The design world is filled with innovators making products that can impact the human experience for good or for ill. The idea of designing and making with positive, spirited intention is growing far beyond its early influencers like Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio or the now defunct Architecture for Humanity—inspired by Mockbee’s project. Today, AIGA—one of the oldest and largest professional design organizations—has an entire program dedicated to Design for Good. Design leader John Bielenberg created the innovative and influential Project M that is always generating creative solutions to real design challenges. (See Project M’s Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama, for an example.)

One of our earliest “social” collaborations was with an organization called Goods of Conscience, whom we worked with on some of our first indigo dyeing experiments. This was quite a few years ago, when design and social change were words that weren’t often used together. It was one of the early examples in the textile industry we encountered that proved the two ideas could exist together and elevate one another.

All design has social impact, but good design focuses on people as fundamental to the products they make. Designers have a remarkable ability to influence how we communicate and with whom, what we think about, what is relevant, and how social and economic power balances might be restructured. When designing for the good, effective ideas, methods, and products can better a society and humanity. Nest, the non-profit organization we’ve partnered with through The School of Making, has fostered successful initiatives by building deep relationships with the global makers with whom they partner—collaboratively building sustainable solutions to the greatest needs within communities where artisan craft stands to create positive, long-lasting change.


By critically assessing both the social context and business needs for artisan enterprises, Nest works with its partners to devise comprehensive development plans that outline tools, training, and infrastructure needed in order to foster sustainable growth within their communities. By supporting artisans in this way, Nest is accomplishing important work to preserve deeply engrained, yet often endangered, cultural traditions. As we at Alabama Chanin have witnessed, mass production—when left to run rampant—can endanger traditional craft forms and arts, which are important parts of community and cultural identities. Nest’s strategy is to make craft relevant and valuable in a modern-day marketplace. They also provide the necessary tools, training, and infrastructure that many artists around the world simply don’t have access to. They see the importance in empowering women as a socio-economic growth tool. According to Nest, craft is the second largest employer of women in emerging economies. So, fostering economic opportunity and sustainable markets through craft can help to keep women in many regions of the world out of forced labor, empowering them to find self-sufficiency through work with intrinsic value, personal meaning, and cultural importance.

We’re excited to re-launch our On Design Series on Friday, October 16th, from 5:30pm – 6:30pm, featuring a talk by Rebecca and Chris van Bergen of Nest at The Factory. This first On Design evening event is part of our new extended hours at The Factory and is free and open to the public.

Support our growing design community by coming out to join the conversation. Small Bites + Snacks and drinks will be available for purchase. For more information, call us at 256.760.1090 or email office (at) alabamachanin.com.


On Design: Working for a Social Change
Hosted by Rebecca and Chris van Bergen of www.buildanest.org
Friday, October 16, 2015, 5:30pm – 6:30pm
Aperitifs and Small Bites available for purchase from 5:00pm
The Factory @ Alabama Chanin, 462 Lane Drive, Florence, Alabama

More about Nest:

Among their many current initiatives is the Nest Artisan Advancement Project—which aims to advance and uplift artisans and homeworkers (many of them women) all over the world. Nest estimates that anywhere from 20-60% of fashion production happens inside individual homes, rather than in formal factory settings that would allow for wage regulation and employee treatment and safety evaluations. Their model helps artisans develop home businesses that will allow them to operate independently, but with a solid and transparent supply chain. The impact can be seen within a family, a business, and a community. Of the artisan businesses working with Nest, 9 out of 10 have seen increased revenue and they earn 120% more than their national minimum wage, on average. For every Nest artisan employed, they estimate that 20 more people are impacted, including family members, children, and other individuals or businesses within the supply chain.

We are heartened to see more thoughtful designers working toward social change in smart and groundbreaking ways. Our partnership with Nest has only demonstrated to us that more innovation is on the way. We encourage you to support smart, sustainable design wherever you find it. And, as always, we urge you to support artisans everywhere.


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Click to read 2 comments
  1. Kate

    Would love it if these conversations could somehow be available via an online interactive forum. I’d love to hear and possibly participate in the discussion.

  2. Lisa

    I love that you help me to see the wider world and think of the possible beyond what’s right in front of me. Thanks for these interesting thoughts and the introduction to a cool company.