Tag Archives: Fashion



Fashion Revolution Week is part of the year-round Fashion Revolution movement that encourages consumers to look more deeply into the fashion industry, with the ultimate intention of making clothing in a safe, clean, and fair way, the norm – across the world. This year, Fashion Revolution Week runs from April 23 – 29th and it is always scheduled in a way that honors the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,138 people and injured many more.

Because of Alabama Chanin’s commitment to transparency, we make it possible for you to know how your clothing is made and by whom. The initials on the label of your Alabama Chanin garments help tell the story of how each piece has been passed from hand-to-hand, with no unknown stops along the way. But, worldwide, approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes, with 80% of them women between the ages of 18 and 35. The majority of these makers in the global market live in poverty and are often exploited, abused, underpaid, and work in unsafe conditions.

This is why Fashion Revolution encourages consumers to flood social media with posts, asking your favorite designers and brands #whomademyclothes? This encourages brands to be more transparent, hopefully resulting in better and safer working conditions and better pay for textile workers. As a consumer, you have the power to make a positive change in the industry. Please use this week to ask #whomademyclothes on social media.


We will proudly be posting Alabama Chanin makers as part of the #imadeyourclothes movement. Look for spotlights on them throughout the week on Instagram stories—by following @alabamachanin and #alabamachanin and #imadeyourclothes.

We encourage you to post your Alabama Chanin garments—letting others know you know who made your clothes. Using the hashtags #whomademyclothes, #alabamachanin, and #alabamachaninmademyclothes.

We are all world citizens, so let’s push for change.



Part of our newest Collection includes our first garments made from organic chambray fabric, courtesy of organic cotton pioneer Sally Fox. Sally was an invaluable resource for Alabama Chanin + Billy Reid as we tackled our challenging experiment in growing organic cotton in Alabama. She has worked for decades experimenting with colored cotton and researching pest-resistant strains of organic cotton through her company, FoxFibre.


In the past, we have utilized Sally’s sturdy organic colored cotton for aprons, and we have maintained our relationship with her, as she is always innovating and looking for new perspectives on employing her fabrics. The cotton used for the organic chambray is grown on Sally’s farm in California, then spun, woven, and eco-finished in Japan. The black chambray that we use is dyed using a combination of steps including actual natural indigo and low-impact dyed indigo. The chambray drapes differently than our traditional organic cotton jersey, allowing us to experiment with new silhouettes and structures—creating patterns with a bit more structure and architectural features.


Sylvia Dress


Leighton Skirt

These chambray garments allow our design team to utilize more tailoring details and experiment with new shapes and techniques. The chambray pieces, like the Sylvia Dress and Leighton Skirt, are constructed using a combination of machine-sewn and hand-finished techniques, combining all aspects of our design and production methods. This woven fabric provides variance of texture and adds new facets when incorporated into appliqué. Our design team finds that it brings an interesting depth of surface dimension, adds interesting edges, and provides cohesion for this new collection.


The quality of the chambray is remarkable—exquisite, fine cotton with a slight slub texture. It feels distinctive and luxurious. We are excited about this new offering and the diversity it brings to our collection. We invite you to explore our chambray garments— the Alexa Skirt, Leighton Skirt, Lee Dress, Sylvia Dress, and Valerie Dress—and look for more offerings in the future.

View our current Collection here.



Fashion accessories are one of the most effective ways for a wearer to add his or her personal style to an outfit. Over the years, traditional jewelry in gems and precious metals, bags, gloves, hats, stockings, even hair or tattoos have been used as some form of accessory—to define a “look” and express one’s mood or personality.

Jewelry and accessories have come to be associated with specific eras and places, and with individuals throughout history. Wealthy ancient Egyptians developed a taste for showier jewelry, using metals of all kinds and colorful stones and glass. They also created motifs that we still identify with their culture: scarabs, deities, sphinxes, and a variety of animals. Pre-revolution France was often all about bows, pearls, and later—cameos. (Josiah Wedgewood, of Wedgewood pottery, designed some of the first porcelain cameos to be used for jewelry). The Great Plague inspired jewelry referred to as memento mori, intended to remind the wearers and all who saw them of their own mortality. And much later, “love beads” and flower crowns became synonymous with the anti-war and hippie movements of the 1960s and 70s, and safety pins and spikes were adopted by early punk rockers.


Cameo Ring and Edison Scarf

Iconic accessories are forever linked with entertainment and Hollywood Stars. Marilyn Monroe famously sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” while sporting the 24-carat “Moon of Baroda” diamond; Mad Men’s Joan Holloway was rarely seen without her gold pen necklace; Elizabeth Taylor’s massive jewelry collection was so impressive that she wrote a book about them; and Breakfast At Tiffany’s Holly Golightly (famously played by Audrey Hepburn) wore strands of Tiffany pearls in one of the most iconic movie images of all time.


The Woven Necklace; Pictured with The Wrap Scarf, The Everyday Tunic, and The Wide-Leg Pant


Cameo Rings and Necklace; Pictured above with the Edison Scarf and The Everyday Tunic

Alabama Chanin’s jewelry collection has its own unique sources of inspiration—including natural elements, our own embellishment and embroidery techniques, and inspiration from Anni Albers’ weaving—and now, Marcie McGoldrick’s Victorian-inspired porcelain-cast cameos (more about Marcie next week on the Journal). You can search all current accessories online in the Collection.



If you attended or read about any of our Makeshift events, you already know how much we respect and admire designer Maria Cornejo. She has been both conscious and vocal about fashion’s impact on the environment for many years—certainly before “sustainability” became a buzz word. Much of her design approach focuses on efficiency, and so Maria has become an innovator when it comes to cutting fabric in sophisticated and unexpected ways. Many of her garments feature unique angles and circular shapes and others are draped and cut from a single piece of fabric, using as few seams as possible. Her aesthetic is accessible and the fit is flattering.

Maria founded her current company, Zero + Maria Cornejo, in the late 90s—but the Chilean-born designer has been creating and producing clothing since the early 1980s. She co-founded her first company, Richmond Cornejo, just after the “punk” fashion movement moved through London, and she earned quite a following in Europe and Japan. She then moved on to consult for major retailers before creating her own signature collection.

When she founded Zero + Maria Cornejo, Maria bought leftover fabrics from larger companies, which opened her eyes to the amount of waste created by the fashion industry. Rather than create in large batches, she cuts each piece by hand, which allows her to envision the design pattern and use only the materials that are really necessary. In her company’s earlier days, each piece was made to order (much like at Alabama Chanin) so that she could understand and control the amount of waste she was creating. She told the Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA), “Knowing that fashion is the biggest polluter is enough of an incentive to make us want to continually review our practices and check ourselves. We’re trying to make positive change little-by-little, day-by-day wherever possible. What matters most is being consistent and considerate in all aspects. As a company, being aware of the whole process of a piece of clothing, where it’s made, the amount of steps to make a garment all tells us that we have to be aware of what we are putting out there at every step.”

Zero + Maria Cornejo have committed to working toward a transparent supply chain. They make use of sustainable materials at every possible opportunity. Her company is also a fervent supporter of using local labor to manufacture their products. Approximately 70% of her collections are produced in New York City’s Garment District; the pieces that are not fabricated in the US are made by small, independently owned factories and artisans in Italy.

Maria and her business partner Marysia Woroniecka take pride in running their woman-owned business and often partner and collaborate with other female artisans. A key component to Maria’s design philosophy is the desire to make garments for real women that last beyond a single season. She says she is “trying to bridge the disparity between what is being photographed and what people actually wear.” Women all over the world, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, actors Tilda Swinton and Susan Sarandon, and musician Karen O have all embraced Cornejo as a favored designer.

In 2006, Maria was awarded the Fashion Prize by the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards. She was an original member of the CFDA Sustainability Committee. Maria was also chosen as a finalist—and awarded runner-up—for the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative (for which Natalie served on the advisory committee), identifying designers who seek to elevate sustainability and make meaningful change in the American fashion industry—including commitment to responsible sourcing, ethical manufacturing, supply chain manufacturing, scalable business strategies, and consumer literacies.

Maria is often outspoken on political issues, placing women’s rights and refugee relief at the top of her priorities. Because her parents were prosecuted and her family was forced to flee Chile during the Pinoche years, she puts great efforts toward refugee assistance efforts. “As a former refugee and immigrant, this is a cause that’s near to my heart. I always say, being charitable is the ultimate luxury.” After attending the 2017 Women’s March, she expressed, “I really believe there’s strength in community and that you are only as strong as the people around you. People forget that in this day and age, it’s about having empathy for your fellow humans.”


This year, you have seen (and will see) our models wearing Maria’s shoes in our photographs and garment highlights. If you are interested in finding out more about Maria and Zero + Maria Cornejo, visit her website. You can find her collections at her eponymous stores and other major retailers, including Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Net-a-Porter.com.



The Wrap Dress style made its first appearance in the Alabama Chanin collection back in 2008. Over the years, it has been made in many different variations—dressed down in a basic tank style for summer as well as dressed up as a fully embellished dress for a wedding. The sleeve variations and length options make this garment endlessly versatile and easy to fit into your existing wardrobe.

Below you can find design choices for some of our favorite versions throughout the years.


Pattern variation – Wrap Tunic (shown above)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Black
Fabric color for inner layer – Black
Button Craft thread – Black
Stencil – Stars
Textile paint – Slate
Technique – Beaded Stars
Sleeve variation – Sleeveless
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Herringbone



Pattern variation – Wrap Tunic (shown at left)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Ballet
Fabric color for inner layer – Ballet
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Textile paint – Pearl Silver
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Sleeve variation – Sleeveless
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan



Pattern variation – Wrap Tunic
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – White
Fabric color for inner layer – White
Button Craft thread – White
Stencil – Facets
Textile paint – Pearl Silver
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Sleeve variation – Cap sleeve
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan



Pattern variation – Wrap Dress (with lengthening border added)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Ballet
Button craft thread – Dogwood
Sleeve variation – Long Fluted Sleeve
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Herringbone



Since America’s earliest days, individuals have used clothing and fashion to project their social status and political ideals. Even the first colonists used clothing to demonstrate their wealth or political status. Purchasing power meant social prominence and cultural importance. Some communities, like the Puritans and Amish communities, used their clothing as a different type of political statement—using garments to demonstrate their philosophical rejections of what they often saw as the frivolity or unnecessary focus on things that might take away from their primary focus on religion and faithfulness.


American women changed the face of fashion and culture during the World War II era, when millions entered the workforce. By the end of the war, over 35% of women held jobs, many of them non-traditional and generally associated with men. These women often dressed in practical garments in order to operate machinery or work in the defense industry. The act of wearing pants became something akin to a patriotic act, with Rosie the Riveter serving as a symbol of pride. Women also participated in the armed services, as members of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). Until these positions were created, women had generally not been issued regulation uniforms.


In the early 1940s, fashion and race collided in what became known as the “Zoot Suit Riots”. Zoot Suits were oversized, long-tailed coats worn over high-waisted pants and were inspired by Jazz culture. The fashion was adopted by Mexican-American and Latino youths in the Los Angeles area. White American soldiers took offense to those who wore this style of clothing, as they were often made of wool, a fabric rationed during wartime. Zoot Suit wearers became—often unfairly—seen as thugs or draft dodgers. Tensions boiled over into actual riots and brawls between the two groups, where soldiers attacked those wearing the garments—even stripping them of their suits. The riots grew into a larger, race-based conflict focusing on Latinos in general. Los Angeles banned Zoot Suits almost immediately thereafter.


During the 1940s and 50s, nonconformist youth adopted fashions meant to antagonize what they saw as oppressive and unnecessary social norms. Beatniks who idolized Jack Kerouac and Che Guevera emulated their dress with leather jackets, berets, and black jeans. Of course, popular culture adopted these fashions and they became emblematic of rebellious youth, as represented by Marlon Brando in The Wild One or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. What had once been a sign of defiance became stylish and cool, and therefore the opposite of rebellious. The same patterns emerged in later years when major designers created designs inspired by the punk movement and so-called grunge culture. Over and over again, outside culture was co-opted by the mainstream which stripped the fashion of its original intent.


The 1960s introduced the iconic counterculture and flower child movements, which rejected conventional dress, viewing it as a symbol of the mainstream political and social attitudes that were seen as oppressive. Women’s clothing became a direct and overt protest of the ultra-feminine fashions that became prevalent after WWII, exaggerating women’s curves—with comfort being undeniably secondary to sexuality and objectification. Their fashions were intentionally anti-establishment and often had DIY elements of embroideries and handmade embellishments. “Hippie” fashion adopted counterculture symbols like peace signs and flowers. As a political statement, some women opted to go braless as a rejection of what they viewed as subjugated and limited roles of women in society and as a way to adopt a more natural, back-to-the-earth point of view. In general, the counterculture movement sought to flaunt convention through fashion. Men grew long hair and beards and women also favored long hair and natural looks, sometimes opting to keep armpits and legs unshaven as a physical objection to societal norms they saw as oppressive.

The American flag became popular in both mainstream and popular fashion. Hippies, who often wore Army jackets as a protest against the Vietnam War, also integrated the flag into their garments as a way to draw attention to their dissent. Abbie Hoffman, founder of the Youth International Party (the Yippies) was arrested in 1968 for wearing a shirt that resembled the design of the American flag and indicted and convicted of the act of desecration. However, the American flag became an integral part of youth fashion in 1976, the year of the US Bicentennial. Flag patterns were emblazoned on everything from bell bottoms to shoes to belt buckles.

The Civil Rights movements in the 1960s-inspired fashion that focused on African American identity. This included everything from clothing made of Kente cloth, dashikis, African jewelry, and natural hairstyles. The Black Panther Party adopted a uniform for members that included a powder blue shirt, black pants and shoes, a black leather jacket, a black beret, and black gloves. This was meant to reflect their militant attitude and act as a celebration of their blackness. The Black Muslim community expressed their ethics and political perspective through formal dress, particularly dark suits and bow ties.


In the later years of the 20th century, fashion designers began to express their own political points of view through their collections. Imagery became more overt, focusing on issues like gay rights, AIDS, the environment, and politics in general. Vivienne Tam’s 1995 Mao collection caused a great deal of controversy by using propagandist imagery (specifically the face of Mao Zedong). Jean Paul Gaultier produced runway shows featuring men wearing skirts. Celebrities wore red ribbons to major events to encourage AIDS awareness. And PETA created a stir with their “We’d rather go naked than wear fur,” advertisement that featured a group of recognizable supermodels. Katharine Hammet pioneered the political slogan t-shirt, primarily using bold words on white shirts. One of her most famous designs was the “Choose Life” shirt made famous by George Michael, but she has continued her work—focusing on subjects like environmental sustainability and AIDS activism.


Most recently, designers and fashion houses like Prabal Gurung, Christian Siriano, Missoni, and Dior have been inspired to include their strong patriotic sentiments as part of their runway collections. No matter what your political affiliation, displaying your own form of patriotism through fashion is an American tradition. Fashion has always been used as a form of expressing identity and either separating oneself from a group or demonstrating your allegiance to a tribe or movement. We view all of this expression as a form of patriotism and the true American spirit.

Images from SlateLip Magazine, E! Online, Gizmodo, Biography.com, and Everyday I Show.



“Nothing is less real than realism ― details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get the real meaning of things.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe is undoubtedly considered one of America’s greatest and most influential painters. She was a key figure in the emergence and advancement of American modernism and produced an extensive body of work over the course of seventy working years. Her skill for capturing color, light, and form via her most frequently featured subjects—landscapes, cityscapes, desert skies, bones, and (of course) flowers—was nuanced and centered in her sense of place.

Her iconic flower paintings are lush with color and have been interpreted as evocations of female genitalia. Photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s husband and promoter, encouraged Freudian comparisons, but O’Keeffe was uncomfortable with what she felt were degrading analyses of her work made by male artists; she fought to assert her own voice. She wrote to her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan, “I thought you could write something about me that men can’t – What I want written – I do not know – I have no definite idea of what it should be – but a woman who has lived many things and who sees lines and colors as an expression of living – might say something that a man can’t – I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore – Men have done all they can do about it.”

O’Keeffe’s ownership of her femininity and her image are examined in Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. The exhibition examines what they believe to be a well-crafted persona created by a truly independent artist, through photograph portraits and the artist’s wardrobe. Her clothing is displayed alongside photographs and O’Keeffe’s paintings as a way to demonstrate how fully she claimed and curated her identity throughout her career. Living Modern suggests that the artist was modern art’s first real “celebrity” and that she used clothing in a calculated way, to solidify her persona.

The collection documents her early years, where she established a simple style of dress and a cosmetic-free face, her time in New York when she adopted a stark black-and-white palette, and her years in New Mexico where her clothing became a reflection of her more vibrant surroundings. Until her later years, O’Keeffe wore black and white suits with a headscarf or hat and loose-fitting garments like kimonos—almost always in black. She learned to sew at an early age and made her own clothing over the years, but also leaned on a core group of designers and commissioned custom items. Her style was indelible: minimal, androgynous, and carefully thought out. The exhibition’s curator Wanda Corn explains, “She’s an artist of distillation. She takes something and brings it down to a very purist and minimalist aesthetic. She didn’t do big buttons, ruffles, lace.”

“Everyone wanted to redress her to make her appear more feminine,” Corn explains. Instead, she used clothing to demand agency in a male-dominated field. In the days before social media and message-driven branding, O’Keefe (much like Frida Kahlo) used her clothing to establish a deliberate aesthetic and identity—and to reinforce a commitment to her values and to her personal philosophies.

Click here for more information and to watch a video about the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition.




The Sylvan stencil is one of Alabama Chanin’s most intricate and involved yet—mimicking the details of its namesake (the woods). The design groups leaves, flowers, petals, and stems showcasing various embroidery stitches and techniques.

The Lark Tee and Liza Dress are machine-sewn garments that feature Sylvan hand embroidery, which adds depth and texture to the simple silhouettes. Sylvan styles are available in four colorways: Silver, Baby Blue, Concrete, and Black—each with unique thread and paint colors.

Find these styles and 100% hand-sewn garments that also feature Sylvan in the Alabama Chanin Collection.


Left: Lark Tee; Right: Lark Tee and The Mid-Length Skirt


Top: The Cocoon Cardigan and Liza Dress; Bottom: Liza Dress

View our current Collection here.



Alabama Chanin’s Core Essentials have been around since 2013, beginning with a collection of hand-sewn basic styles. We mapped the evolution of those designs a few weeks ago on the Journal, and more recently shared a fit guide for our tops and tunics.

Today, we share a guide to our Core Essential skirts, pants, and dresses which fall in a price range from under $100 to just under $600.


Know our process:

  • Each piece is made from Alabama Chanin organic cotton. We offer three different fabrics in various styles: lightweight rib (5 oz. per linear yard), medium-weight jersey (9.8 oz. per linear yard), and lightweight jersey (4.76 oz. per linear yard).
  • Every garment is designed and made in Alabama—right here in our Bldg. 14 production facility, which is housed in The Factory along with all of the Alabama Chanin Family of Businesses.
  • We practice lean manufacturing and every garment is made to order. By making each garment to order, we conserve our fabric, employee time, and do not end up with an over stock of unwanted items.

A few updates (for those of you who already have your favorites):

  • The Crop Pant and Edna Pant are now found in one place under The Wide-Leg Pant—with two length options.
  • The Sleeveless Rib Dress, The Short Sleeve Rib Dress, and The Long Sleeve Rib Dress are now found in one place under The Rib Dress—with three sleeve length options.
  • The Keyhole Dress now has a short sleeve option.

The guide below is a resource for fit, fabric notes, and features for each of the Core Essentials styles. Core Essentials evolve over the season with fresh colors and updated details—check back often.

P.S.: Our newest Collection offering, the Alabama Chanin Core Club represents a range of our Core Essentials—including The Rib Skirt, The Sleeveless Rib Dress, and The Easy Dress that are described below.




“Sail on, silver girl. Sail on by… Your time has come to shine; all your dreams are on their way.” – Simon and Garfunkel

Silver: a very malleable element that is capable of a high degree of polish. Its atomic number is 47 and its symbol on the periodic table of elements is Ag, from the Latin word argentum.

One of the seven metals of antiquity, silver was known by prehistoric man and was almost certainly used as a primitive form of money.

In Italian, silver is translated as argento; in Spanish it is plata; in Polish, srebro, and in Scottish Gaelic, airgid.

Silver and gold can form in star explosions, or supernovae; smaller stars produce silver, while large star explosions produce gold.

A powerful color, silver can supposedly bring mental, physical, and emotional harmony. It is associated with spirituality, introspection, illumination, and artistic endeavors. Silver is a link to the moon – to the ebb and flow of tides. In Islam, the Urdu word for silver is chandi, which means soft spoken and eloquent. In folklore, silver often has mystical powers and associations, offering protection from witches, werewolves, and monsters.


Our Collection’s spring color palette has until now included Black, Concrete, Baby Blue, Natural, White, and the recently launched Navy. Silver is newest to the color card—another earthy, natural hue that complements its sister colors in tone and in mood. May it inspire your imagination and your meditations.

Explore the Collection and find embroidered and Core styles in our signature organic jersey, now also available in Silver.



The global fashion industry is notoriously opaque, and it depends upon exploitation of workers and environmentally damaging practices. It is an issue that we’ve spoken of many times and one that drives us to do our very best to remain as transparent in our methods and materials as possible. But for us, there is also great joy in sharing what we do—in finding beauty in building a community and working with such incredibly talented employees and artisans. Nothing that Alabama Chanin makes will be at the expense of our people or our planet.

The Fashion Revolution movement works to do all of this on a global level. Their goal is to unite the fashion industry in an attempt to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced, and purchased—so that what the world wears has been made in a safe, clean, and fair way.

Fashion Revolution Week runs from April 24th – April 30th and coincides with one of the events that inspired this movement: the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,138 people were killed and many more injured. They are asking people across the world to ask brands, “Who Made My Clothes?” as a way to demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain.

We will continue to work toward the most ethical and transparent supply chain possible. At Alabama Chanin, these are some of the people from our studio and Building 14 production team who make your clothes. We invite you all to get involved and to ask more questions, not just of us, but of all your favorite brands and designers. #whomademyclothes

Luda Matmuratova

Olivia Sherif

Sue Hanback

Victoria McCoy and Margaret May


If you own any of our garments, we encourage you to proudly wear and share them on Instagram tagging #alabamachanin and #whomademyclothes.




Build a Wardrobe 2017 continues in the second quarter with our Car Coat Pattern. Offering a fit that is flattering to all body types, the Car Coat is a great transitional piece that can be worn throughout the year—going from basic to statement-making with the addition of stencils, embroidery, and beading.

The digital version of the Car Coat Pattern has three length options as well as pocket and sleeve variations, and it is available to download on our Studio Books + Patterns page for $18. The downloadable PDF contains the pattern graded in sizes XS through XXL as well as instructions for pattern cutting and garment construction. The file also includes two printing options—a full-scale version that can be printed on large-format printers in copy shops and a tiled version that can be printed at home.


The pattern is included in our 2017 Build a Wardrobe program, which can be purchased at any point during the year.

Check back in July and October for our third and fourth quarter releases.

Purchase the digital pattern here.

Sign up for Build a Wardrobe here.

Share all your projects with us using the hashtags #theschoolofmaking and #buildawardrobe2017.

P.S.: We ask that you respect our policies and use our patterns for your own personal projects. They are designed for individual use and are not intended for reproducing, distributing, or commercial venues.



Our Core basic styles make the perfect canvas for our accessories—with recently updated colors and designs. Here are a few fresh looks for Spring.


The Rib Crew and Indigo Slim Scarf


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and Indigo Poncho


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and The Suzanne Slim Scarf


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and The Rinne Poncho


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and The Rinne Wrap Scarf

Explore our Rinne’s Dress Collection on the Journal.



We’re launching an expanded collection of core garments today and also updating our manufacturing model for these garments. Conserving natural resources is at the core of our mission statement. This means balancing our supply chain with lean method manufacturing in order to deliver the best possible product to our customers.  Every day we look for better ways to reduce and even eliminate waste in our production process. This helps us operate our business in a lean, sustainable manner as we continually search for ways to utilize every fabric scrap and only produce what is needed.

All of our hand-sewn collection garments are made after the order is confirmed. When we began machine manufacturing in 2014, we produced our machine-sewn garments in small batches. We are updating this process, and starting today, we will also make our machine-sewn garments to order. This will enable us to make the most sustainable use of our fabric. We understand that our culture is currently obsessed with immediate gratification—and that we want to wear our new garments as soon as possible—and at the same time, we also want to protect the precious resources the earth has to offer. So with this update, we’re hoping to find the balance between both. If you have any questions, give us a call at 256.760.1090 or email office (at) alabamachanin.com.

Today we’re rolling out updated rib styles under this new process. All our rib tops are fitted through the body and made of a soft and comfortable lightweight rib fabric.


We’ve updated The Scoop with a lightweight trim along a feminine neckline that is open, but not too revealing. The sleeves are long and hit past the wrist. We introduce new elbow-length and sleeveless versions as well.


We’ve streamlined our rib tops and offer three versions of The Rib Crew: The Rib Shell, The Rib Tee, and The Rib Crew. Each of these styles has feminine details with lightweight trim along the neckline, sleeve, and bottom hem. The sleeves on The Rib Crew are long and hit past the wrist.

Find each of these new styles in our Collection and mix and match with the rest of our Core Essentials.

View our current Core Essentials Collection here.



Donna Karan’s approach to design has been a recurring topic of conversation on our Journal and an ongoing source of design inspiration for Natalie. From a 2012 Journal post:

Karan became a presence in the fashion world as the women’s rights movement found its footing in the 1970s and women began working in the business world in greater numbers. Most designers didn’t know how to dress this burgeoning new population of professionals. You saw women dressed in double-breasted suits with tight skirts, wide shoulders, and, often, pin stripes. Virginia Slims adverts of the time showed images of women in suits – straight, lean, no curves, nothing womanly at first glance. The models could easily have been men. 

“Donna Karan changed that. She cut clothes that she would want to wear, that fit her own lifestyle as a designer and businesswoman….Under the Donna Karan label, she took a thoughtful approach to women’s professional dress. She famously created a wardrobe base for the professional woman, which she called “Seven Easy Pieces.” It included pieces that women could easily mix and match for any number of occasions.


With the same thoughtful approach, we introduce new core basic styles to our current Collection.


We’ve added a three-quarter sleeve option to our Keyhole Dress and Keyhole Tunic. This a-line style flows nicely and has a key-hole detail at the neckline. It also features side-seam pockets, deep enough to fit a set of keys or other small objects.


Our Wide-Leg Pants are now offered in a cropped version: The Crop Pant. This wide-leg style of pants is introduced as warmer weather approaches. These pants are fun, casual, and have a comfortable fit.


The Moto Jacket and The Moto Coat feature darts at the bust and snap closures at the cuffs. The jacket hits at the hip, while the coat has a dramatic length.


Our newest cardigan, The Kate Cardigan, is an open-front jacket meant for everyday wear. And our newest machine-sewn core style is The Short Sleeve Rib Dress, which has a new sleeve length variation in addition to the sleeveless and long sleeve options.

Find our current styles, along with other core basics and featured pieces, in our Collection.



The Alabama Chanin Signature | Bridal Collection features a range of dresses, skirts, tops, and accessories for special occasions, for the bride and her wedding party, and for black-tie events. Our organic cotton jersey garments are hand crafted and modern—and offer sustainable options for everyday elegance. While many of our garments are created with simplicity in mind, they also feature intricate hand-beading and embroidery.


The Signature | Bridal Collection is available in a range of colors. Consider any of our garments for evening or formal wear with a Black fabric option on select styles.


If you are interested in placing a custom order or arranging a personal fitting at The Factory, please email shop (at) alabamachanin.com.

P.S.: You can also schedule a private appointment and work with our experienced sales team on-site at The Factory to design a custom-made dress for your special event. Our skilled team and artisans make the highest quality, one-of-a-kind garments from our organic cotton fabric. Give us a call at 256.760.1090 M – F from 8am – 4:30pm CST.

Pictured above:

  1. Adrienne Wrap, The Corset, Camellia Skirt
  2. Guinevere Dress
  3. Fleur Tunic/Kennedy Dress/Antheia Skirt
  4. Stella Jacket, Elena Skirt, Adrienne Wrap, Lillian Coat, Madelyn Skirt, Gabriella Skirt, Amelia Skirt, Camellia Skirt, Avery Corset, Peyton Skirt, Charlotte Coat
  5. Donovan Coat, Long A-Line Dress
  6. Antheia Skirt
  7. Margot Tunic/Donovan Coat


“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality” – Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo’s perspective on dress was unique, in that she was able to express her political and feminist views using traditional Tehuana-style Mexican garments. Many believe that she chose this style of dress at the request of her partner, Diego Rivera, as a way to reflect their populist, socialist political perspectives—but early family photos show that Frida had worn Tehuana costumes since her girlhood.

Possibly she re-embraced the style of dress as a way to conceal her physical impairments and realized that her dress was also a statement of Mexicanidad—a celebration of her indigenous culture. It is telling that she adopted the traditional dress of the Tehuantepec—a matriarchal society—as a way to exert her own personhood and opinions. It is no coincidence that her style of dress was symbolic of a powerful Mexican woman.


Frida played with color and texture, combining traditional floor-length skirts, square-cut huipil blouses, and traditional embroideries with lace and ribbon trim and bright fabrics imported from Europe—creating a true signature style.

P.S.: The inspiration board above also includes images and inspiration from British Textiles 1700 to the Present by Linda Parry, American Snapshots by Robert E. Jackson (and don’t miss the Instagram account here), Christian Dior (English Version), tear sheets from Vogue Magazine, a men’s shirt design from Comme des Garçons, an image from photographer Paul Graves, and a slew of others who inspire every day.



Welcome to the new year. In the spirit of the fresh start a new year brings, we present a new Collection.

About the Collection

During the summer of 2016 on the Journal, we started an artist series that profiled female artists and designers like Frida Kahlo, Louise Nevelson, Clarie McCardell, Sonia Delaunay, and Anni Albers. Each of these women was actively making and designing during the first half of the 20th century and has paved the way for women today who work in these industries. While we explored their work, we also examined their own personal styles.


Frida Kahlo’s way of dress stood out to us, as it is evident in her self-portraits. Her richly embroidered garments were modified versions of traditional Mexican clothing and acted to reflect her feelings about femininity, politics, and her own body.

A series of garments in our Collection are inspired by the elaborate embroidery from Frida’s dresses. We introduce them alongside favorite designs, like our Rib Dresses and Flora pattern, that carry over into the Collection.



P.S.: We will continue to highlight artist Frida Kahlo on the Journal this month, in a series of posts about her work, style, and cooking. Be sure to check back.


Today, we’re introducing two new designs for our Stripe Tall and Stripe Shortie Socks. We’ve been working with Little River Sock Mill—who manufactures in Alabama—since 2014 to produce designs exclusively for Alabama Chanin. All of their socks are quality made from a blend of organic cotton, nylon, and elastic—providing amazing comfort and great fit.


Our new designs mix bold color blocks and detailed stripes. Whichever you choose, they are guaranteed to be the most comfortable socks you’ve ever worn. We promise.

Use accessories like these socks and our organic cotton scarves to build on to classic style. Below are a few of our favorite current looks, combining our series of Rib and Placket garments.


Pictured here: Flora Wrap Scarf, Edison Wrap Scarf, Nadene Jacket, The Rib Turtleneck, The Lightweight Leggings, and a Cotton Jersey Pull


Pictured here: Flora Wrap Scarf, Meaghan Dress, The Lightweight Leggings, and Stripe Shortie Socks


Pictured here: The Rib Tee, The Keyhole Dress, Beaded Lace Scarf, The Slim Scarf, and a Cotton Jersey Pull



Journal followers are likely familiar with one of the newer faces on our design team: Erin Reitz (née Connelly), who we have featured recently. Erin and business partner Kerry Clark Speake are co-founders of The Commons, a Charleston, South Carolina-based shop that sells high quality, local, and American-made housewares. In addition to the work at The Commons, Erin and Kerry also collaborate with talented artisans to create their own collection of glassware and hand-thrown ceramics: The Shelter Collection. (And we’re also working on a glassware collaboration, which will be out this holiday season.)

But, Erin’s design skills extend beyond the arena of home goods. She also has extensive design experience creating garments and accessories. Before opening The Commons, she attended New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and interned with designer Nanette Lepore, before going on to work with brands like Anne Klein, Ann Taylor, Levi Strauss & Co., and Eddie Bauer. Though a key member of the Alabama Chanin design team, Erin’s home base is in Charleston, where she resides with her husband (and Alabama Chanin collaborator) Brooks Reitz.


As part of our continuous exploration into the creative process, we were interested in finding out what spurs creativity in someone who has worked at all ends of the spectrum—from a large corporation, to her own independent craftwork.  We are also excited to share what we are learning about Erin and her creative point-of-view through our work together.

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


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

Erin Reitz: For me to be truly creative, yes. I have been a designer for so long in the commercial retail environment that I am able to create on demand. I can quickly design clothing to fit the need. But I almost see this as creative problem solving rather than an artistic creativity. Considering all your parameters, and coming up with the best solution.

When I am truly creative, it feels like an entirely different state of mind. I will get lost in a story in my head, with an incredible rush of energy and optimism. This usually comes in distinct waves when I am well rested (or drinking coffee) and when some piece of new inspiration has come up. Either from traveling, or discovering a new artist, or even just taking a walk and smelling something new…then I can be triggered into creating a concept. When I am in this mode, it feels similar in my mind to being lost in a book; I can feel it so deeply from many angles.

The best feeling is when you can find a creative partner to express these thoughts to without them losing their power once you have said them out loud. I feel this deeply with my partner in The Commons, Kerry Speake. And Natalie and I have an immediate comfort, where I feel like I can say the weirdest thing that has just popped into my brain, and she fully listens and responds like we are in the same place.

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

ER: I think it is probably both. But there are people who feel more comfortable operating from their right brain, where you have fewer constraints with facts and more potential to alter perceptions.

AC: Creativity for me is ______________________.

ER: Creativity for me is the juiciest part of life.

AC: How do you define success?

ER: True expression.


AC: If your creative process or project isn’t productive, at what point do you cut your losses? Or is there a point? Do you keep pressing on?

ER: I think you cut your losses if you have lost interest. But as long as you still feel like you’re walking a path that resonates with your initial intention then PRESS ON!

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

ER: The lightest parts are in the beginning, when the first flash of the idea comes. And it seems like connections are popping all over your brain. The idea and story feels like it has no boundaries. There are so many ways to interpret the shape you’re inspired by, so many materials and techniques that could achieve the texture or color, and so many meanings that you can portray through one simple idea. I love tying these ideas together, building a wall of images, and sketching into the defining principles of that idea.

The heaviest part is selling it.

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

ER: This is my favorite question.

The lightest are the visual components. Seeing something inspiring and beginning to link it to ideas. When I am in the space in my brain that feels limitless and hopeful. When I am romancing myself with the idea and creating the fantasy around it.

The heaviest is the fear of executing the idea. Where there are boundaries everywhere…What if it doesn’t work? What if I can’t find that material? What if I can’t make a reality what I see in my head? And then, even worse—if this is an idea I want to sell – what if it doesn’t? It is all tied together and weighed down by fear.

Luckily the light side usually greatly outweighs the heavy side!


AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

ER: Yes! To stay creative I need to work at creating the empty spaces in my mind, so I have space to wonder. Meditation has been a key part of this for me for a long time. Always looking for the “right path” – and I don’t think you can find that unless you have some quiet in your mind regularly. That really helps to steer my mind away from listening to the fearful voices as well.

Lately I have discovered that exercise is equally important to this as meditation. I’ve finally realized the connection to a strong body and strong mind. And how much easier it is to walk that path you’re trying to create when you can literally walk with strength and ease.

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

ER: I have always had a fantasy of being a museum curator. I LOVE collections. I find it so pleasurable to make esoteric links between things…invisible strings tying a group together. But I also know that is why I love clothing: connecting a group in ways that are obvious to people, and ways that no one may ever know.



Keep your face always toward the sunshine—and shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman

We’re always looking toward the sunshine.

(Pictured here: The Collier Tank, combining hand and machine sewn.)



Though the actual German Bauhaus school technically existed for a mere 14 years, its legacy undoubtedly continues to expand and flourish. The school, active during the years of the Weimar Republic, sought to unite artists of all disciplines in a utopian goal of designing a new world. Until broken up by the Nazis in 1933, Walter Gropius’ school developed a rigorous, hands-on curriculum led by some of the world’s greatest architects, designers, graphic artists, and weavers.


After fleeing Germany, prominent Bauhaus teachers and artists fanned out across the globe—many in America. Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became director of the School of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology; Laszlo Moholy-Nagy formed the Institute of Design in Chicago, and Josef and Anni Albers developed programs at Black Mountain College in North Carolina before Josef moved on to teach at Yale. Gropius himself ended up at Harvard, chairing the Graduate School of Design.


Over the years, Gropius, other Bauhaus masters, their students, and prominent Bauhaus-inspired artists have donated works to Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, now one of the largest Bauhaus collections in the world. The museum’s holdings—more than 32,000 paintings, textiles, photographs, and other works—are now largely accessible to the public online. Their online archive is incredibly well organized and easily searchable.


This free-to-use collection is open for public viewing in its entirety, in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus school’s founding. For those who want to start with the basics, begin with the Chronology section for a visual representation of the school’s creation and development. The massive collection also follows the legacy of the movement through works of its actual students and others associated with the discipline. Visit the guide to the archives to see just how expansive the collection is or narrow your search by individual artist, topic, medium, date, or object number. (And for those interested in specific pieces, according to the museum, “Most any object can be requested for in-person viewing the museum’s Art Study Center.”)


Start your tour here—but we recommend setting aside a few hours for browsing. You’ll need it.

All images from Harvard Art Museums.


“Clothes are for real live women…They are made to be worn, to be lived in.” – Claire McCardell

Claire McCardell is effectively the founder of American ready-to-wear fashion. Working from the 1930s through the 50s, McCardell was innovative because she designed clothing that was fashionable but also allowed women to move, breathe, and generally live their lives comfortably—all while feeling beautiful. Focusing more on sportswear, she turned her back on girdles, corsets, and uncomfortable construction, emphasizing that “clothes should be useful”—but still attractive, comfortable, and feminine.


McCardell designed throughout World War II, coming up with innovative workarounds when faced with wartime restrictions. She utilized whatever fabrics were available (even parachute cotton) in her designs and, when shoe leather became scarce, contracted Capezio to make their iconic ballet slippers, which would become a mainstay of the modern woman’s wardrobe. After World War II, American women had limited (if any) access to French fashions—and France was basically rebuilding an entire clothing industry. This opened the door for McCardell to recreate the image of the American woman, independent of excess outside influence. Her new style was more casual than pre-war clothing and embraced fabrics like denim, calico, and stretch jersey. She created wardrobes of mix-and-match separates that could be worn in a number of combinations—meaning more outfits for less money.


According to McCardell, her main design inspiration was her own intuition—believing that most women were employing their wardrobes to generally achieve the same things and solve the same problems. “Most of my ideas,” she said, “come from trying to solve my own problems.” The functionality and comfort of her garments relied on how they were constructed. Where some dresses had built-in shoulder pads to accent the shape of the arm, McCardell’s dresses created a similar look by changing the cut of the sleeve; pre-war dresses widely relied on corsets or foundation garments to create a desired silhouette—but McCardell created fitted garments by cutting on the bias or by belting full, circle skirts to create the “wasp waist” look of the day.

Her “American Look” permanently changed the landscape of fashion. Looking at photographs of McCardell’s designs today, it is clear that many of them have a timeless quality. Because she was not constantly adjusting her style from fashion season-to-season, her looks were consistent. They didn’t look dated. Many of her garments made in the 1940s would fit comfortably in closets today. Her once-revolutionary approach to style has become the norm.


The Museum at FIT has a collection of McCardell garments. To see more of her garments, browse those photos here.


Photos from The Red List and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

P.S.:One of Natalie’s all-time favorite books on fashion is Claire Mccardell Redefining Modernism by Kohle Yohannan.



“He who knows how to appreciate color relationships, the influence of one color on another, their contrasts and dissonances, is promised an infinitely diverse imagery.” – Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay (1885 – 1979), alongside her husband and fellow artist Robert Delaunay, co-founded the Orphism art movement, an offshoot of the Cubist style that focused on abstraction, light, and color—in contrast to the monochromatic style of traditional Cubism.


Sonia was a painter but began experimenting with textiles as “exercises in color”; her fabrics combined the traditional Russian folk-art of her childhood with the avant-garde style of early 20th-century Paris. She took abstraction of style and color from canvas to fabric, and her daring and oft-photographed garments represented female agency, style, and independence. Delaunay is often remembered for her bold, woolen (and almost certainly uncomfortable) swimsuits—which were really more symbols of color and design than actual functional garments.


She found it essential to take into account the human form when designing fabrics—not just designing fabrics and then shaping them to fit the body afterward. In a 1968 letter, Delaunay lamented a trend of creating garments from Mondrian and Pop Art fabrics: “All [my] works were made for women, and all were constructed in relation to the body. They were not copies of paintings transposed onto women’s bodies…I find all that completely ridiculous.” Her work was so revolutionary and respected that she was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre.


Images from Sotheby’s, Azure Magazine, and Modernarium.



“A longing for excitement can be satisfied without external means within oneself: For creating is the most intense excitement one can come to know.” – Anni Albers

Anni Albers was a multi-disciplinary artist best remembered for her work in textile design. She trained at the Bauhaus school in Germany, where she met her future husband and fellow artist, Josef Albers. At the Bauhaus, she experimented with traditional and innovative materials for weaving, making use of traditional yarns, horsehair, metallic threads, and cellophane. While traditional weavers may have focused on decorative motifs or floral patterns, Anni’s designs could be abstract or organic, and sometimes vividly geometric. She earned her diploma in 1929 with an auditorium wall covering made from cotton, chenille, and cellophane that both reflected light and absorbed sound—a piece that architect Philip Johnson called her “passport to America”.


When the Nazis closed the Bauhaus, the Alberses immigrated to America, teaching at the experimental Black Mountain College for over 16 years. As an assistant professor of art, she continued her experiments with textiles, but also with embossed papers and, many years later, printmaking. Albers developed a weaving curriculum based on the ideas of industrial design, placing importance on both hand-woven and industrial textiles. According to Buckminster Fuller, architect and Black Mountain College alumni, Anni “more than any other weaver, has succeeded in exciting mass realization of the complex structure of fabrics.”

In 1949, Anni Albers became the first weaver to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. At the time of her death in 1994, she was the last living instructor of the original Bauhaus school.


Images from Black Mountain Research, NY Arts, The Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, and Christopher Farr.



Frida Kahlo was both surrealist painter and unwitting fashion icon. Her image is immediately recognizable and her clothing was carefully chosen to reflect her feelings about femininity, politics, and her own physical limitations. Frida’s vibrantly colored and richly embroidered garments were tweaked versions of traditional Mexican clothing, with corset-style bodices and long flowing skirts. But the roots of her style are much deeper than they appear on the surface. Like most women, Frida dressed to look and feel beautiful but, unbeknownst to some, also to mask her ailments and near-constant physical pain.


Her full skirts hid legs damaged by childhood polio and a horrific bus accident at 17. That accident left her with a heavily scarred body and lifelong health problems that over 40 surgeries could not correct. During a three-month stay in a hospital, Frida began painting the full-body casts she had to wear for long stretches of time. Eventually, she created her own structured corsets that allowed her to walk upright, though in constant pain. She covered these leather structures with fabric corset tops or bright, feminine blouses.


As Frida became more incapacitated, her garments became more elaborate and colorful. When her right leg was amputated, about a year before her death, she fitted her prosthetic with a bright red embroidered boot—and she added a Chinese bell to the laces for greater effect. Her approach to fashion was almost one of defiance; she wanted to make herself feel beautiful in spite of her physical limitations, but she also wanted to portray an air of confidence to the world at large. Last year, for the first time since her death, some of Frida Kahlo’s personal garments were displayed and photographed.


Images from Collectors Weekly, Vulture, and NYMag.com



“I fell in love with black; it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all… You can be quiet, and it contains the whole thing.” – Louise Nevelson


American sculptor Louise Nevelson became known for her large, three-dimensional wooden structures, almost all painted in monochromatic white or black. In her most iconic works, she utilized found objects and scraps gathered from debris piles, and so referred to herself as “the original recycler”. Nevelson originally limited herself to black and white to “discipline” herself—but the colors eventually became part of her signature style.

During the mid-Fifties, she produced her first series of all-black wood landscape structures, describing herself as the Architect of Shadow. “Shadow and everything else on Earth actually is moving. Movement—that’s in color, that’s in form, that’s in almost everything. Shadow is fleeting… I arrest it and I give it a solid substance.” For much of her life, critics and admirers were almost fixated on her use of black, but Nevelson never shied from discussing its importance. “You see, [black] says more for me than anything else. In the academic world, they say black and white were no colors, but I’m twisting that to tell you that, for me, it is the total color. It means totality. It means: contains all.”


Images of Louise Nevelson from Jeanne Bucher Jaeger. Images of Nevelson’s work from the Guggenheim Museum.



Collection #30 was introduced—with the thought to combine machine- and hand-made pieces into the same line—as these garments are created using the same production processes, the same fabric, the same design team, and the same approach.

From a design and development point-of-view, we now see that there should have never been a separation of the collections. We are creatively drawn to combine both hand and machine sewing in one garment. By keeping A. Chanin separate from our Alabama Chanin collection, we were placing arbitrary rules for ourselves—and those rules became restrictive.


With this new freedom, we are now allowing ourselves to combine machine and hand sewing into single items—as shown here on our new Collier Tank and Davy Racerback. You will see increased versatility and design flexibility. A. Chanin will continue to exist, but with an entirely new function: as organic blanks and basics that companies can purchase for screen printing and private label collections.


Our clothing today says much about who we are and—in some cases—what we believe in. To some, what they wear is of great importance and to others, not so much. But modern women in most Western societies have the agency to decide what to wear and how much meaning they assign to what they wear. In the past, what women wore presented how societies wanted them to be seen; today women can use fashion to project how they want to be seen. Those ideas and presentations have evolved drastically over the years. It is undoubtedly impossible to document women’s fashion silhouettes through the years in a blog post; there are entire books that detail the evolution of fashion. But observing how Western and European women’s garments have changed tells us quite a bit about women—how they have changed society and how they have been changed.

Almost until the Renaissance era, before existence of the middle class, clothing was seen by the average man or woman as a way to cover their bodies. Garments were boxy and utilitarian and women probably owned about 2 or 3 outfits. But slowly, the ideas of the medieval period began to fade away in favor of an age of awareness—of art, of science, and of beauty. Toward the end of the medieval era, clothing for women of all classes became more colorful and better fitted; garments of well-off women became tighter and more form fitting. Fabrics like silk, linen, and fur set the wealthy apart from the working class. We saw the birth of tailoring and witnessed as the idea of fashion as a concept emerged. The appearance of tailor as an occupation showed how division of labor was evolving.

One of the first truly ornamental silhouettes grew out of the years preceding the French Revolution—a time of abundance and decadence. Gowns were elaborately draped in heavy silks. At events, society women wore panniers, which were side hoops that extended the width of the dress, while keeping the front and back relatively flat. These extravagant garments became symbolic of widening class differences, fanning the flames of the French Revolution.


But, after the revolution, very few wanted to be associated with the excess of those they so recently overthrew, and fashions became simpler and less ornamental. A high-waisted silhouette, known as the “empire” style, was inspired by Greco-Roman artwork and popularized by Josephine Bonaparte, wife of the French emperor. The bodice was fitted until just below the bust, when a long, gathered skirt was attached. The style represented freedom to many women who were happy to escape heavy and uncomfortable petticoats.

The high-waisted fashion lasted for years, but one of the next trends saw women combining the silhouette with more structured garments. Gauzy fabrics gave way to twills and taffeta and heavy, weighted hems replaced flowing skirts. By the 1830s, waistlines had again dropped to just above natural position. In both Europe and the United States, those with means found it desirable to embrace full, bell-shaped skirts and bodices laden with underpinnings. Boned stays put pressure on the waist and had gussets that pushed the bust upward. Massive “leg o’mutton” sleeves were supported with whalebone and skirts were corded or supported with heavy petticoats.


In the United States, women adopted the hoop-skirted style that remained popular until beyond the Civil War era. The exaggerated hip structure caused women to become walking hazards—constantly knocking over candles and gas lamps and setting their heavy dresses and wooden skirts on fire. Women could actually be swept away by heavy winds and some drowned, weighted down by the hoops and stays and heavy fabrics. This is in high contrast to the garments assigned to enslaved women of this time, who were dressed in clothing made from the most inexpensive cloth available, usually coarse, uncomfortable, and unfeminine. To strip females of their agency and identity, slave owners would often take away any feminine apparel—dressing them in the same clothing as men and cutting off their hair. (See more about this here.)


In Europe and the US, the following decades saw women’s skirts become even larger and stiffer with the addition of metal hoops and crinolines. During the Victorian era, silhouettes remained tightly fitted and skirts became even more voluminous. Bustled silhouettes with back-heavy petticoats put even more emphasis on waistlines. Boned bodices were creating the newest popular shape, emphasizing the rear. Though corsets and body braces had been around for quote some time, women were now pushing their physical limits to an extreme to create the desired shape. Some attempted to slim their waists to the ideal 16 inches—and some even smaller. Of course, this style did not come without a price. Repeated years of corset wearing resulted in broken ribs and shattered ribcages, damaged and herniated organs, or suffocation. Toward the end of the Victorian Era, women reformers began to openly oppose these body-modifying garments. The Rational Dress Society was founded to oppose fashion that “deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health.” Still, the hourglass silhouette is now an iconic visual representation of this era.

By the turn of the century, the S-Bend corset (considered a “healthy” corset, as it removed significant pressure from the abdomen) became popular. It pushed the hips backward and the chest forward. Separates became popular, as detached skirts assisted women in creating this pigeon-like silhouette. But, things were about to change drastically as World War I began—and women were forced to adopt more practical clothing, including (gasp) trousers.


By the 1920s, women’s fashion had undergone a drastic evolution. Short skirts were en vogue and androgynous looks became more popular. The flapper, with her dropped waistlines, knee-length skirts, and colorful garters, is symbolic of the “Roaring 20s” era. Rayon fabric, created as a more affordable, artificial silk, allowed more women access to the silk-stocking look. More women were entering the workplace—or simply wanted a less fussy wardrobe—and so metal hooks and eyes, buttons, and zippers were substituted in place of lacings and corsets. The runways displayed luxurious, high-end designs that were adapted or copied by department stores using more affordable materials. All of these new developments were effectively democratizing fashion.

In the 1930s, many women wanted a highly feminine, glamorous look. Parisian designers introduced the bias-cut evening gown, meant to skim along the body’s curves. The average American woman’ wardrobe was greatly affected by the Great Depression—but Hollywood promoted this glamorous trend as an escape of sorts. They would embody everything that the everyday woman wanted but could not achieve.

Rationing due to World War II also placed limits on the average woman’s clothing budget. Dresses became slimmer in order to conserve fabric and separates became popular as a way to make a greater number of looks from fewer items of clothing. The look of the military uniform influenced women’s wear and practical garments became essential as more women entered the workplace. For those who went to work in factories during the war, adornments were hazardous; practical, basic clothing would not get caught in heavy machinery. In an effort to prevent looking entirely masculine, women adopted high-waisted pants—like those popularized by Katharine Hepburn.


In the days immediately following the war, women were eager to embrace feminine fashions again. Young people’s income was higher, now that the war was over and many designers focused on youth. Fuller skirts came into fashion again, though the lengths remained shorter than in previous decades. The pencil-skirt silhouette also became popular—and girdles were wardrobe staples that helped women achieve a “wasp waist” without a corset. By the 1960s, the girdle had largely been replaced by panty hose—and “control top” pantyhose for those who wanted a more secure garment.

During the 1960s, women’s fashion trends were influenced a great deal by social movements. Many women wanted to be a fashion-forward mix of independent and traditional—like First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The Mod style—sleek, with bold colors and patterns, emboldened women to wear less with more confidence. Hippie fashion placed more importance on comfort and less importance on expensive fashions; it was fashionable to embrace non-Western cultures in fashion and ideology and do less with more.

From that moment on, many women’s fashion trends grew from the ideas of the Women’s Liberation movement and the cultural norm of women in the workplace. Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress was a staple for women who needed versatility. Women seeking equality at work sometimes embraced the “power suit”, with a masculine edge and large shoulder pads. As women’s earning potential rose, so did the rejection of Hippie styles in favor of powerful, dramatic looks inspired by the decadence of television shows like Dynasty. In the decades that followed, women continued to use fashion to exhibit confidence and power. The 1980s trend of wearing visible undergarments was a way for women to be empowered by their femininity and sexuality. The same was true in the 90s, when so-called Grunge musicians like Kathleen Hanna commanded stages, sometimes wearing only slips or nightgowns.

I’m not entirely sure if the current era has any defining style. Perhaps we are to be defined by our revolving door approach to fashion: keep producing and give us more… At the moment, two very different points of view are emerging in women’s fashion: the fast fashion ideology and the new maker movement. Since the 00s, fashion labels have designed more and more collections each year to keep up with a near-insatiable consumer appetite for relevance. But also, more and more people want to know more about what they wear and more women want to be involved with making their garments. We are perhaps at a crossroads where we decide if we are to be defined by our fashion or if our fashion is to be defined by us.

Photos by Abraham Rowe of the books Costume 1066-1966, Evening Dresses 1900-1940, Historic Costumes in Pictures, Fashion in Detail, The Concise History of Costume and Fashion


I met Dr. Timo Rissanen several years ago, just as he was taking on the role of Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons School of Design. He is a pioneer in zero waste design, co-authoring Zero Waste Fashion Design with Holly McQuillan.

If you’ve not heard of Zero waste, this genre of design attempts to create clothing patterns that leave little to no waste fabric when a garment is cut. It’s a fact that the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters on the planet and that the majority of apparel companies end up throwing away their excess fabric because it is cheaper to do so than to create new patterns and cutting methods.

Zero-waste design strives to create clothing patterns that leave not so much as a scrap of fabric on the cutting room floor. This is not some wacky avant-garde exercise; it’s a way to eliminate millions of tons of garbage a year. Apparel industry professionals say that about 15 to 20 percent of the fabric used to produce clothing winds up in the nation’s landfills because it’s cheaper to dump the scraps than to recycle them. Timo is a leader in this design methodology and can design patterns that fit together on fabric yardage like puzzle pieces.


Rissanen’s work is highlighted as part of the Textile Toolbox, which is a TED web platform that allows designers and experts to interact and exchange ideas. The intention of Textile Toolbox is to create systemic change within the fashion industry through “interconnected design thinking and processes for sustainable textiles and fashion.”

Each section of the site features work and thoughts from industry experts who delve into the specifics of how sustainable design might work and work better. As an expert on waste reduction, Rissanen explores design processes, waste sources and potential solutions, among other topics. We have spent quite a bit of time talking to Timo about our lean method manufacturing and design methods. We are proud that he chose to highlight Alabama Chanin and our manufacturing processes as an example of how to design sustainably.

After the launch of Textile Toolbox, we asked Timo some questions about waste and the future of design.


How did you become interested in sustainable design and waste-reduction methods?

Like many Finns, I grew up with a strong connection to the natural environment. We would fish for food, and forage for berries and mushrooms in the woods, and we still do. I was 11 when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened in 1986. There was considerable radioactive fallout in Finland, some of which remains today, three decades later, and I remember my parents’ worry about food during the summer of 1986. That event made the fragility of the environment, as well as our complete dependence on it, very clear to me. When I was a student in the 1990s in Australia, I had one textile design teacher, Julia Raath, who often spoke to us about the environmental issues with textiles. Her teachings have stuck with me. Once I started working in fashion, I started to get a grasp of the responsibility we all share in ensuring that, through our actions today, we allow future generations of humans and all other species to flourish.

The concept of reducing waste in the fashion industry is difficult, both logistically and cost-wise. Can you help explain the reasons why designers and manufacturers might be hesitant to embrace these ideas?

There are considerable systemic challenges to reducing or eliminating fabric waste from clothing production. For example, often the patternmaker is not in the same location as the designer, and the patternmaker’s contribution might not even be considered design but rather, a service to it. In my PhD I argued that patternmaking is fashion design, however in reality it is often not perceived as such. Another challenge is that the various kinds of waste created in fashion are often completely invisible to the designer as well as the consumer. More human-scale supply chains, like Alabama Chanin’s, are an effective way to maintain a real grasp on various material flows within a company. Finally, designing without creating fabric waste can be slower than conventional fashion design. I would say that good design is never fast, and there is an opportunity for fashion design and the industry to slow down. Integrating sustainability is instrumental to good design.

What are the most creative approaches to reducing waste that you have seen?

Several small designers are creating beautiful zero waste fashion, for example Daniel Silverstein in New York, and Lela Jacobs in New Zealand. Each designer brings their own aesthetic to it. Holly and I first saw this when we curated the exhibition Yield in 2011, of which Alabama Chanin was a part, and it was even clearer once we came to write the book on zero waste fashion design during 2014.

In your opinion, what is the best way to educate shoppers about waste and the consequences of fast fashion? And what should they be looking for when building a wardrobe?

One on one conversations tend to be the most effective in my experience; people really get the impact of the predictable future on all of us, unless we act together, when you share it face to face. The challenge then is to scale that education up; as well as educating someone we should also aim to inspire them to become educators in this respect themselves. Nonetheless, brands should also tell the stories of their solutions to these problems. For shoppers, I think spending the same amount of money on less items is often better, for example instead of buying five pairs of shoes at $50, invest in one pair at $250. Learn about quality and look for it. For learning about quality, often speaking to someone from the generation before you can be fruitful, not to mention a joyful experience.

Any advice on how consumers can reduce post-consumer waste?

I think the Alabama Chanin model of operations – to be like a traditional farm where there is no waste – is actually achievable on the level of a household. Disposable, non-recyclable packaging is perhaps the biggest challenge; we need to ask our supermarkets and food producers for alternatives, and our legislators to facilitate changes. As for post-consumer clothing, we can reduce it first by simply buying less and buying better, and wearing things for longer. With every garment I buy I ask, how many years of wear will this garment give me? I know for a younger person this might not sound an exciting proposition; the culture of today is dominated by endless variation. Perhaps shared use is one solution – it already happens with friends borrowing each other’s clothes. Clothing libraries and designer handbag rentals are examples of a service design solution of this, in a business context.

How can at-home sewers begin to integrate zero-waste design and patternmaking techniques into their creation processes?

Simply by treating all fabric as precious, which home-sewers tend to do anyway, and by being endlessly curious about patternmaking and sewing. Not knowing every ‘rule’ can be an advantage in being fearlessly experimental with patternmaking and sewing. Holly McQuillan’s designs for the MakeUse project are fairly easy for even a beginner to construct. And even if a design is not zero waste, home sewers can be intelligent about reusing scrap, and many are. If you can’t find a use for it yourself, there are likely others who might. And if you get stuck, write to me or Holly and ask for advice.

*Second and third images courtesy of Timo Rissanen.


As part of her first job in the fashion industry, Natalie spent a good bit of time in sample rooms—some of them denim sample rooms where new styles of blue jeans were being made every day. She remembers that the sample sewers, who were primarily from Spanish-speaking households, always referred to the yellow/orange thread used to stitch denim as “orinda”—and has used this term for the yellow-orange thread since then. Looking back, she imagines that the term came from the Spanish word “oro”, meaning “gold”.

So, we started wondering: why exactly is most denim stitched using that specific golden thread? The most common story suggests that the practice was started by Levi Strauss & Co., and was directly related to the addition of rivets to jeans.

(But, the story can’t be confirmed because most of the Levi Strauss company records were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.)


In the late 1800s, Jacob Davis came up with the idea of adding rivets to jeans to reinforce stress points, like the back pockets and the crotch—which were often torn or frayed when they were heavily worn. The traditional orange thread was selected to match the color of Davis’ copper rivets. Davis was also behind the patterned stitches on the rear pockets of blue jeans, which also once served a practical purpose. The pockets were once lined with cotton and the stitching (in orange thread, for continuity) kept that lining from bunching up. Even after removing the lining, Levi Strauss kept the identifiable stitching and registered it as a trademark in 1942.

A few items Collection #29 include denim-inspired pieces available in Peacock with “orinda” stitching. The Archer Coat, Hattie Skirt, Jean Jacket, and Lucy Skirt all reflect the traditional denim look—and a moment in Natalie’s earliest days as a designer.



In October, when Martha Stewart American Made announced the winners of their 2015 American Made Awards, we were thrilled to see a familiar face among the 10 honorees—our sock making collaborator, Little River Sock Mill. The American Made awards were developed a few years ago as a way to spotlight and support creative entrepreneurs and innovative small businesses—and we can attest that Little River is just that.

We first began working with Little River Sock Mill (and their Zkano line of socks) about 2 and a half years ago and launched an official line with them in early 2014. They also knit the socks that we made from our Alabama Cotton Project yield. Little River is based out of Fort Payne, Alabama, whose story of once being the “Sock Capital of the World” until labor was outsourced, felt so similar to our own community’s struggle with the loss of manufacturing jobs. Gina Locklear’s family opened a knitting mill in the early 90s, when Gina was about 12. By 2000, over half of the country’s socks (and 1 in 8 socks globally) were being made in Fort Payne. Of the town’s 13,000 residents, approximately 8,000 worked in the sock and hosiery mills. But, by 2010, that number had dwindled to about 600 people; of the over 300 mills that once operated, only 7 are still in existence.

When Gina graduated from college and made the decision to continue her family’s path in the sock making business, she named her business after the nearby Little River Canyon—in order to emphasize that the company is local, from the ground up. She also wanted to focus on organic materials, so each line is sustainably made in small batches with certified organic cotton and low-impact dyed yarn. Little River remains a family business, with their close-knit family and staff managing every step of the production process, from design to sourcing materials, to product packaging.


When asked by Martha Steward American Made: What does American Made mean to you, Gina responded:

“If I had been asked this question in 1991, I would have thought of my parents and said that American Made means the American dream. As a kid, I remember watching Mom and Dad work in the mill and make socks themselves with only one or two other employees. In the beginning, my dad would stay at the mill making socks until midnight, and then start again around 5:30 a.m. the next day. They did this because they knew if they worked hard, it would pay off and one day become a successful business. Today, when I think about our business and how things have changed for us since manufacturing shifted overseas in the early 2000s, American Made makes me think of perseverance and the hope that, one day soon, being made in America will be as important to all Americans as it is to us.”



Back in 1985, Donna Karan struck a chord with women across the world by introducing the concept of “7 Easy Pieces”—her collection of garments around which a woman could build an entire wardrobe. She created a system of dressing where a few interchangeable garments, used in different combinations, would create a versatile closet of stylish and practical attire. Her intention was to design collections that could take you from day to evening, weekday to weekend, and season to season.

Over the years, those 7 Easy Pieces have changed but the concept was locked in stone: you do not have to keep an overstuffed closet to be modern, versatile, and stylish. Alabama Chanin’s design philosophy has always been to design clothing that can take a woman anywhere and everywhere. We do not believe that you have to sacrifice style for versatility and comfort. Our clothing should not be more complicated than our lives and should, in fact, make day-to-day living easier.


It is with this idea of wardrobe essentials that we introduce our collection of Essentials + Basics. The selection includes both hand-sewn and machine-made garments in a number of colors and silhouettes that can be customized to fit your life and your style. Each of these garments can be dressed up or dressed down with little effort—and always with the comfort of our 100% organic cotton jersey. In addition to classic favorites, we are introducing new styles like the Pearl Top, Blaire Blazer, Ella Dress, and Aria Dress. You will also see some brand new colors, including Military, Suede, and Aria and the return of the popular Forest. We hope that you will use these Essentials + Basics to create your own 7 Easy Pieces (or as many pieces as you need) to suit your unique lifestyle.




Ochre: a natural earth pigment containing hydrated iron oxide

Vermeer used ochre extensively when painting flesh tones.

Ochre is the color of harvest, of autumn wheat, and heavenly bodies.

Gold Leaf: gold that has been hammered into thin sheets

The golden bough, sought by Aeneas to protect himself as he journeyed into Hades.

And here: the golden tree of life at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

Today, see Chinese artist Zhou Xiaoping collaborate with Aboriginal artist Johnny Bulunbulun. Ochre and Ink and rice paper, a cross-cultural experiment in art and process.

Our Arella Top – a selection from Collection #29



With our newest collection, we are introducing garment styles new to the Alabama Chanin wardrobe. Perhaps the most notable new addition is the Half Skirt. Similar to an apron, it wraps around the body and is secured with a waist tie.

The intention of the Half Skirt is to add variety to your wardrobe with just one piece. You may choose to wear two of these pieces together in a combination of ways or layer one half on top of your favorite dress or skirt. Either way, there are many options for mixing and matching patterns, prints, and colors or creating volume. You can add a highly embellished piece to a casual garment to create a more formal look.


Or, as is the case with our Shelby Skirt, you can layer a skirt on top of another piece to add pockets for increased functionality.

Our new collection currently includes 9 Half Skirts in various colors, patterns, and styles. Here are some of our favorite ways to style them.


View our current Collection here.


This week, we are pleased to launch Alabama Chanin Collection #29—with never before seen garment styles and stencils. Natalie has been working for many years to grow a talented design team that understands our company mission and helps advance the design story we tell with each collection.


The garments are presented in four main colors—Natural, Black, Ochre, and Peacock, the latter acting as a continuation of our Indigo Blue color story. We drew inspiration from graphic design and interiors as we created the patterns and design motifs. The new, prominently featured Tony stencil was inspired by a vintage book cover; another new embroidery motif—Dots and Dashes—was inspired by an antique wallpaper pattern. The entire collection reflects this same design approach.

We are also employing new techniques—continuing the hand painting technique used in our one-of-a-kind Indigo garments and introducing a new triple-layered technique, a sort-of double-negative reverse appliqué, inspired by a South American textile technique. For the first time, we are introducing garments made from organic French Terry. We have worked with our supplier in North Carolina to ensure this fabric meets the same standards as our organic cotton jersey and are excited about the results.


You will see new styles introduced, including an updated corset, more jackets, and new takes on our popular poncho. These garments are designed to help expand and diversify your wardrobe by just adding one or two new pieces.

Look for highlights of our design process, inspirations, and new designs very soon…


This week, we take another look at the lives our clothes have led and the memories forever linked with them. For some reason, we associate memories with objects—or in this case, clothing. Every time I look inside, I think that my closet is, in a small way, some sort of prism through which I see the world.

Project Alabama Garment #17821
Built in September 2005
Pattern:  A-359 Long Coat
Stencil: Facets
Fabric: 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Outer layer color: Sapphire
Backing layer color: Black
Thread: Navy
Beads: Black bugle and chop
Sequins: Gun Metal
Seams: Inside felled
Knots: Inside
Size: Medium
Owner: Natalie Chanin

The Beaded Facets Coat was originally created for the Project Alabama Spring/Summer 2006 Collection, as you can see in the picture above left. It was presented in the first and only runway show we ever produced (thank you Gail Dizon, Jennifer Venditti, Lori Goldstein, Jake Xerxes Fussell, Ruby Jane, and to UPS—who sponsored the show). I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that show made the cover of Women’s Wear Daily the next morning. I had to look three times to realize that it was actually the cover and not from the interior of the magazine. There were eventually 14 of these coats produced in both the Amber and Sapphire colorways shown above for Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey Atlanta, and a few special clients.

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Once our garments are born and leave the nest, they have rich lives. At least that is what we hope—what we believe. We work hard to design and construct pieces that will last for many years and become heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next. For owners of Alabama Chanin garments, it’s common that the garments are integrated into their lives for years and years. In celebration of this sentiment, we decided to highlight garments from our archives—and, where possible, to follow their journeys and see where they have landed.

My closet seemed the natural place to start, and so we begin with a very personal dress from my life:

Project Alabama Garment #5387
Built in August 2002
Pattern:  A-67 Slip Dress (18 pattern pieces)
Stencil: 116 Star Flower
Fabric: Recycled T-shirts in shades of Navy
Seams: Outside Felled
Thread: Navy
Knots: Inside
Size: Medium
Owner: Natalie Chanin

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Last July, we explored Alabama’s fashion design history and, in our studio conversations about that post, we started asking one another about other designers that have emerged from the South. Dana Buchman, Pat Kerr, Johnny Talbot, and Wes Gordon all hail from states neighboring our own. When searching my brain for designers from Mississippi, the first that came to mind was Patrick Kelly.

Patrick stands out so significantly in my memory because he emerged as a designer of note in the 1980s and during my time in design school. He is, in many ways, a designer with sensibilities completely different from my own; he created body conscious garments with flamboyant embellishments. In other respects, we have a certain kinship, as he found ways to repurpose and recycle clothing into new garments. He also found inspiration in his community and neighbors, once telling People Magazine, “At the black Baptist church on Sunday, the ladies are just as fierce as the ladies at the Yves Saint Laurent haute couture shows.”


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Like the rest of the world, the fashion industry has widely utilized Instagram (the photo sharing app with over 300 million users) to share insider glimpses into brands and lives, highlight the creative process, and find simple ways to connect to followers. Brands and consumers are sharing personal, visual “moments” in their lives (of course, perfectly oriented and filtered). In celebration of this relationship between the fashion industry and social media users, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) released their newest book, titled Designers on Instagram: #Fashion.

The book includes photos from CFDA designers (including Alabama Chanin), hand selected by the council and separated into five chapters, categorized by hashtags: #BehindtheSeams, #Selfies, #Inspiration, #Fashion, and #TBT (aka “Throwback Thursday,” for the uninitiated).

The colorful hardbound release is appropriately square shaped, like all Instagram photos. We think it’s a beautiful volume; the photos make you feel like a fashion insider, even if you are on your couch eating popcorn in your pajamas (no comment) or dressing a seven-year-old for school (or at least trying to dress a seven-year-old).

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Over the years, and despite the fact that public speaking doesn’t come to me naturally, I’ve lectured at conferences and universities across the country and around the world. Invariably, during the question and answer section at the end of each talk, someone raises their hand and says, “I want to have a collection. What should I do?”

My answer has always been the same, “Get a copy of QuickBooks (or any accounting system) and a good accountant; make them both your friends.” You see, the truth is that you will spend much more time working on cash flow, and projections, and working in your business than you will designing and working on your business. (Unless you have a really good partner that runs the business for you.)

But, in the future, when I am asked that question, I will answer, read The Business of Fashion series  “How To Set Up A Fashion Business.”

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“From a scientific point of view, it can be said he [Thoreau] documented for the first time how ecological succession works … The mechanism was animals and weather. Squirrels carry acorns so oak trees replace pine when the pines are cut down. And pine seeds blow over to replace the oak.” – Richard T. Forman

I started writing this piece about two weeks ago. I was talking about succession over trend with a colleague and she asked me to put down my thoughts about how that worked. And so I started…and as I was writing, the question of trend began to appear in the press and this story seems on one hand less important and on the other hand more important. I’ll let you be the judge. In any case, thank you for coming here. Thank you for reading:

There is a small stop at milepost 330.2 on the Natchez Trace Parkway called Rock Spring Nature Trail. I’ve been going to this spot on the Natchez Trace since I was a little girl. Perk, my maternal grandfather, used to take me (and all of the cousins) there en route to Colbert Ferry park on the “other side” of the Tennessee River from our home. From there, we would launch his small fishing boat and run the trotline of baited hooks for catfish (more on this boat and Perk’s trotline coming soon).

Rock Spring is a natural aquifer that merges with Colbert Creek where this nature trail now stands. The creek is a small, meandering stream of rare beauty (see the photo above)—named after George Colbert—who ran the Ferry that crossed the Tennessee River along the Trace before the days of a bridge.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about trends recently. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about them a lot—for a very long time. Quite some time ago, I read a plaque in a National Park about ecological succession that changed the way I looked at trends forever (more on this next Tuesday).

You see, ecological (or biological) succession is the process by which a community (or a business) slowly evolves over time. The opposite of trend.

Recently, The Business of Fashion published an article titled, “Do Fashion Trends Still Exist?” and I started thinking more.

And then, on the cover of the newest T Magazine’s Spring Women’s Fashion 2015—which was issued this past Sunday—there is a title that reads, “& the Post-Trend World of Fashion.”

On page 96, Deborah Needleman’s Editor’s Letter is titled, “The End of Trend.” She writes, “We live in what appears to be a post-trend fashion world — with no clear guidelines for our sartorial choices and an endless array of options. New shows and collections seem to be springing up constantly throughout the year, consumed hungrily and instantaneously around the world on a variety of platforms before the editors have even filed out the doors. So inundated are we with images that we’d be bored to tears with any single trend by the time it hit stores.”

She continues: “The solution is to rely on our own instincts, which is something that many of the women featured in this issue — musicians, writers, artists, Bjork! — have in common: an ability to filter myriad influences to create an unmistakable personal voice.”

“…an ability to filter myriad influences to create an unmistakable personal voice.”

The choice of style over trend.
The choice of your own voice over the voice of an authority.
The voice of the individual.

And so my thoughts on succession and how a collection—a style—should grow slowly over time emerge again.

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Black and Gold – in color symbolism they hint at the unknown, power, and formality alongside abundance, prosperity, and extravagance.

Black and Gold – Madonna on a Crescent Moon by an anonymous painter in Germany, commonly referred to as the Master of 1456.

Black and Gold – for some reason also makes me think of Madonna (the singer) in the 1980s (but also today).

Black and Gold – our newest blend of fabric and paint—a departure from the tone-on-tone colors seen in many of our previous collections.


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Not quite terra cotta red; not exactly pinkish; not really coral, but really red.

Pinkish: an adjective meaning somewhat pink.

Coral: also an adjective meaning a reddish yellow; light yellowish red; pinkish yellow.


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Today we introduce our newest Alabama Chanin silhouettes like our Marie Pencil Skirt and Garter Dress which have a flattering and feminine shape, alongside our Peasant Top and Factory Dress which offer a more relaxed fit.


Classics styles, like our Corset and Long Fitted Skirt, are combined with new stencil designs like ‘Aurora,’Marie,’ and ‘New Leaves.’ Other classic designs like our ‘Daisy’ and ‘Magdalena’ remain. Choose from neutral shades, or a burst of Really Red—one of our newest colors. Look for new designs, colors, and an updated website over the coming weeks…

xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin



Written by Ted Ownby and Becca Walton

Situated at the intersection of necessity and creativity, southern fashion lets us ask questions about place and historical context, power, and identity. Every garment has a designer, maker, wearer, and viewer, and we can study all of them.

We can tell local stories about designers and seamstresses, farmers and factory workers. At the same time, we can see the South’s centuries-long engagement with a global economy through one garment, with cotton harvested by enslaved laborers in Mississippi, milled in Massachusetts or Manchester, designed with influence from Parisian tastemakers, and sold in the South by Jewish immigrant merchants.

It isn’t clear where to start, and that’s exciting. The term “southern fashion” doesn’t seem to be clearly defined by terms or limits, so we may not need to spend energy overturning conventional wisdoms. Do we start with creative reuse, with Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” or with Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress? Do we start with osnaburg, the so-called “negro cloth” of the 19th century, or with farm families wearing garments cut from the same cloth, or with women who did sewing every day but Sunday?

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Beginning  October 13th, 2014 and as part of our ongoing Makeshift conversation, Alabama Chanin will host a series of discussions and lectures about design, art, business, community, and plenty of other topics. Events will be held at the Factory on the second Monday of each month. The format will shift, depending on topic and presenter, but you can look forward to informal talks, multi-media presentations, and hands-on workshops.

Makeshift began over three years ago as a conversation about design, craft, art, fashion, and DIY—how they intersect and how each discipline elevates the others. Since its beginnings, we have expanded the conversation, discussing how making in groups can build relationships and communities, all the while examining what the design community can learn from the slow food movement.


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Last year, I was introduced to Inez Holden over a glass of dry white wine at a fundraising event in our community. Mrs. Holden’s story, told with humor and passion, reminded me that the fashion industry runs deep here in our community. Before Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid, there was Bubbles Ltd.

As Alabama Chanin continues to explore the world of machine-made fashion with our new line and manufacturing division, A. Chanin and Building 14, respectively, Mrs. Holden reminded me that we humbly follow in a line of companies that completely designed and manufactured a fashion line in The Shoals and the surrounding area.

We’ve previously spoken about the rich history of textile production in our community and some of the local manufacturers who led the nation in textile and t-shirt production, but we were excited to discover Bubbles Ltd.

Around 1983, Mrs. Holden got her start as a designer quite by accident. She bought an oversized top and banded bottom pant that she loved the style and fit of, but the material was very rough and scratchy. So, she asked a friend of hers to help her make more sets in a similar style, but out of jersey fabric. She had about five sets of these pantsuits made in different colors, but kept giving them away because so many of her friends and family wanted them.


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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.


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Sass Brown’s ReFashioned: Cutting Edge Clothing From Upcycled Materials, is the second in a series focusing on the eco-fashion movement. Previously, in Eco Fashion, she examined designers and labels (including Alabama Chanin) practicing sustainability in the fashion industry.  In ReFashioned, she features 46 international designers who create using recycled and upcycled textiles. The result is a stunning volume of forward-thinking design that also opens a discussion on the current state of fashion and its many wasteful practices.

Sass is one of the most knowledgeable and thoughtful voices in the eco-fashion movement. She considers herself a fashion activist, writing, “As a designer and writer, I like to tell the stories around our clothes, to help revive our material connection to our clothing.” She says, “It became equally important for me to reveal the hidden price tag of fast fashion, as a means to promote conscious consumerism.”


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MAKESHIFT began three years ago as a conversation about the intersection of the disciplines of design, craft, art, fashion, and DIY—and, on a bigger level, using this intersection as an agent of change in the world. Since then, we’ve explored making as individuals, and how making as a group can open conversations and build communities.

For MAKESHIFT 2014, we have once again partnered with Standard Talks in New York to host the conversation, and will cover a range of topics, including raw materials, craft, fashion, global communities, food, and the act of making. 2014 James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen will also participate in the discussion, helping answer the question: What can design learn from food?


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Sun Young Park, a freelance illustrator living in New York, is an integral part of the Alabama Chanin team. If you own Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or have ever browsed our Studio Style DIY Custom DIY Guide, then you’ve seen the beautiful sketches of our garments, illustrated by Sun. I met Sun several years ago by accident through a mutual friend, which resulted in an impromptu breakfast at The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s restaurant at the ACE Hotel in New York City. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and had been looking for a new illustrator for my books. Our chance meeting was good fortune.

Sun creates illustrations for a variety of projects, including April Bloomfield’s new book, A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, and Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing. We love Sun’s illustrations, doodles, and drawings and recently were able to chat with her about her beginnings in illustration, inspirations, artistic process, and desire to create.

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In the book Eco Fashion, our friend Sass Brown celebrates and examines designers and labels practicing sustainability in the fashion industry, including Alabama Chanin (you might have recognized our hand-sewn garment featured on the cover).

Sass offers several definitions for eco fashion—from slow design and traditional techniques to recycled, reused, and redesigned methods—and explores ecological design and the connection between green lifestyle choices and successful business models.

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Our continued practice of responsible and sustainable design and production will grow even more now, thanks to the CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge. I am honored to be this year’s recipient of the grand prize of $75,000.

With the award, Alabama Chanin will support our company growth, which includes our machine-made garments under the label A. Chanin, creating jobs, promoting Made in the USA production, and, yes, a new Alabama Chanin collection.


Thank you again to the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Lexus for this award and opportunity to further our sustainable practices.

xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin


Mary Adams studied art, not fashion, in college, but eventually chose fabric, specifically, the dress as her medium of choice. Her first storefront in New York City was in the Lower East Side, on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton in the early 1980’s, when that area of the city was cheap and dirty and home to artists, writers, musicians, actors, and designers. In her book, The Party Dress Book, Adams shares a glimpse of New York at that time and how the city and its creative inhabitants influenced her work – the brightly colored, twirling dresses she and her friends would wear to nightclubs and parties. Adams worked in an influential time and place for fashion history and her work continues to resonate. Her stories of inspiration introduce how-to instruction on specific dressmaking and embellishment techniques for designing and constructing the best looking dress at any party, anywhere.

The Party Dress Book inspired us to adapt one of our favorite, featured projects into an Alabama Chanin piece, Mary Adams-style.


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Fellow designer and neighbor, William “Billy” Reid (“Nobody calls me William,” he says), and his business partners, Katy and K.P. McNeill, have been friends to Alabama Chanin for over a decade. We’ve watched each other grow our businesses and our community. We’ve worked together on countless projects and events over the years, including our favorite and most accomplished to date – growing Alabama cotton last summer.

Billy worked in the design industry for many years, launching his label, Billy Reid, in 2004. In February 2010, Billy was deemed GQ’s “Best New Menswear Designer in America.” In November of that same year, he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize, the first designer to ever receive both prizes in one year. In 2012, Billy received the CFDA’s “Menswear Designer of the Year” award. It is unprecedented for two designers in the same small Alabama town to both be prominent members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and we love that it’s Billy with whom we get to share this privilege.

Billy Reid has grown from their initial flagship store here in Florence, Alabama, and showroom in Manhattan, to ten storefronts across the southeast and Texas. His approach to classic American style with a touch of Southern charm extends beyond the clothing. Each Billy Reid space reflects this cultured style, from velvet upholstered antique chairs to the artwork and animal trophies on the walls, to the Persian rugs covering dark hardwood floors. It’s as if you are stepping into Billy’s home.

It is this Southern flair with a classic, modern aesthetic, excellent tailoring, and timeless design that sets Billy Reid apart from other designers. A bon vivant, Billy’s love of good music, good food, and conversation has made him an integral part in supporting and promoting local talent here in The Shoals, from bands to chefs to artists and photographers. Where MAKESHIFT represents shifting ideas on what it means to make and collaborate, Billy represents the core of the movement, intersecting fashion, food, design, craft, and music.

We are honored to have Billy participate in this year’s MAKESHIFT events. His tote for the Image Quilt represents the elements of design, manufacturing, fashion, and craft, each of which are present in his collections, from designing and manufacturing items that can be made responsibly, to using dead stock and non-traditional materials (like nutria fur), to sustaining traditional crafts like leatherworking, both in the United States and in Italy. He demonstrates that a successful business can grow out of an authentic voice and a desire for quality.

You can see Billy Reid’s crafted tote (above) on our MAKESHIFT Conversations Image Quilt.



Yohji Yamamoto has been a hero of mine since I graduated from design school. I once saw him walking down the streets of Milan, Italy, not long after I started working in the New York garment district, and felt that I had made the big time. “Walking on the same street as Yohji Yamamoto?” I thought.  It was a momentary highlight in my career that I remember like it was yesterday.

He is known as an avant garde Japanese designer and famous for his intricate designs and impeccable tailoring. He often experiments with different draping methods and varied fabric textures. Yamamoto is also known to integrate wabi sabi, an ever-changing state of beauty, simplicity, and asymmetry, combined with an appreciation for natural elements, into his design aesthetic.

The fashion website Showstudio launched Design Download – “a series demystifying the fashion process by offering prestigious designer garment patterns for download” –  with a Yamamoto pattern for a jacket in classic Yamamoto style. He remained mysterious about the process, revealing very little, and challenging the maker to pay close attention to detail, shape, and technique. There is no “how-to,” like you would find with a traditional pattern. Design Download calls this piece a “mystery garment,” telling the reader that the “photographs of the piece hold the visual key to stitching together your own.”

DIY YOHJI YAMAMOTO - Photograph by Abraham Rowe

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Alabama Chanin has long looked to Patagonia, and Yvon Chouinard, as the standard for sustainable design, manufacturing, and corporate culture. The recent film “Legacy Look Book” (shown above) is a beautiful reminder of why we love this company so very much.

When Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” he wasn’t implying that an unexamined life is boring or holds less meaning. He said the unexamined life is not worth living. As difficult as this process may be for an individual to understand and undertake, deciding that a company should live an “examined life” only adds to the challenge. It demands a carefully plotted and specific corporate mission, along with employing people who are willing to work openly, honestly, and for the right reasons.


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For those of you who sew often, you likely understand how something as simple as draping fabric can also be very complex. For those of you who don’t, or who are novice sewers, the technique of fabric draping can involve more than just hanging fabric in a lovely way. It is not likely that a Roman emperor casually tossed a bed sheet over his shoulder one day and called it a toga, just as it isn’t likely that a lovely red carpet gown accidentally folds so perfectly around the waist of a posing starlet.

Technically, draping is the ability of a fabric to fall under its own weight into wavy folds. There are different strategies based upon the weight and stiffness of the fabric, its flexibility and tendency to stretch, and the general effect of gravity upon the fabric. Some softer, more flexible fabrics will make drapes that ripple and are more form fitting; stiffer and thicker fabrics will have less flow. When designing patterns, adding draping to your design increases the pattern-making difficulty immensely.


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We have written before about the rich manufacturing and textile history present in our community. The Shoals area and surrounding communities were working fabric and textile materials beginning in the late 1800’s. Those earlier years were often unkind to the mill workers and their families who worked long hours, lived in factory-owned apartments, and shopped in factory-owned stores. But, as the Industrial Revolution gave way to reform, textile manufacturing stayed in our community and flourished. Eventually, it was something that we in The Shoals were known for, as we were often called the “T-Shirt Capital of the World.”

Terry Wylie’s family founded Tee Jay’s Manufacturing Co. here in Florence in 1976, and in doing so became the foundation for a local industry. Whole families were known to work together, producing t-shirts and cotton products. Typical of our community, the company and the employees were loyal to one another. It was common for an employee to stay at Tee Jays for decades. Our Production Manager, Steven, worked for the Wylie family for years – for a time, working in the same building where Alabama Chanin is currently housed. It was this way until the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Tee Jays and other local manufacturers eventually shuttered all domestic manufacturing. It was an undeniably tough hit for a community that had “worked” cotton for most of its existence. Some of those who hand stitch for us once worked in mills and lost their jobs when plants here in Alabama closed and moved to cheaper locations. This move left our building, once a thriving manufacturing center, an empty shell, as you can see from the picture above. Machines like the ones below were moved elsewhere, and the resounding hum of our once busy manufacturing community was silenced.


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This year, with MAKESHIFT 2013, we expand ideas that were born from MAKESHIFT 2012 to create a global conversation among artists, designers, and makers. The first part of the MAKESHIFT 2013 SERIES took place at the Standard, East Village where panelists and conversation guides Cathy Bailey – Heath Ceramics, Rosanne Cash – Singer/Songwriter, Natalie Chanin – Alabama Chanin, Jessamyn Hatcher – Professor of Global Studies, NYU, Nathalie Jordi – People’s Pops/Writer/Author, Tift Merritt – Singer/Songwriter, Andrew Wagner – Krrb, and Kristen Wentrcek – Wintercheck Factory, shared their stories and experiences involving collaborative projects and making within their industries. Throughout the evening, guests were invited to express their thoughts from the conversations, literally or conceptually, using an organic cotton tote bag from Alabama Chanin as a blank canvas. A variety of materials were also provided to design, decorate, and customize each bag.



“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. – MAKESHIFT 2012

The MAKESHIFT conversation began last year to discover where and how various creative industries can work together as one. The discussion continued last Thursday evening at The Standard, addressing the intersection of industries on the artisan level, where the interchanges occur, and how we can transform those intersections through innovation and collaboration for the greater good.


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As this posts to our Journal this morning, part of our Alabama Chanin team will be in the air and on their way home from MAKESHIFT 2013. We hope that you have followed our explorations and conversations during New York Design Week via Instagram and have had conversations of your own.  Leaving MAKESHIFT this year, we are even more convinced about the importance of making, sharing, and finding common ground. You can expect a full recap of our experiences from New York Design Week in the next days, plus expanding conversations about design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY over the coming months.

One thing we do know is that, as we continue to open source our ideas, our Alabama Chanin conversations series and workshops will continue to grow.  These events—like MAKESHIFT—have become an intimate, extraordinary way for us to connect with fellow makers, designers, and like-minded creators across the country (and the world). See more in the coming weeks about the bag project we started at MAKESHIFT 2013.  In the meantime, here are some instructions for a different kind of bag (with an equally important message).

In the early spring of this year, Alabama Chanin designed and created a one-of-a-kind bag to support the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s “You Can’t Fake Fashion” campaign. We loved the finished product so much that I wanted my own version, adapting the Organic Tote Bag. This bag measures 11 1/2” x 13” x 3” and is large enough to use as a purse or laptop bag or to carry your sewing projects. The tote has been double-layer appliquéd all-over using our Paisley stencil in Alabama Indigo fabric.

The bag comes in Natural. We chose to customize this tote to match our CFDA bag by dyeing it indigo, but your design choices are endless.


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There may be no more relevant time than now to talk about Slow Design, specifically Slow Fashion, as the body count in a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh – a factory that churned out Fast Fashion for American consumers – surpasses 900.

As we prepare to travel to New York for MAKESHIFT 2013 to discuss where fashion, food, design, craft + DIY intersect and how we define and transform the intersection of fashion, food, design, craft + DIY through innovation and collaboration for the better good, we find ourselves asking why MAKESHIFT might be relevant in the wake of the Dhaka, Bangladesh tragedy.

The Slow Design movement’s roots are based on the same premise as the Slow Food movement, both historically intellectual factions often viewed as exclusive clubs. (Penelope Green wrote a great article in the New York Times on Slow Design that brings the concept to a relatable level). Slow Food has become more democratic in recent years, thanks to the many chefs who dedicate their kitchens and menus to locally, sustainably grown produce and humanely raised meat (the fashion industry has a lot to learn from these guys). Planting home gardens and buying from local farmers markets has become a trend and good habit for many of us. We can feel and taste the personal benefits even when we can’t tangibly appreciate the long term benefits on our local economy and farm land.

Ironically, Fast Fashion was established with the “democratic” moniker, where the latest trends and styles on the runway are not just available to everyone, but sold with a bill of entitlement to own them. We buy clothes, wear them once, or until they wear out (too soon), and throw them in the landfill. Not only do we further the demise of our environment and negatively affect climate change, but now we see how our Fast Fashion habits affect innocent workers abroad. According to Elizabeth Cline in her book Overdressed, only 2% of clothing is made in the U.S. today, down from 50% in 1990. Roughly 41% of our clothing is made in China. Many of those garment factories are unregulated and built illegally, posing grave danger to those reporting for work every day, and for very low wages.

Alabama Chanin is built on the Slow philosophy. Everything we produce is slow. Our fabric is custom dyed, then cut by hand in the studio, stenciled by hand, packaged and distributed to local artisans who hand-stitch every garment from seam to appliqué to beaded embellishment. It takes roughly three to six weeks to produce a garment. The very nature of our process is in direct conflict with the predominant practice for delivering clothing to the masses.

When we hear chefs dedicated to using locally grown products talk about where their produce comes from, they always talk about relationships, about knowing their farmers. Transparency and collaboration appear to be at the heart of the Slow Food movement and it seems natural to expect the same of Slow Design and Slow Fashion. MAKESHIFT was born from the idea of shifting the way we make. In essence, it’s a shift in the way we consume as well. Small, sustainable and environmentally minded businesses can’t compete with mass-produced, low-cost goods, but through collaboration, great things are possible.

We talked to pirate Richard McCarthy last year about cultural assets and Slow movements, and the subject of sustaining local commodities, like food, came up. In the same way locally grown food is distributed through supermarket alternatives, like farmer’s markets, Slow Fashion may also need distribution alternatives. The opportunities for collaboration and innovation appear to be ripe, and necessary.

Our hope is to see the possibilities for collaborative growth and conversations around Slow Design and Slow Fashion become as common as our predilections for locally, sustainably grown food.





Southern children who grow up with a healthy respect for their elders, particularly their mothers, are said to have been “raised right.” Across the south, most children (and their fathers) must have been “raised right,” because there is almost always a big to-do made about Mother’s Day. Even though new Easter clothes have just been bought, a slew of children will go shopping again for new Mother’s Day outfits; it is expected to make a good impression at church on that big day. Mom gets to sleep in (just a little) and breakfasts will be prepared and served by the children. We present our mothers and grandmothers with beautiful corsages. Often in my community, the tradition is to give carnations. It’s common to give Mother a red or pink one and to set a vase of white carnations upon the kitchen table for grandmothers or great-grandmothers who have passed away. In my family,we  presented corsages to Mother and Grandmother on Mother’s Day morning.

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Last January, we had several conversations in our studio about punks and pirates spurred by Richard McCarthy’s analogy about pirates and “big food.” Just last week, the conversation continued in our studio about how the underground punk movement changed the way music was produced and delivered to the listening public. (More on this coming in the next weeks…)

I was surprised to see this title on the cover of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times yesterday:  “Anarchy in the Met: Punks and DIY looks they inspired, captured in a show.

The story highlights a new exhibit at The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Punk: Chaos to Couture, focusing on DIY Punk fashion.

Certainly music and fashion have been two of the more obvious arenas where the gatekeepers (music executives, producers, designers, magazine editors) have decided for us what we listen to and what we wear. The general anarchy that drove the punk era may have been debaucherous and even, violently, against mainstream culture, but the intellectual elements of DIY are lasting and poignant.

As we approach MAKESHIFT 2013, we anticipate continuing the conversation from MAKESHIFT 2012, when we asked and discussed where the intersection of Fashion, Food, Design, Craft, Music, and DIY intersect and how that intersection ultimately leads to collaboration. Pit stained, ripped t-shirts, and safety pin adornments aside, we have something to learn from the DIY Punk revolution.


My friend Kay and I started giving one another socks for each holiday several years ago. Although this may bring back memories of dreaded Christmas gifts from years past (not socks again!), I find the gift of socks a very practical thing. It’s just not one of those things that I go out and purchase for myself on a regular basis—but, anyone who has had to show their threadbare socks in public understands that such a reveal can cause major embarrassment. Think back to that cliché, “Always wear clean underwear because you never know where you will find yourself.”

Zkano Knee Socks

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This week, we’ve been exploring Finnish design company, Marimekko, well known for creating colorful, often bold patterns and fabrics. While their designs were first made popular in the 1960’s by Jacqueline Kennedy, the bright and vibrant garments remain classic choices, appropriate for any generation. Personally, I love to add a bold pattern or color to my regular wardrobe from time-to-time.

This pattern is a variation of our T-shirt Top, available in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design cut to tunic length. The tunic has a bit of a flare starting at the waist, which makes it comfortable and forgiving. We also have variations of tunics – the Camisole Tunic and the Tank Tunic – available as patterns in Alabama Studio Style.


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This week, we highlight the Finnish design company, Marimekko. As a long-standing leader in the fashion and design worlds, Marimekko has created timeless and colorful prints for over 60 years. I’ve followed the company from my days at NC State University and, as a designer, I have deep admiration and respect for Armi Ratia, the founder who created an empire by seeking beauty through design.

After World War II, Armi Ratia, a one-time weaver who was trained in industrial design, took interest in fabric printing; she wanted to bring happiness and color to distraught, post-war Finland. Working with full-time designers and buying from freelance artists, she began printing designs on fabrics that we now identify with an era, a culture, and a lifestyle.

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In 2005, I was inducted into The Council of Fashion Designers of America.  Long before that time (and during my days as a stylist in Europe), I didn’t really know what the CFDA was (or did). However, the organization was founded in 1962 by Eleanor Lambert as a not-for-profit trade organization to support American womenswear, menswear, jewelry, and accessory designers. Today, the CFDA consists of over 400 members across the nation (we have 2 from Alabama). Their mission statement has grown to reflect a desire to “advance artistic and professional standards within the fashion industry, establish and maintain a code of ethics and practices of mutual benefit in professional, public, trade relations, promote and improve understanding and appreciation of the fashion arts through leadership in quality and taste, and to support the overall growth of American fashion as a global industry.”

Some of the programs growing out of this agency include the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for which Alabama Chanin was a finalist in 2009 and which Billy Reid (the other CFDA member in the state of Alabama) won in 2010. Other programs include CFDA Fashion Awards, Made in Midtown, and the great {Fashion Incubator} program, among many others.


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As a small business with an artisan-based production system, we are aware that Alabama Chanin is unique in the way that we create our products. We would not exist without the skill and hard work of our artisans. Our cottage industry-style method of production is a subject of interest at many trunk shows, workshops, and forums. We are proud of what we have accomplished as a company and proud that we have been able to keep our manufacturing local. We are also excited to see a trend emerging among other small companies: DIY Manufacturing.

We recently learned about the work of Amor Muñoz in a New York Times article. Muñoz creates a specialized form of electronic textile and seeks her workforce by pedaling down the streets of Mexico City shouting through a megaphone. She has created a “maquiladora,” or factory that pays workers roughly the same as American minimum wage – well over the average rate of pay in Mexico. “It’s about community,” Ms. Muñoz said. “I’m interested in sharing the experience of art.” She wants to create art, but she wants to improve the rate of compensation for workers. This strategy runs counteractive to government agents’ strategy of keeping wages low to make Mexico competitive with China when manufacturing contracts are being signed.



I don’t want to overstate the obvious, but most of you would know that I am neither a New Yorker nor a fashion expert. While I enjoy style and design and I’m somewhat awed by the city, it’s clear to any observer that I’m native to neither. But, there’s something about Bill Cunningham that makes me feel comfortable with both. He lives and roams in the intimidating worlds of fashion and Manhattan, but manages to do so in an unpretentious way.

This weekend I re-watched the feature-length documentary Bill Cunningham New York, which profiles this prolific photographer and wise fashion observer and, once again, this eighty-something gentleman captured all my heart. Sometimes, as a fashion outsider, I imagine that NY style begins and ends on the runway. Bill Cunningham is a firm believer that this notion is not true. “The best fashion show is definitely on the street – always has been, always will be,” he assures us. His “On the Street,” column in the New York Times is a collage of on-trend people, items, movements, and real-time style progressions. In the film, Harold Koda, Curator of the Costume Institute/Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains that Bill attempts to “tease out trends in terms of the reality of how people dress.” Cunningham himself demurs, “I don’t decide anything. I let the street speak to ME.”


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I’m going to admit something that might seem a little pedestrian to some of you, perhaps a little familiar to others: I watch a lot of television, all kinds. I’m simultaneously a television snob and a consumer of frivolous content. I’m not sure how I rationalize all of that, but to quote Whitman in a post about popular culture: I am large, I contain multitudes.

So, as a consumer of all of this entertainment content, I include among my weekly dvr selections a show called Project Runway. I’m going to go ahead and guess that most of you have heard of or watched this reality-based competition. If so, you may be aware that each season, the contestants are given the challenge of designing for “real women,” that is, women who are not models and have normal, everyday shapes and sizes. And, without fail, every season there is a designer who throws an absolute tantrum about how difficult this challenge is, about how this isn’t what they “do” as a designer.

I know that what happens on television might not be the most accurate representation of reality, how designers design in the privacy of their studios, or how garments travel from paper to product. But, the fact that this attitude continues to present itself causes me to ask: whom do designers think that they are designing for, if not real people?

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“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. Open sourcing and the emergence of DIY everything (from apps to dresses to education) are THE design stories of the 21st century.

If the philosophers and economists are right, such stories reflect renewed possibilities for building communities, for growing businesses, and for practicing everyday forms of enchantment, ethics, and sustainability. It is time to expand our way of thinking about the relationship between craft and fashion, between the self-made and the ready-to-wear, between fashion as intellectual property and fashion as an open source. What can we learn from the fields of music, product design, and education? Does a backward glance help us see how fashion was at the forefront of these innovations from the start? What is a Vogue pattern if not an open source? What are les petits mains other than artists?



Over the four days of New York Design Week (May 19-22, 2012), Alabama Chanin–in collaboration with its fashion and design partners–is organizing a series of talks, workshops, and gatherings with leaders in the fashion, design, and craft/DIY communities. The events bring together a dynamic combination of industry leaders to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft/DIY and how each of these worlds elevates the others. We look to create an intersection–a meeting point–to explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.

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It’s no secret that there seems to be a disconnect between the worlds of fashion and craft. The terms, themselves, can be a bit polarizing despite their incredible commonality.

Alabama Chanin is no stranger to straddling that line between the two; to us, craft and fashion definitely go hand-in-hand. On a recent weekend, I spent some time catching up on a pile of magazines and some of the images I found make me think that the larger fashion world is beginning to see the commonalities, too.

Keep an eye out as you peruse your favorite fashion publications. You might be surprised at what you find. The images above from the September issues of W and Vogue (yes, it sometimes takes us a while to get through them) made us smile; craft and fashion, moving together at last.

P.S.: For those of you who joined us or followed online during MAKESHIFT: SHIFTING THOUGHTS ON DESIGN, FASHION, COMMUNITY, CRAFT & DIY, a series of events and talks during NY Design Week, you probably know how strongly we feel about bridging the gap between DIY, design, and high-fashion.  We hope that our efforts may be paying off. While we can never know for certain what is sparking this monumental shift in philosophy, I can’t help but feel that all of us are helping to pave the way. Let us know what you think in the comments below.


In a world of mass-production and over-harvested resources, I find it a delight and a luxury to come across a responsibly crafted product, especially around the holiday season.  Unsurprisingly, living, producing, and creating sustainably has become a skillful artistry, and sustainable craftsmanship and process is quickly on its way to being the ultimate in luxury production.

It has been extremely encouraging for me to see the Slow Design movement taking root around us. One may see such artistry in the culinary world, as so many chefs joyfully curate the finest, locally raised ingredients with which to design. From olives in Georgia, to Alabama milk, I find hope and inspiration all around me.

And it truly is a luxury, one that I hope may become more common than not, that each of us will know the source and quality of their food. The openness regarding the source and quality of sustainable dining holds both the chef and the diner accountable, allowing both parties to take pride in their choices.

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There’s a cluster of Polaroids in our production office that never fail to captivate our visitors, and even though they’ve been there for the better part of a decade we still find ourselves staring. They’re so beautiful. It’s hard to look away.

Those Polaroids are from our first fashion show— 8 years ago—a cast of women assembled by the amazing Jennifer Venditti of JV8, Inc. Jennifer, a director and pioneer of selecting models whose beauty is far from typical, introduced us to a group of ladies whose poise, confidence, and style were unmistakable.

Mimi Weddell was among this incredible ensemble, a vibrant actress and New York fashion icon. She was most known for her lifetime obsession with hats. We love that her words are the introduction to Ari Seth Cohen’s book, a celebration of personal style at any age, Advanced Style:

“I can’t imagine going without a hat. The only romantic thing left in life is a hat.”

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Alabama Chanin, Florence, Alabama, in collaboration with Drew Robinson, Jim ‘N Nick’s, Birmingham, Alabama


64 yards 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey, colors white and nude
47 spools Button Craft thread
112 yards embroidery floss
1 pound white glass beads
9 garment patterns
4 stencil designs
1 quart textile paint
24 talented embroidery artisans
27 needles
Embroidery scissors, both large and small
8 sticks hickory

Construct garments by combining the first 10 ingredients, adding love and care. Once constructed with love and care, smoke embroidered dresses with hickory. This is the wood most commonly used for barbecue in our part of Alabama because it is the most plentiful. As luck would have it, burned hickory produces a subtle flavor and color in pork and dresses, respectively.

It made sense to us to use the same wood to smoke our homegrown garments (well, as much sense as it could make to smoke a dress, anyway).  Like a pig, dresses require a low temperature and lots of finesse.

Once you get the fire going, smoke your dresses at a temperature close to 170 degrees for about 18 hours.

Serves the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, 2012.


Our BBQed dresses have been carefully hung along side the stunning photographs of Landon Nordeman and the smell of barbeque fills the room. We are en route to a weekend of storytelling and out-of-this-world food (and spirits).


Join us tonight in Oxford, Mississippi, for Punch, Pictures, and ‘Cue Couture, as part of the Southern Foodways Alliance’s 15th Annual Symposium, Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmasters, Places, Smoke, and Sauce.

The Powerhouse
13 South 14th Street, Oxford, Mississippi 38655

Opening reception:
October 18th from 4:00pm – 6:00pm
(The reception is free and open to the public and will feature the cocktail stylings of Greg Best from Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta, Georgia.)

Show runs through November 2, 2012 from 9:00am – 5:00pm each day.

Thank you to the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Melissa Hall, and John T. Edge for the inspiration and hard work that helped make this exhibition possible.

1006 Van Buren Avenue
Oxford, Mississippi

Thursday, October 18th: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Friday, October 19th – 20th: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Saturday, October 20th – 20th: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Sunday, October 21st: 9:00am – 2:00pm


BBQ, Barbeque, Bar-B-Que, Bar-B-Q.  However you spell it, we are awash in this delicious madness here in North Alabama.  Mention barbecue and you will have an instant conversation starter: “Mustard based sauce!” “Are you kidding me? No way! Ketchup!” “What!  Please don’t tell me you are putting mayonnaise on that meat?” These are the ingredients that can bring men and women alike to heated discussion. We have spent the last few weeks preparing for an exhibition celebrating the Southern Foodways Alliance’s 15th Annual Symposium, entitled Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmasters, Places, Smoke, and Sauce.

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Today, for DIY Thursday, we are featuring a Guy Laroche pattern from Vogue Designer Patterns constructed in the Alabama Chanin style. I never had the chance to meet Guy Laroche, nor have I met the house’s current artistic director, Marcel Marongiu, but I admire their focus on impeccable tailoring. Laroche’s collections once featured billowing empire line dresses; the pattern that we chose to adapt combines the flowing nature of those garments with their famous tailoring skills.

Because this garment was dressier than some of our other Vogue Pattern adaptations, we only made a basic version. We think it is spectacular without embellishment. However, it would be gorgeous with some beading around the neckline or the hem. Either way, this dress is perfect for any upcoming holiday parties.

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On set today @ GAS Design Center. Look for new collection pieces AND our new website. Coming November 2012.

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This week our Alabama Chanin fitted dress was included (ON SALE!) for the Chris Brown curated Made Collection titled “EXPLORE  AMERICA.” If you aren’t yet familiar with the Made collection, it is worth the time to create an account and browse their site.  The company, started by Dave Schiff, Scott Prindle, and John Kieselhorst is a self-titled “movement” with an amazing mission.

The company and their simple (fantastic) idea was recently covered by the New York Times:

“The old ‘Buy American’ is get something lousy and pay more,” said Mr. Schiff, 45. Now “it’s a premium product.” All of this touches on what brand changers Partners & Spade called the “Rebranding of America.”  Alex Williams in the New York Times writes:  “Style bloggers were among the early adopters. “ ‘Made in U.S.A.’ has gone through a rebranding of sorts,” said Michael Williams, whose popular men’s style blog, A Continuous Lean, has become an online clubhouse for devotees of American-made heritage labels like Red Wing Shoes and Filson.”

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Last week, a group of friends in our community gathered together at one friend’s home to fill the living room with piles of their unwanted clothing that they then “shopped”. Part of the “Swap, Don’t Shop” movement, these women, friends and family, got together for their bi-annual clothing exchange party called ‘The Big Swap’. Interested in this growing alternative to shopping, we joined the party and brought along some of our lovingly worn Alabama Chanin garments to exchange.

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I recently read a NYTimes article about the comeback of curvy body shapes among the Y- generation.  It seems that an increasing number of women in their 20s and 30s are finding the “calendar girl” silhouette appealing. Along with a curvaceous silhouette, the look includes Betty Page style bangs, swing skirts, and bright red lips.

The classic 50s and 60s pin-ups were before my time. By the time the 70’s arrived, the style of the day had evolved. Pin-ups looked different – beach blondes, tiny waistlines and overly-styled looks were on trend. These were the images that surrounded me when I first began to think about my own definition of beauty and develop my own sense of style. I was an awkward teenager. Growing up with limited resources in our small community, my sense of beauty and style was dictated by Seventeen Magazine. And I don’t remember anyone in my little world that looked like me. I remember my mother—who was a teacher at my school—telling me that none of the little kids looked like me. I had black hair, black eyes, a “foreign” look.  In fact, years later a friend of the family looked at my cousin and said “Pam, you have just grown up to be the most beautiful young woman.” Then, as her eyes descended upon me, she exclaimed, “And, Natalie, you are so, so, so EXOTIC.”  For a shy and somewhat delicate girl, that felt like the kiss of ugly.

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In 2009 and 2010, an exhibition was held at Pratt Institute to help explain the relationship between fashion and sustainability.

For this exhibit (called Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion), curators Francesca Granata and Sarah Scaturro (now Conservator at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) displayed garments from our Alabama ChaninSongbirds collection, and also from artists and designers like Susan Cianciolo, Andrea Zittel, Suno, and Bodkin.

Andrea Zittel’s Smockshop pattern was included in the “Rethink” portion of the exhibition and provided as a printed pattern at the back of the catalog. From page 36 of the catalog:

A simple double wrap-around garment, the smock as designed by the artist Andrea Zittel, is a versatile and utilitarian garment. For the Smockshop project, it is reworked by a number of artists who reinterpret the original pattern based on their individual skill sets and tastes. In line with Zittel’s motto, “Liberation through Limitations,” the smocks are intended to be worn exclusively for six months, but in an understanding of the idealistic nature of such a practice, the artist is at least hoping “to inspire a more frugal approach to design.” The examples in the exhibition are by the artist Tiprin Follett, who wore her smocks continuously and documented her performance in an interview with Zittel as well as through snapshots.

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This summer Kristine Vejar, founder of A Verb for Keeping Warm (one of the first stores to sell our fabrics and supplies in a retail setting), began a project that encourages each of us to make 25% of our wardrobe. Simply stated, this means 1 out of every 4 garments in your closet should be handmade- sewn, knitted, crocheted, or constructed in your desired method. I would also include any accessory- hats, necklaces, socks, shoes, and the like.

The project, called the Seam Allowance Project, helps connect those who have the desire to make with a community of sewers, knitters, and other craftspeople within the DIY movement.

A few reasons to pledge to make 25% of your wardrobe:

It’s an ethical choice. You KNOW how your clothes are being made.

It’s an economical choice. You are saving money by making your clothes yourself.

It’s a sustainable choice. You are consuming less because you are buying less.

It’s a creative choice and a beautiful form of self-expression.

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Our Camisole Dress from Alabama Studio Style is highlighted in a video class on Traditional Appliqué at Creativebug.com. You fill find the pattern sheet for this dress at the back of the book and can follow along step-by-step with our instructions on Creativebug. We now offer this project as a DIY Kit from our online store and all the supplies we used are listed below.

Creativebug is a subscription service and just in time for the holidays has gift subscriptions available starting at $24.99 for a month. I love this as a gift for my crafting friends as there are so many great classes available for the holiday season.

About our appliqué class from the Creativebug website:

“Appliqué is beautiful way to add texture, pattern and color to a project. Natalie uses applique to stunning effect in her Alabama Chanin collection, and in this workshop, she’ll share with you her basic technique. She’ll also show examples of how using different stitches and thread result in dramatically different finished looks.”

Our camisole dress is shown in Apple (double-layer) with Anna’s Garden appliqué in Natural placed around the bottom of the dress . The appliqué is sewn with a whipstitch with a single layer of Cream #256 Button Craft thread. We used Red #128 Button Craft thread for construction of the dress and also for the Cretan stitch along the binding. Seams are felled on the wrong side (inside of the garment).

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Continuing our conversation around design, craft and fashion, this week we present a Tracy Reese pattern from Vogue Designer Patterns for DIY Thursday.  In all my years as a designer, I have not had the chance to meet Tracy, although I have been familiar with her work since the launch of her collection in the mid-1990s. At that time, I was working as a stylist in Europe and spent much of my time in boutiques, reading fashion magazines, and working with clients.

In an effort to understand Tracy Reese’s philosophy, we reached out to her press office for information and received a note stating that they could “not provide any information at this time.” However, this is what I found on the CFDA website:

“Detroit native Tracy Reese is a graduate of Parsons School of Design. Reese apprenticed under designer Martin Sitbon and worked as design director for Women’s Portfolios at Perry Ellis before launching her eponymous collection in 1996. The collection blends the ultra-feminine and nostalgic with modern polish. plenty by Tracy Reese, was introduced in 1998, after a trip to India provided endless inspiration. A joyful color palette, art-inspired prints and playful details are seen on essentials with a bohemian spirit. With flagships in Manhattan and Tokyo, the Tracy Reese and plenty brands have expanded to include footwear, handbags and home goods.”

Martine Stibon remains one of my all-time favorite designers and I used those pieces often during my days as a stylist.  I do love the dress that emerged using our organic lightweight cotton jersey fabric with Tracy Reece’s pattern.

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Yesterday morning, as we headed out the door to school, my daughter Maggie asked for a sweater. It feels like summer is quickly fading, and it’s time to break out light sweaters, ponchos, and scarves. Many of you have asked how we at Alabama Chanin wear our Organic Cotton Scarf, so we’ve compiled a few of our favorite looks for you to try. The versatility of this scarf makes it an essential piece for my closet, year-round.


The variation above is perhaps the most basic way to wear our Organic Cotton Scarf. Simply double the scarf in length, place around your neck, and insert the free ends through the loop. Voila!


To achieve this look, spread the fabric and drape it over your head so that it frames your face, leaving the ends hanging evenly in front of your shoulders. Take one end and place it over the opposite shoulder, allowing it to hang freely down your back. Do the same with the remaining end so that the fabric crosses loosely at your neck. Great for gardening, walks in the sun, or windy nights.


A look fit for evening or day: place the scarf around your neck with ends hanging in front. Allow the scarf to hang longer on the right side. Using your left hand, take the longer side of the fabric and lightly drape it around your right shoulder. Take that same piece around your front and toss it over your left shoulder, leaving the end to hang freely in the back.  This can also be reversed so that the scarf drapes your left shoulder.


This look shows the scarf as a shawl. This is an easy way to achieve coverage when there’s a chill in the air and an easy way to bring together a classic evening outfit. Simply spread the fabric out and wrap around your shoulders. Let the excess hang at your side and flow with the movement of your arms.


Although this style may look more complex, it’s actually easy to achieve and can polish off your look in minutes. Spread the fabric and wrap it around your shoulders as shown above for the shawl.

WAYS TO WEAR OUR SCARFFrom there, take the dangling ends and cross them around your back. Bring them back around to the front and tie on the side of your choosing.


For this wrap, begin as you did with the shawl, spreading and wrapping the fabric around your shoulders. As you begin to tie the excess fabric at chest, do not pull the end all the way through. Leave a loop and pull the fabric tight. This adds a different element to your scarf. Keep in mind, the wrap will fit loosely and may need to be adjusted throughout wear.


In January, we began a conversation about the intersection of Fashion, Craft, and DIY. That dialogue started with our friends at Vena Cava and progressed to our Makeshift events, and continues with adapting patterns from designers like Anna Sui and Donna Karan (one of my personal favorites that I wear often). This week we extend the conversation with a collaboration and pattern from textile designer Anna Maria Horner.

Below are instructions for Alabama Chanin’s basic version of Anna Maria’s dress pattern in Light Golden and Goldenrod, the newest colors in our hand-dyed, cotton jersey fabric collection. These fabric colors, like our Indigo and Coral, are hand-dyed in Nashville, Tennessee, using the osage orange wood and myrobalan fruit in varying amounts to create variation in shades.

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When I was a design school student at the end of the 1980s, there was one name that you found in all of the magazines and on everyone’s lips: Donna Karan. She was changing the way women dressed. She wanted to “to design modern clothes for modern people.”

Karan became a presence in the fashion world as the women’s rights movement found its footing in the 1970s and women began working in the business world in greater numbers. Most designers didn’t know how to dress this burgeoning new population of professionals. You saw women dressed in double-breasted suits with tight skirts, wide shoulders, and, often, pin stripes. Virginia Slims adverts of the time showed images of women in suits – straight, lean, no curves, nothing womanly at first glance. The models could easily have been men.

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After taking time to reflect on our recent week in New York for MAKESHIFT, I’m already thinking about MAKESHIFT 2013.

Here are some highlights from the conversation at The Standard Talks. We reported the MAKESHIFT events here on the blog throughout the week, and had great press coverage from the New York Times, Style.com, Page Six, and Jezebel. Here’s a recap of our memorable conversation.

From The Standard Talks panel discussion:

Andrew Wagner began with a grand introduction and also referenced Ettore Sottsass’s essay, ‘When I Was a Very Small Boy’.

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For the past few weeks, my mind has been on the subject of ‘craft’ even more than usual as I continue to work on MAKESHIFT: shifting thoughts on design, fashion, community, craft & DIY- a series of events, discussions, and workshops held during ICFF New York Design Week.

How appropriate it is to have received this beautifully hand-printed postcard from our friends at Rural Studio.

For more information visit www.ruralstudio.org.


Last month, we introduced Jessamyn, a new contributor to this blog. Sharing the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fires cast a sad light on the history of labor laws in the U.S; however, she showed us how to find better joys in fashion, ecology, and ethics. She has since written about the meaning of D.I.Y.

This week, in a conversation between Jessamyn and Rosanne Cash—another dear friend and colleague—Rosanne shares sentimental stories on the garments that occupy her life and closet.

Please welcome back Jessamyn – and Rosanne – part of the growing heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.

Rosanne and Jessamyn will also be participating in MAKESHIFT: shifting thoughts on design, fashion, community, craft, & DIY.

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As Alabama Chanin has grown and evolved, we have built a business model that I strongly believe in. Many of you have been with us from the beginning, and many of you have found us along the way. On a daily basis, we receive a bounty of emails, phone calls, and letters. Here we have compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions. Included are the mission and some history of Alabama Chanin. We invite you to explore, share, and of course let us know if there is something that we missed.

We sincerely appreciate every email, query, and compliment that comes our way; we look forward to continuing the conversation. While our FAQs is not meant to replace old-fashioned interaction we hope it gives anyone interested the opportunity to learn more about our company, just as we hope for opportunities to learn more about all of you.

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I feel so honored and happy to introduce Jessamyn Hatcher as a new contributor to this blog (soon we will add a face to the name). Jessamyn has been a source of inspiration for me as I continue to learn how to frame the work that is so easy for me to DO, but so difficult for me to EXPLAIN in words. My conversations with Jessamyn have taken place across several states, drinks, emails, and phone calls. I am so excited to expand upon those in-depth conversations here with you—beginning today. Please show a big, hearty, and embracing welcome to Jessamyn—our newest contributor and a part of the growing heart and soul of Alabama Chanin. Continue reading


While working on some press and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages this last month, I came across some texts that date back across the decade of Alabama Chanin. In reading and going over some of these texts, I thought it would be a good series to share on our Sustainable Design Tuesdays. Here is one of those texts about building a round company:

My goal with building designs – as I have built my company – is to make a sphere.  I strive to create a well-rounded, (w)holistic company that revolves around a central theme: sustainability of culture, environment, and community.

It has been over a decade since I started working on the company that Alabama Chanin has become today and I am often asked how I had the foresight to start a company based on the principles of sustainability and Slow Design. To this comment, I laughingly reply that I never intended to start a sustainable design company; I simply stumbled into it like the fool falling off the cliff. When I cut up those first t-shirts, I was doing something that I felt driven to do. I didn’t think of those garments as the basis of a business; they were simply pieces of clothing I wanted to wear and, perhaps more importantly, make. However, when I look back today, it all feels like a seamless and directed adventure into the realms of becoming a sustainable designer and manufacturer.

I am often invited to speak about this process and our resulting business model, as it has developed into an unusual one. However, truth be told, I have simply taken inspiration for our model from farmers and strive to build a zero waste company where the results of one production process become the fuel for another.

Our primary work is the business of designing and making clothing. And whether a dress calls for recycled t-shirts or locally grown, certified organic cotton, the designing and making of that product spurs our model. It was developed not by intention, but through process.

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We all encounter bumps in the road, but with encouragement and tenacity, we persevere.

Back in 2001, I faced one in my life. I returned to New York to continue developing my life’s work into what is now Alabama Chanin. At the time, I was living in the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street while I was developing the line, working with partners, and sorting out production issues. One Sunday morning, I woke up feeling extremely frustrated. Continue reading


They make fashion; they curate a magazine called “Zina Cava;” Maggie Gyllenhaal models for them; they are, in my opinion, the coolest duo to come along in the fashion industry in years.

They host dinner parties instead of fashion shows and give away posters like the one below celebrating their 8 years in business. It’s the kind of party you hope you’ll get an invitation to…

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Preppy, the latest collaboration between Jeffrey Banks and Doria La Chapelle, arrived in our studio this week.  The lovely volume documents the evolution of this iconic style with images from the early 1900′s to my favorite Slim Aarons to the current Hilfiger campaign (shown above). The book is not a manual, but rather a brief historic overview of the iconic style. Its strength relies on beautifully curated photographs to illustrate the subtle changes of the trend over  the time.

Perhaps because the style hit its heyday in my youth or simply because I love the color combinations, I find the volume completely stunning. During my teenage years in Chattanooga, Tennessee, our school uniforms were strangely similar to the picture below.

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Where did the last two weeks go?  Read my bi-weekly post @EcoSalon on the importance of being wobbly.

And thank you to my friend George for the gift of a simple garden gnome – so many, many years ago. Perhaps I will watch Amelie tonight!

There’s No Place Like Gnome

I planted my fall garden last weekend – perhaps about a month late but nevertheless, it is in the ground. My daughter has finally reached the age where she is a willing participant most of the time. In fact, she planted about half a row of garlic before scurrying off to uncover the peas I had just planted and to bury the little ceramic garden gnome that keeps watch on the birds who are eating our carefully planted seeds. That little antique gnome, a gift I received 20+ years ago while living in Vienna, has traveled the world with me, gone to every new home, and overseen each new incarnation of my life. He has always reminded me that a garden was waiting in my future.

The morning I decided to plant, I woke up in my own bed after returning home the day before from a trip that included three stops in two and a half weeks. I arrived home with a head cold and the desire to lie still for another two weeks. But, my daughter and I got up that morning and raked and hoed and planted. It felt good. I sighed, and relaxed and smiled as we settled into an afternoon of working and playing side-by-side.

I admit that I am not the best gardener in the world. This fall garden should have been planted a month ago; my rows are a bit wobbly as they move down the length of my backyard plot. I am certain that when the lettuce and spinach begin to sprout, there will be sections of the rows where too many seeds were strewn too closely together, and other sections where nothing will come up.

This is much like the story of my life and business.

A business owner recently said to me, “You are so successful, you wouldn’t know about the difficulties we have had in trying to build our business.” I couldn’t help but laugh. There are beautiful aspects to what we do at Alabama Chanin every day but there are also carefully planted rows that don’t come up, sales that don’t happen, frustrations and disappointments.

I recently came across an essay I had written in 2006 for Leslie Hoffman at Earth Pledge titled, “What Does Planting Tomatoes Have to Do With Fashion?”  It seems at first blush that the two would have little to do with one another. The gist of the essay was how coming home and re-learning how to plant a garden had connected me to my community, my business, the greater art of sustaining life and, consequently, to the fashion industry at large. As I look back over the essay, it feels like such a long time since I wrote those words. Our first book had not yet hit the shelves. My separation from my former company was still new and the wounds were fresh. When I re-read that essay, I could sense my fear, my hopes and my determination between the lines.

What that essay also reminded me was that while my rows today might still be wobbly, the birds-eye view of the garden is straight as an arrow. My path has been crooked, but the mission that I set for myself so many years ago is alive and growing.
So, what I really wanted to communicate to the business owner that day was not laughter – as if it were a silly question. I meant that laughter to mean: I am in the same garden! As a business, we experience the same ups-and-downs, the same excitements and the same disappointments, and in spite of it all, we are still here and we are still gardening.

Today, as I sit and look at my wobbly rows, my garden feels like my business. I realize that the wobbly row is a perfect analogy for my own process. We plant rows that flourish; we plant rows that putter along. We water, we nurture, we pick, we grow. But the real beauty of it all is not in the harvesting but this moment of sitting in the sun waiting for the first sprouts to poke through the earth.

The point is to watch the little plants grow and to savor the laughter that will come when I finally discover the buried garden gnome that my daughter has left for me as a present.


In 2006, Leslie Hoffman asked me to write a short paper for inclusion in their Future Fashion White Papers.   I recently came across the volume while browsing my library and the essay stirred up so many memories from that time.  As the last of my tomatoes drop to the ground, I wanted to (re)share my thoughts on tomatoes and fashion.

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If you’d like to be a success in business, start working!

If you’d like to be a success as a housewife, start cooking!

If you’d like to be a social success, start smiling!

If you’d like to get married, start looking!

I am sitting down with Miss Head’s reissued manual after a long morning (it is only 8 am) of cooking breakfast, gardening, cleaning, conference calling, laundry and assorted cat wrangling.  It is delightful and charming to read her advice, even though I seem to be in direct violation of the bulk of it. I am in a simple jersey dress that will take me from home, to the office, to the market, and to dinner (hopefully) without a single judgmental glance (and I haven’t stocked my handbag with gloves or pearls).

Her advice for a bygone era is captivating, often relevant, and inspiring.

I love the illustration below from page 145 – and the quote to go with it from the opposite page: “No one knows better than a studio designer how important underthings are in changing a woman’s appearance.”  As a girl who likes to collect pretty “underthings,” I couldn’t agree more.

Don’t miss the “Color Aura Chart” starting on page 123 and the “Successories” from page 133.

Lipstick and perfume before breakfast? Tomorrow- just maybe.

How To Dress for Success by Edith Head with Joe Hyams – Originally published in 1967 and reissued by Abrams in 2011, including  illustrations by Edith Head.



Azzedine Alaïa Interview written by Eric Waroll:

“I was having breakfast with a legend of fashion, yet I witnessed his respectful humanity.”


Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you smile and laugh and sigh all at the same time. My Mom, Style Icon, by Piper Weiss – published by Chronicle – is just that book.

(While I didn’t get this posted in time for Mother’s Day, every day is Mother’s Day around my house! “Mama, can you get me something to drink?  Mama, when are you going to wash this dress?  Mama, I love you…”)

The pictures of all the Mamas are lovely, funny and define their eras; but, what I love most are the stories they tell.

I hope that my 5-year-old daughter will one day look back at the bric-a-brac of my fashion life and sigh, ”My Mom, Style Icon.”

Yes that is me – circa 1979 – and yes, that is a Honda Civic AND a peace sign. The writing on the car window reads, “Chapel Hill or Bust.” I am thinking that my photo might fall under one of the  categories in Chapter 3, “Moms Gone Wild:  Rebels, Ragers, and Road Warriors.”


In the autumn of last year, I was contacted by a New York University professor from the Liberal Studies department named Jessamyn Hatcher.  She had gotten my email address from our mutual friend Sally Singer and wanted to know if we would be willing to discuss a field trip that she was planning with her 30+ students from the Dean’s Circle, a University Scholars program.

Her email explained that the “theme for the 2010-2011 Dean’s Circle and Colloquium is ‘The Price of Fashion: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Global Garment Trade.’ The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire occurred on March 25, 1911, in what is now the Brown building.  146 people, most of who were between the ages of 16 and 21, died while manufacturing women’s blouses. Next year will mark its 100th anniversary, and we will use the anniversary as an occasion to explore issues surrounding the world garment trade, from mass production in sweatshops to the runways of the world’s fashion capitols to the ‘slow design’ movement.”

While I was fascinated by Jessamyn’s inquiry, in the first moment I wondered how a workshop could function with 30+ students in our studio.  My fears were unfounded.

Several weeks ago, the group arrived and the experience was one of wonder, exploration and pleasure.  Following a two day workshop in our studio, the students moved on to Rural Studio in Greensboro, Alabama, to continue their journey.

Jessamyn joked at one point how many of her colleagues had asked, “Why aren’t you going to Paris?”

The lovely thank you notes from the (18 – 20 year-old) students below explains it all.  I hope that the students don’t mind that I have shared their observations about our world.  I am appreciative to look at our work, our staff and our world through fresh eyes.

(And to have found a new friend in Jessamyn!)

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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 love this story from Penelope Green:

A Veritable Vision in Five-Inch Heels“, New York Times, February 3, 2010:

NEAR dusk on a recent winter Sunday, in a glossy and compact one-bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen, Michael Lisbona was drying the toe box of a Louis-style mule with a blow dryer. The upper part of the half-made shoe, which had been cut from black kid leather embossed with a delicate silver lace pattern, curled back like the petal of an exotic flower. Llorraine Neithardt, a full-time psychic and part-time shoe guru, clapped her hands and exclaimed: “Boy, does that beat mowing the lawn. Look how beautiful — like a little tortellini.”…

Read the article as it is wonderful way to start Monday morning…
*See the slideshow:Yana Paskova for the New York Times


We have been getting many emails and questions about a post that appeared this week on Ecouterre.com entitled “Does the Art of Craft and Handmade Matter in Fashion?”

My answers seemed to spur yet more questions… and a few angry emails.

After mulling over these questions, I have to think about Gina and Linton Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene along with Holeman & Finch in Atlanta…

(Stay with me here: You might remember that we were asking these same questions a few years ago about the food we eat and have seen – at least in my community – a marked difference in how we choose food and how we incorporate the cost of that food into our budget.)

Angie Mosier reminds me over-and-over-again (& again this weekend @ Blackberry Farm) about a saying from Gina and Linton:

“It is not why something costs so much; it is why something is worth so much.”

I believe – and have seen firsthand – that the fashion industry will also come around and consumers will begin to ask more-and-more questions.

Yes indeed: Why is it worth so much?

**Photo of Holeman & Finch lifted from the Gourmet (RIP) article by John T. Edge and taken by Gina Hopkins.


Thank you to everyone at Vogue, the CFDA, Norman Jean Roy, Karlie Kloss, Tabitha Simmons, Florence Kane and all of our Alabama Team for this beautiful photo of the Alabama Nomad.



A Time to Sell Green, Not Greed

By SUZY MENKES From the New York Times:

September 13, 2009  

“Fashion’s Night Out” — an evening of open-house shopping last week in New York and other major cities around the world — was designed to brace up nervous customers and convince them that consumption is joyous.

But it also proved that there is more to e-commerce than buying online.

The key “e” words were “emotion” and “energy” during this Vogue-sponsored fight against retail gloom. After a long period of credit-happy consumers and easy sales, stores and designers are having to work much harder to engage customers and make them feel that their purchase is worthwhile.

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AVEDON FASHION 1944 – 2000

The Museum at The International Center for Photography will be showing the fashion work of Richard Avedon: Avedon Fashion 1944 – 2000.

One of my all time favorite books of photography was created by Richard Avedon: In the American West. This genre of photography as story teller has been an inspiration to me since the day I first started working. They are images that make me want to HEAR the stories too.

Visit The Richard Avedon Foundation for more.

P.S.: I literally ran into Avedon in a book store in Montauk, New York, some years ago. Backed right into him. As I turned around, I lost all calm and stumbled right out the door.


As we know, the fashion industry (along with many others) has spiraled out of control.  I have recently spoken with many colleagues and it is my belief that this is the time to work hard(er) to make it better – rather than to sit and wait for something to happen.  I saved this article from Bridget Foley for a few months now and ran across it again today.  It feels pertinent and real to me as I navigate towards the future.

May we all strive towards making the right changes for our wardrobes, our families and our futures.

A heartfelt thank you to WWD, and Bridget, for striving towards that future:

“Tis the Season. Or is it?”

Posted by Bridget Foley- Executive Editor

Women’s Wear Daily 7:52PM EST, December 9, 2008


To the rest of the world, pre-fall, the time before fall, is late summer. You know, the days are still sticky; lucky two-residence types resign themselves to spending less time at the beach; and kids, to going back to school. Back in the day, that’s when most people started thinking about fall shopping. Just the thought of that new chilly-weather wardrobe brought a rush of excitement, the promise of crisp days that one would greet bedecked in cozy tweeds and cable knits. Nostalgic enough for you? Well, let’s go a wassailing with the ghost of autumn present. Technically, we’re still in fall ’08, which according to the calendar doesn’t end until Dec. 21. But the fashion world knows better. This fall at retail was over long before the first tree leaf, or the first investment house, Lehman Brothers, fell. It ended back in May, June and July, when pre-fall and fall started hitting the stores, and those shopping throngs who allegedly love to buy early never materialized. Yet here we are again, the world as we know it having gone to hell in a handbasket, and pre-fall is proceeding seemingly business as usual. Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein and Zac Posen have already staged full-on shows; Donna Karan, Carolina Herrera, Isaac Mizrahi, J.Mendel and numerous others have opened with showroom appointments, as will countless more, both here and in Europe, from now into January.

For what, exactly? A fall ’09 redux of 70 percent off by Nov. 1? Or perhaps these extensive pre-fall collections are in-house exercises, since retailers are slashing inventories to shreds. Might not this be a moment for a massive communal reevaluation of that beloved but seriously flawed behemoth, “the fashion system”?

Everybody knows there is something drastically wrong, starting with way too many clothes, and that was back when consumers consumed. Then, there’s the strident adherence to absurdly early deliveries. Fashion house executives blame retailers. “The department stores make me deliver early,” said Mario Grauso, president of Puig Fashion. “Now the markdowns. We’re training the customer to buy on sale.” For Donna Karan, it’s a familiar motif. “I’ve been on this for years,” she said. “We’re teaching the customer that it’s a white sale business.”

Perhaps in some fairy tale past, the oft-cited cliché that the pre-seasons sell best because they’re on the floor longest had some validity. But the dearth of store sales prior to the current economic train wreck has rendered that premise flagrantly anachronistic.

And what of the emotion of fashion? As an industry we’re all trained like Pavlov’s dogs to rush with passion to what’s new, what’s next. How about a little time spent celebrating the joys of fashion right now, rather than ignoring fall — once everybody’s bread and butter — in anticipation of resort?

“We should as an industry take a deep breath, look at what’s going on, and try to fix it,” Karan said. “It’s got to be everyone — retailers, designers, press.”

Or, we can wait for total industry Armageddon, à la the financial and auto industries, to step back and try to set things right.

Business as usual? We all know it’s anything but. Let’s deal with it.


We have choices in what we purchase, consume and choose to support every day. We vote with our dollars for the brand of clothing we like, for the types of food we want to eat, for the toys we buy for our children. This letter, from a former colleague, reminds me to think before I spend. The impact of our dollars cannot always be measured by what we bring home in our bag:

I work as a designer for a large corporation and recently had the opportunity to travel overseas to see production of some of our products. This was my first visit to India and first time being in a factory this size. It was mind blowing to see the amount of consumption that takes place on a daily basis. I had no idea the number of garments being produced. The company we do business with operates around 46 factories in India and constructs 3 million garments every month! This is just in one country.

We were also able to see a large wash house where garments are washed with enzyme finishes and other chemicals to give a softer hand feel to the fabric. They are capable of washing 100,000 pieces every day with a variety of chemicals and finishes. Inside, stacks of pants piled in to huge bins were waiting to be washed in oversized washing machines. I can’t imagine the amount of power and chemicals used to accomplish their daily quota.

This trip changed my view of how much we consume. Seeing every size of every garment that’s going to every store really put this industry in a new perspective for me. At the company I work for, we move so fast and produce so much that we don’t take the time to ask ourselves what the customer really wants or needs and more importantly how much power and material we consume every day to make our products. For me, I will take from this experience a new outlook on consumption and begin asking myself how I, in my own way, can try to make a difference.


Historical Fashion in Detail is another great source of inspiration for all of our hand work. The photographs are beautiful, detailed and a reminder of a time when articles of clothing were truly works of art.

Get your copy here.