one day soon… Natalie
Lovely story! Things happen for a reason.
Just wondering if there is a pattern for this kind of t-shirt anywhere.
No, no pattern for the t-shirt at the moment but perhaps one day soon…
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Thanks for sharing more of your always inspiring story. It’s encouraging to know that some people from the corporate world follow the same beliefs even when it’s to the risk of losing their job. It’s probably a blessing in disguise for Julie who will probably turn this to her benefit.
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