When we opened our Building 14 manufacturing facility in the summer of 2013, we knew that we had to commit to learning about the ever-changing manufacturing industry—and that the learning curve would be steep. But as we began to educate ourselves, we found that no manual or set of rules existed for us to consult. Over the past three decades, the American textile manufacturing industry has been in decline, with an estimated drop from 2.4 million jobs in 1973 to 650,000 in 2005. Between 1994 and 2014, Alabama lost 29.8% of its all of its manufacturing jobs (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). As those jobs migrated elsewhere, so did the skills needed to create these jobs and a vicious Catch-22 emerged of reduced skill/reduced capacity. In its early days, Building 14 ran right up against this problem of rusty skills in combination with new materials and processes, with no clear roadmap on how to bridge the knowledge gap. And so, we realized that we needed a School for Making—for ourselves, for our industry, for our fellow makers, and for our community.
After much struggle, success, learning, and growing, we are proud to announce an important new partnership between Nest (www.buildanest.org) and The School of Making.
Nest is a non-profit organization that partners with the world’s most promising artisans to build sustainable businesses that have positive social impact, within the competitive landscape of today’s global economy. The team at Nest collaborates with artisan-based businesses that have strong leadership and the potential to transform their communities by alleviating poverty, empowering women, and promoting peace. They value artisans and craftspeople and believe that craft can solve global issues by having direct economic and social impact on makers and their communities.
Our partnership with Nest, formed under Alabama Chanin’s educational arm, The School of Making, is aimed at reversing the trend of outsourced manufacturing. We plan to expand our Building 14 machine-manufacturing division and have established a pilot program that will provide training and education at The Factory. Our shared goal is to use this program as a means to foster a community of makers while creating a new curriculum for manufacturing that will foster employment opportunities for our community and region. This will allow Florence, Alabama, and the greater Shoals region to once again serve as a leader in the textile manufacturing industry while providing a strong model for other American businesses to follow.
The long-term goal of this program is to provide enrolled participants with updated skillsets, expanded machine and technique knowledge, and a deeper understanding of the methods that are critical to modern design and manufacturing—from seed to shelf. We wholeheartedly want to inspire the next generation of machine artisans to carry on the Made in America tradition.
One of the many aspects of Nest’s work that drew us to this partnership is its participatory approach to change. Nest focuses on providing hands-on guidance in assessing needs, developing strategy, and creating lasting industry partnerships. Nest treats artisans not just as individuals, but also as family providers and community leaders. The team works with artisans around the world to create safe, eco-friendly workspaces that facilitate the maker’s work. The workshops Nest helps to build are not only production facilities, but also community centers that often provide access to clean water, social services, and communal spaces for people of all backgrounds, in needy areas.
Currently, Nest has partnered with several artists, craftspeople, and organizations to build sustainable maker communities. In India, Nest has developed the wide-ranging Varanasi Project, designed to rescue and revive the 500 year-old silk weaving tradition—now in support from the Swarovski Foundation. In Oaxaca, Mexico, declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, Nest is working with an indigenous group of predominantly female artisans to keep the centuries-old ceramic tradition alive. Nest has spearheaded ongoing artisan growth projects in Colorado, West Java, Kenya, Bali, and Swaziland—and its past successful programs are too numerous to list.
From the Nest website:
“Around the world, the advent of mechanized mass production and homogenized ‘fast fashion,’ is endangering diverse historical craft forms deeply engrained in artisan history. As traditional enterprises fail to keep up with the rapid pace of the socially connected modern world, younger generations are moving to the cities and abandoning practices they perceive to be outmoded. Nest is committed to helping artisans celebrate these cultural traditions by reviving traditional crafts through modern innovation and by training the next generation of artisans.”
For all of these reasons, Alabama Chanin and Nest have agreed to create a partnership that is designed to enrich our artisans and our community.