Sometimes, the hectic nature of running Alabama Chanin makes me feel that we are all running at a frantic pace. I’ll be answering a ringing phone, hurriedly returning emails, picking up Maggie from school – then, I’ll glance up and notice that our Production Department is completely calm. They are moving fluidly along, peacefully and happily making, sewing, cutting, doing. This serene productivity comes to us through our Studio Directress, Diane Hall, and now, Olivia Sherif, who is following in Diane’s footsteps.

Olivia came to Alabama Chanin at just the right time and set about making herself indispensable almost immediately. You see, when Diane turned in her five-year notice, I experienced a not-so-slight panic (along with a few tears).

Diane has been with our company for ten years and plays an integral role in our day-to-day operations. I began putting out feelers for an apprentice of sorts, someone who might be able to pick up some of Diane’s practical knowledge. I thought, surely by the end of her five-year notice, Diane could help to mold the right person into just what we needed. After a recommendation, I contacted Olivia.

At the time, Olivia was working as a barista at a local coffee shop (see her first blog post, Coffee 101, from Wednesday) and sewed, painted, created in her free time. But, she’d graduated with a degree in Art and had taught grade school art classes. Olivia said that she was looking for something else, a more artistic way to use her energies. She remembers, “I went into the Factory, chatted with Natalie and Diane for about 15 minutes, then showed them that I could use a pair of scissors.”

Upon meeting her, I felt a natural ease and a distinctly positive energy from her. She came to work with us the next week while continuing to work at the coffee shop. You see, I think that as much as we were “testing” her out, Olivia was “testing” us out. And it seems that we passed.

Each day, Olivia can be found working with Diane and Steven – cutting, sewing, crocheting, packaging, answering the phone, making the best cappuccino in Florence, being our general office good spirit, along taking care of any number of other day-to-day duties as they arrive.

She may be the most optimistic person that I’ve ever met. For her, the glass isn’t half-full – it’s practically overflowing. I’ve never known anyone more in love with life. Every day she challenges me to see things in a more positive light. Alas, most of us haven’t quite reached her level of positivity – but, we’re trying!

Olivia came to crafting and making during her childhood as she watched her mother sew most of her clothes. She spends much of her free time these days sewing for herself, painting and drawing, and experimenting with different kinds of textiles. If there is an artistic medium that Olivia hasn’t attempted, then she is thinking about trying it right now. She has an urge to wander and travels abroad whenever time and money allow. In the past few years, she has visited Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, and Norway, among other places. She has an impressive array of friends and I have to admit that I don’t think Olivia has ever met a stranger. On the other hand, she will readily admit that her cat, Aurora, is definitely one of her very best friends.

We have agreed to allow Olivia extended time off each year that she can travel, explore, and come to know all of the cities that fascinate her. My talk of Yvon Chouinard and his book Let My People Go Surfing opened her eyes to the fact that she can have a long term position with Alabama Chanin AND travel. Look for her this coming summer in New York, or Amsterdam, or Vienna… she is still deciding and we will let you know!

An asset to anyone who has ever met her, taken the time to sit in her constantly- shining light, or will meet her on her up-and-coming adventures – Olivia Sherif, part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.


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