Tag Archives: Organic

NEW: INDIGO DYE KIT

We have a long history of loving and working with indigo at The School of Making and Alabama Chanin. We’ve used it in previous collections, worked with and learned from Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville, and even had a special indigo-focused exhibition at Heath Ceramics showcasing upcycled antique quilts and one-of-a-kind indigo garments.

For the past few years, we’ve sourced our indigo materials from Botanical Colors in Seattle, Washington. Owner Kathy Hattori was an invaluable resource throughout the time we operated our dye house (more on Kathy tomorrow). Since closing down our dye house last year, we have been working with Stony Creek Colors in Tennessee to produce our Hand-Dyed Organic Indigo Fabric— used in our Rinne’s Dress Collection.

ALABAMA CHANIN – NEW: INDIGO DYE KIT

For the makers that prefer to have their hands on every step of the process, we are now offering an Indigo Dye Kit for use at home. Inside you’ll find the same organic indigo that we’ve used sourced from Botanical Colors along with iron powder, calcium hydroxide (lime), soda ash, and instructions for creating your own mineral vat. The kit comes packed in an organic cotton canvas bag and includes enough materials to dye approximately 6 yards of our 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey. You will need to provide your own plastic tub or trash can for creating the vat as well as gloves and a mask for handling the raw materials.

We can’t wait to see what you’re able to create with the kit. Indigo produces such range of shades with lovely variations in the fabrics. Be sure to share your indigo projects with us using #theschoolofmaking on social media.

ALABAMA CHANIN - NEW CORE GARMENTS - OUR MANUFACTURING MODEL 1

NEW CORE GARMENTS + OUR MANUFACTURING MODEL

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.

THE SCOOP SERIESALABAMA CHANIN - NEW CORE GARMENTS - OUR MANUFACTURING MODEL 3

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.

THE RIB SERIES
ALABAMA CHANIN - NEW CORE GARMENTS - OUR MANUFACTURING MODEL 2

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.

SUPPLY CHAIN (+ DYE HOUSE) UPDATE

One of the challenges of running a company dedicated to sustainability is adjusting to the ebbs and flows of other small businesses in our supply chain—businesses that are devoted to sustainable practices themselves. Sadly for us, one of those companies has closed its doors after almost 20 years of operation. North Carolina-based Tumbling Colors, our dye house since 2008, worked with Natalie and the Alabama Chanin design team on color development for all of our fabrics. They dyed small batches of our 100% organic cotton jersey with low-impact dyes, producing custom colors for our Collections and DIY. To Chuck and the rest of the Tumbling Colors team: we have thoroughly enjoyed doing business with you.

Beginning last month, Green Textile, located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, became our dedicated dye house. We have employed them as our knitters since 2006 and now they will also be dyeing our fabric with the same low-impact processes we are used to.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SUPPLY CHAIN (+ DYE HOUSE) UPDATE

As a small business ourselves, we’re always navigating the challenges of supply and demand. Last fall, a portion of cotton was contaminated, lowering our stock of 100% organic cotton. Since then, we have been working to build up our stock. With recent changes in dyehouses, our stock in colors has been substantially reduced, and much of our fabric is currently low stock or backordered (as noted on the color cards). We appreciate everyone’s patience, and we are diligently working to match our supply with our demand.

If there is a fabric color you’d like to order that we currently stock, we encourage you to make your purchase now. We’ll have more updates soon and a lot of new DIY offerings in the coming months. Be sure to check back on our Journal and subscribe to our mailing list for the most up-to-date news.

Purchase our 100% medium-weight organic cotton jersey colors here.

INSPIRATION: TONY APRON

The apron is a versatile garment—equally functioning to protect clothes from the dirtiest of labor, or to signify gentility and hospitality. It can be associated with cooking, cleaning, and hard work and, for many, is a symbol of home and humility, worn in the daily rituals of pulling a pan from the oven or wiping sawdust from hands.

Tying on an apron is a statement of readiness for the possibilities of a new project, and the perseverance to finish. Whether baking, gardening, or exploring an art project, an apron is the sign of a maker.

ALABAMA CHANIN – INSPIRATION: TONY APRON

Part of our newest home collection, the Tony Apron is sewn from 100% organic cotton canvas and hand stenciled with a geometric pattern in pale, neutral shades. It features crossed back ties, a center pocket, and two waist pockets.

Shop the Tony Apron here.

THE HISTORY OF EARTH DAY

As a sustainable design company, we take the health of our employees and our environment into consideration every day. And though not all businesses have the same focus, it is interesting to look back on how much has changed and become the norm—both in workplaces and homes around the world. Forty-plus years ago, the idea of recycling had not yet begun to take hold in the American household. The public did not know about things like the dangers of CFCs, the importance of the ozone layer, and endangered rainforests; we had not yet faced what we now know was to come: an oil embargo, the meltdown at Three Mile Island, and Love Canal. But, awareness was emerging and the birth of that awareness can be almost directly traced to April 22, 1970—the first Earth Day and the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

In 1970, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson was a senator from Wisconsin when he was shaken by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and by seeing Ohio’s polluted Cuyahoga River burst into flames. At that time, all across America, students were organizing protests as part of the anti-Vietnam War movement—a tactic Nelson decided to adapt, hoping to promote environmental issues in the public consciousness and on the political agenda.  At a conference in Seattle in 1969, he announced to the national media that he was organizing a national “teach-in” on the environment, which he was calling Earth Day.

Nelson, a Democrat, partnered with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and activist Dennis Hayes to promote the event, which was strategically scheduled for April 22, in order to fall between college spring breaks and final exams. On that day, 20 million Americans across the nation rallied in major cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In New York, a portion of 5th Avenue was cordoned off for a rally with the mayor and actors Paul Newman and Ali McGraw. In Washington, D.C., Congress went into recess and large groups gathered to hear political leaders speak alongside musician and activist Pete Seeger. Organizations that were fighting against various environmental ills like oil spills, polluting power plants, toxic dumps, harmful pesticides, and wildlife extinction united under one larger, common cause.

According to Nelson, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day—it organized itself.” That first Earth Day transformed the way the public viewed environmental issues. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, (created in December 1970, in an almost direct response to Earth Day initiatives) public opinion polls reflected a permanent change in national priorities immediately following those events. The event also united disparate political parties, ultimately influencing the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air, Toxic Substances Control, and Endangered Species Acts—among others.

There is much that still needs to be changed and improved with regard to environmental protection and human welfare (particularly in our own industry). But we should appreciate the number of things that—largely thanks to Earth Day and the environmental movement—are now fairly common: recycling and purchasing recycled products; solar and wind energy technology; low-emission, hybrid, and battery-powered vehicles; home goods like compact fluorescent light bulbs, rechargeable batteries, and low flush toilets; electronics take-back programs, even reusable shopping bags.

This Earth Day, find ways that you can take action to reduce your environmental footprint. Find an Earth Day event in your area and take part!

As part of our commitment to responsible production, your goods will always be delivered to you via carbon neutral shipping.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE HISTORY OF EARTH DAY

Photos by Robert Rausch

JONES VALLEY TEACHING FARM

I first heard of Jones Valley Teaching Farm around 2003. The farm was still a small plot of land located close to The Garage, in Birmingham, Alabama. I drove down one cold winter day to have lunch with (then director) Edwin Marty. There was one hoop house, and running water, and not much else—yet. It was ambitious, and it felt like the beginning of something special.

Later, I heard much more from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Nick Pihakis and chef Drew Robinson. Those two so fully believe in the farm’s mission and methods that they back up their beliefs with fundraisers and hands-on support. I am also convinced that the organization can make real difference in the community.

Since my first visit in 2003, Jones Valley Teaching Farm has grown and moved to downtown Birmingham. Since 2007, the organization has expanded their farm and their scope with a focus on educating students, visitors, and community gardeners on how to grow real, healthy food. Today, the farm is a hub of downtown green. The farmers on site use both established sustainable and experimental practices, with the goal of developing a flourishing ecosystem in the heart of a bustling city. They currently grow over 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers and offer their produce for sale on-site and at local farmers’ markets—generating over $45,000 in sales in 2014 alone.

ALABAMA CHANIN – JONES VALLEY TEACHING FARM

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LITTLE FOREST AND BIOPHILIC DESIGN

As part of our On Design and Makeshift conversation and event series, we have led discussions on various design movements and schools of thought (like Bauhaus, Arts and Crafts, and Memphis), the business of artisan craftwork, and designers like Charles and Ray Eames. This week’s discussion takes a turn toward a new design arena—Biophilic Design and Terrariums.

The speaker today was Birmingham-based artisan Jonathan Woolley, whose collective—known as Little Forest Design—has given The Factory entrance a facelift by installing a beautiful tableau of terrariums. The effect is transformative; bringing natural elements into our workspace influences not only our work environment, but also our mood and productivity.

Response to the installation reflects the basic philosophy behind Biophilic Design—that incorporating nature into living and working environments can affect mental and physical health, and allow for healthier connections within communities. The design theory presents the idea that humans fundamentally need a connection to nature, but our urban environments have separated us from those elements that might nourish our spirits and physical bodies. Biophilic Design is a way of reconnecting people to nature in a way that incorporates natural elements into current living and working systems.

In preparation for his presentation, we asked Jonathan to give us some background on the theory of Biophilic Design and his design collective, Little Forest Design.

Little-Forest

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BLUEWATER CREEK FARM

Each week, as the Factory Café staff puts together our menu, they take into consideration the produce and meats available to them from our local farms and merchants. We have developed long-time relationships with growers like Jack-O-Lantern Farms, who provide us with homegrown, seasonal vegetables—using no pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic nutrients. In recent months, we have also begun working with Bluewater Creek Farm, a family-owned sustainable farm in nearby Killen, Alabama.

BLUEWATER CREEK FARM

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NEW: A. CHANIN HOME

At Alabama Chanin, we frequently speak about the concepts of Slow Design and sustainability. We attempt to create a healthy environment so that we can create healthy products. Part of being sustainable means we take great care in the materials that we source to create our products; it also means that the processes we use to create use the most non-destructive methods possible. We keep this goal of sustainability in mind at every stage of production—from concept to final product. In our attempts to be a well-rounded, holistic company, we take inspiration from farmers and the Slow Food movement—where the results of one production process become fuel for another.

NEW: A. CHANIN HOME

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NEW: LAYERING A. CHANIN

Check out the newest additions to our A. Chanin + Accessories category: the Cropped Pullover, Peplum Cardigan, and Patchwork Tank—great layering pieces to add to your cooler weather wardrobe.

The Cropped Pullover is shown here over our Long Sleeve Scoopneck rib top and paired with the Magdalena Gore Skirt in Black. This top is a lighter-weight alternative to our popular Long Sleeve Raglan.

NEW: LAYERING A. CHANIN

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NEW: A. CHANIN BASICS

Our design and production team at Building 14 has been working overtime to launch these three new A. Chanin styles.  From the perfected V-Neck T-shirt, to the updated Fitted Rib Tank, to our machine-sewn Natalie’s Black Jacket—we think that you will love the styles, our 100% organic cotton fabric, and the quality of these beautifully crafted pieces.

Designed to wear every day; made to last a lifetime.

NEW: A. CHANIN BASICS

P.S.: Look for new styles, colors, and collection pieces in the coming weeks.
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin

ALABAMA COTTON REVISITED

A warm “thank you” to Debbie Elliott and everyone at National Public Radio for their story about our collaboration with Billy Reid on Alabama grown cotton.

And, thank you to K.P. and Katy McNeill, Erin Dailey, and Lisa and Jimmy Lenz—they all know how to dream big (and work hard to get there).

If you haven’t heard this piece yet, you can listen online here.

REVIVING A SOUTHERN INDUSTRY, FROM COTTON FIELD TO CLOTHING RACK
National Public Radio, October 10, 2014

You’ve probably heard of “farm to table,” but how about “field to garment”? In Alabama, acclaimed fashion houses Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid have a new line of organic cotton clothing made from their own cotton field.

It’s not just an experiment in keeping production local; it’s an attempt to revive the long tradition of apparel-making in the Deep South. North Alabama was once a hub for textile manufacturing, with readily available cotton and access to cheap labor. But the industry all but disappeared after NAFTA became law, as operations moved overseas.

Now, Sue Hanback is again working a sewing machine in a cavernous building that was once part of the biggest cut-and-sew operation in Florence, Ala.

“I’m gonna five-thread this shirt,” she explains, stitching cuffs onto an organic-cotton sweatshirt.

Hanback was last laid off in 2006 when this was a T-shirt factory. Her husband worked in the dye house. She’s been a seamstress all her life.

“Ever since I was 18 years old,” Hanback says. “So that was like, 48 years.”

ALABAMA COTTON REVISITED

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HOMEGROWN COTTON

Two years ago this week, we were picking organic Alabama cotton. Today, The New York Times – T Magazine shares that journey. Thank you (and a BIG hug) to Rinne Allen for taking this journey with us.

From Rinne:

“Two years ago, I found myself knee-deep in a field in rural Alabama, picking organic cotton by hand. A few hundred other pickers were there too, bent over the rows of white cotton with bags at their hip, repeating the same hand-to-plant-to-bag motion over and over again. It was a picking party hosted by Natalie Chanin, the founder and creative director of the clothing line Alabama Chanin, and the fashion designer Billy Reid to celebrate and harvest their first homegrown, organic cotton crop.”

More here: Homegrown Cotton

A GIANT thank you to our entire community, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and the legions of friends, family, and perfect strangers who came to help.

ALABAMA COTTON

ALABAMA ORGANIC COTTON - PHOTO RINNE ALLEN

 

ALABAMA COTTON

Passion. It takes passion to make a difference. When you truly want something, you find a way to make it happen, naysayers be damned. In the moments when it seems your project is doomed for failure, you carry on. You learn to ask for help and to count your blessings. Our organic Alabama cotton is a story of passion.

Our company is built on the concepts of sustainability, ethical production, and using American-made and local resources. Organic materials are an integral part of our mission and our goals. Though sourcing organic materials is easier than when we began working over a decade ago, it is still difficult to obtain American-made organic materials in the quantity that we require.

ALABAMA COTTON

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EARTH DAY + RECYCLING

“Don’t throw anything away. Away is not far from you.”

The quote above hangs in our studio as a reminder that each action we take (no matter how big or small) impacts our environment. Designed by our friend Robert Rausch a few years ago, the simple quote was stamped on an event invite as a means to provoke thought about what people use and, consequently, throw away each day. At Alabama Chanin, we are taking strides to become a zero waste company—where the results of one production process become the fuel for another. It is our continuing goal to maintain a well-rounded, (w)holistic company that revolves around a central theme: sustainability of culture, environment, and community.

WASTE-NOT-WANT-NOT---Rinne-Allen

Not only do we reuse and recycle each scrap of fabric, but we also participate in other sustainable and environmental practices on a daily basis. We recycle paper and cardboard, collect and save glass in the café, compost all food waste, repurpose scrap paper, plant trees, and are even starting a garden at The Factory. Waste not, want not.

RECYCLING-02

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JACK-O-LANTERN FARM + COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE

As most of you know, Alabama Chanin strives to support local farmers whenever possible—especially now that we’ve opened The Factory Café and are sourcing local and organic ingredients for all of our dishes. Our kitchen manager, Arron, has built a strong relationship with our friends Steve and Connie Carpenter, who operate nearby Jack-O-Lantern Farm. Each week, Steve delivers the freshest local produce to our kitchen, which Arron incorporates into our seasonal menus. Steve also picks up bags our Factory Blend Coffee and house made granola that he then sells at his farm, just across the river. Watching Arron and Steve collaborate these past few months has been a wonderful (and educational) experience.

Jack-O-Lantern Farm is getting ready to launch their 2014 Community-Supported Agriculture box program—and The Factory will be a pick-up location beginning Friday, May 16.

JOLF-06

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DIY MACHINE MANUFACTURING (IN ALABAMA)

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.

DIY MANUFACTURING IN ALABAMA

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NATURALLY COLORED COTTON AND SALLY FOX

Here is a bit of information that may surprise you: not all cotton is white cotton. If you are like me, you may not have always known that natural cotton comes in plenty of hues. In fact, there were originally shades of cotton that ranged from many tones of brown, to dark green, to brown, black, red, and blue. These varieties of cotton were widely used by Native American peoples and, occasionally, those who were enslaved and tenant families were allowed to grow small plots of colored cotton because plantation owners considered it worthless. Colored cotton became obscure because farmers and manufacturers believed it too difficult to work with due to its short staple length, which makes the cotton problematic to spin. As a result, the varieties of colored cotton have dwindled. The Central Institute for Cotton Research in India has cultivated 6,000 varieties of cotton, only 40 of which are colored.

The white cotton we primarily see now was created by planting mono-crop, or only one variety of cotton. This type of cotton requires more pesticides than other varieties and the dyeing of this cotton is a massive cause of land and water pollution (not to mention its human impact). According to the ECO360 Trust, nearly 20% of all industrial water pollution results from textile dyeing and production methods. They have discovered at least 72 toxic chemicals that are present in our water system purely due to textile dyeing.

NATURAL COTTON COLORS SALLY FOX

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DIY PAISLEY TOTE

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.

DIY PAISLEY TOTE

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ZKANO ORGANIC SOCKS (AND A DIY PROJECT)

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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NOP AND GOTS

As readers of our journal, many of you have read about our attempts to grow organic cotton here in Alabama. While researching the process and details of what it means to grow organic cotton, we discovered, to our surprise, that only a small amount of the world’s organic cotton is grown in the United States. We are part of an effort to change that, as are other companies, like Zkano. We must ask the questions – What makes cotton organic? Who makes the rules? And who regulates the whole system?

A food or agricultural product can be labeled as organic, meaning that it was inspected and met the USDA’s established regulations for organic products. Organic products cannot be grown using chemical fertilizers or any type of genetic engineering, among other criteria.  The National Organic Program (NOP) oversees all organic crops, including raw cotton fibers. While food crops and products must meet very rigid requirements to be labeled as organic, the same does not hold true for fibers or the products made with those fibers. While the NOP makes rules and manages the process of certifying cotton fiber as organic, it doesn’t make any rules about what happens to the fiber after it has been harvested.

NOP AND GOTS

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COTTON UPDATE

It’s been a busy past few months for Alabama Chanin. Shortly after our cotton picking party and field day came our biggest Black Friday sale, then the holidays, our Garage Sale, Bluprint launch, travels to Los Angeles, the Texas Playboys visit to Florence, and much more in between. All the while, we’ve been making headway with our Alabama cotton project.

Almost a year after we planted our cotton seed in the ground, we would like to share another update about our special crop. We are certain many of you – especially those who helped in the field – will be interested in its progress.

COTTON UPDATE - PHOTO BY RINNE ALLEN Continue reading

COTTON PICKING PARTY + FIELD DAY

Alabama Chanin + Billy Reid invite you to a Cotton Picking Party and Field Day
With many thanks to our hosts Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q

Thursday, November 8th, 2012
10:00 am – 3:00 pm

Trinity, Alabama 35673


LUBBOCK, TEXAS

I’ve heard Lubbock called the cotton capital of the United States, if not the world, by a handful of people in the industry. Flying into Lubbock, I saw farmland that continued as far as the eye could see.  Once I landed, those fields became stretches of white that reached out to the horizon.

Today, thanks to Kelly Pepper and the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, I visit these fields first-hand, along with a cotton breeding facility and test nurseries. For the first time, I will meet some of the farmers who grow our organic cotton face-to-face.

I’ll have a glimpse of the hard work that (as we have learned first-hand) goes into cotton’s growth and development. I will walk through the entire process, from the field to the gins and the warehouses where it is cleaned and stored, before it travels east to the Carolinas to be spun, knit, dyed, and finally sent to our factory in Florence.

I will listen and watch and then take this information back to Alabama so we can improve our field for next year’s crop. (Yes. Next year.)

All of us at Alabama Chanin are so grateful to Kelly Pepper and the entire Texas cooperative for paving the way for the future of Alabama organic cotton.

-Erin

#ACorganic

ORGANIC COTTON + BARBEQUE PICKING

We can’t thank everyone enough for coming out to the field on Saturday to help pick (and celebrate) our organic cotton. The skies were blue; the fields were alive with eager hands; we were standing in high cotton.

Thank you to Katherine at Eggton for this beautiful film about our day.

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ALABAMA CHANIN AND BILLY REID COTTON PICKING PARTY + FIELD DAY

Tomorrow, we will meet at the cotton field with friends, colleagues, family, and community to harvest our cotton. This harvest marks an exciting moment for us in our efforts to grow a sustainable and chemical-free crop.

We intended this project as our “test field”. It has allowed us to learn more about the beautiful white fiber, the hardships of farming, and the difference organic makes. Uncertain of whether or not the Alabama soil and climate would be suitable for our cottonseed varieties, the bolls are evidence of a successful yield. We are currently waiting for staple length test results to see if the fibers can be spun into yarn, which will then be knit into jersey fabric. Continue reading

THE HEART: MADE IN AMERICA

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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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/8/12 – 9/24/12

More and more volunteers continue to visit the field. Bolls are opening by the day. In addition to weeding, we’ve begun harvesting the cotton. In the studio, we are preparing for the quickly approaching Picking Party (and field work day). Look for details soon.

I took a trip out last weekend with my daughter Maggie, my friends the Champagnes and their four kids. In just a couple of hours of laughing, talking, and picking we had a pile that amounted to almost 70 pounds and the funny thing was… it was FUN. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is fun for those of us who know we can leave in a few hours, sit down for breaks as we feel like it, and laugh with our kids while working.  There have been times in this county when “cotton work” was very different and we wanted our children to know and understand that. So, the few hours were filled with looking for bugs, talk of seeds and pods, and the life of farming. The kids were amazed to see how much cotton comes from each little boll. Our eight year old friend Joe kept saying, “Look how much was on this one!” and holding up his harvest proudly.

xoNatalie

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DIFFERENT PLACES, SAME MISSION

As a company, we are in very different places this week: New York during the height of fashion week, and Alabama during the height of cotton season.

In celebration, we take a break from our regularly scheduled blog programming to share stories from each place. Check back for updates from the city and the field.


STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 8/3/12 – 9/7/12

—–Original Message—–
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2012 8:58 AM
Subject: Re: cotton field photos

I was thinking of you this morning and took a few pictures at the cotton field so you can feel like you are here this morning.  My photos are nothing to these that you have sent, but perhaps you will like to see your cotton babies.  I am so happy you found Kacie. She gave Jimmy a business card before he left the field yesterday and gave him the most beautiful garden stakes that she had made!

I had already left the field because I was exhausted. She was a dynamo and pulled weeds on her knees in that hot humid sticky field. She didn’t seem to want any credit for what she was doing. She farms herself in Tennessee.

I just had to take her photo with my phone because I can’t believe she was there and working so hard.  I really think she is an angel.  I will make a point to go to Huntsville and see her business someday. She will always be a very important part of this little cotton field.  She left her mark on the field and in my heart.

Love,
Lisa

—–Original Message—–
Sent: Sunday, September 02, 2012 3:43 PM
Subject: Organic cotton

Hello,

I am the cotton scout assigned to north Alabama and middle Tennessee for the Boll Weevil Eradication Program (SEBWEF).  I noticed the article in Saturdays edition of Times Daily.  My interest in your cotton field is to simply place a boll weevil trap nearby, and monitor it until mid-November.

Cotton growers in the state of Alabama and the Southeast have spent millions of dollars over the past 20 years to eradicate the boll weevil from our fields.  The eradication has also reduced pesticide use dramatically, and actually saved several million in costs and increased yield.

The only way to guarantee that we do not get a re-infestation is to monitor ALL cotton that is in the eradicated zones.  We receive information from USDA each season to locate each cotton field so that we can accomplish a successful monitoring program.  I do imagine that your cotton was not reported to the local USDA Service center because of its nature, but there is a state (AL) and federal law that the cotton must be monitored.  I can take care of this easily, but there will likely be a small fee assessed by SEBWEF.

Thank you. Continue reading

THE HEART: THE CHRONOLOGY OF OUR COTTON FIELD

For those of you who have read about (or visited) our cotton field, we’d like to share with you its beginnings and its progress over the last months. These small bolls are more than just crops in a field; rather, they hold a fiber that has shaped the history of our community and, as we have seen in our growing process, binds our community together.

We began our search for organic (non-GMO, non-treated) cottonseed back in March. We worked with Lynda Grose and the Textile Exchange to educate ourselves about the growing process and the many details surrounding the growing of organic cotton. As we pushed forward, we were told by some farmers that March was too late into the growing season to prepare and plant crops. These “magic beans.” as we like to call the cottonseed, were proving very difficult to find. Numerous internet searches and phone calls left us wondering if this endeavor would be possible. But with the help of Kelly from the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, we successfully found a supplier in Texas.

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/4/12

Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2012 6:58 AM
Subject: It will be alright

Soggy, sopping wet Cocker Spaniels. That is what the cotton looks like right now. It is droopy and matted and dirty with rainwater and splashed mud from the storms we had.  When I was a little girl my dearest friend was a Cocker Spaniel, and he and I spent many hours wading in the creek. The creek was over knee deep for me and up to his chin and his beautiful long ears would float out beside him as we walked along in the creek. We would both be covered with sand and mud and creek water, but those times were heavenly to us. The cotton bolls that were white fluffy clouds on Sunday afternoon are a memory now.

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/3/12

Sent: Monday, September 03, 2012 6:47 AM
Subject: Dayum (Georgia word for Damn) Rain

The rain and storms yesterday evening continued to send rain until this morning.  About 5:00 am the rain was coming in waves and it sounded like the ocean.  It is odd to me that Mother Nature that gives us so much beauty,  can wave her hand and destroy so much.   Anyway,  I’ll be taking a row boat to check our little cotton field as soon as I get some coffee.  Yesterday I was picking the beautiful first bolls that have opened on each plant.  It was so light and fluffy and gorgeous.

This morning the words “as soon as it rains on the open bolls they start to deteriorate” are causing my head and my heart to ache.  In review,  lets us all remember that the little cotton field was planted May 10 and got one light rain 3 days later and then the 6 week record breaking drought in Alabama began.  The cotton struggled to grow and survive without a drop of water for 6 weeks. In the final days suddenly one night it rained 6 inches and flooded creeks in the area and roadways.  The rain brought forth giant weeds but it brought the cotton from knee high and shriveled to waist high and loaded with bolls!  Now we are faced with the fact that cotton doesn’t open out all at once.

The first blooms on the lowest branch are the first bolls to open, and then the next level (node) of branches will have their bolls open and then the next and so on.  The first bolls are the ones that receive the most nutrients and are the best.  The top of the plants have blooms that will probably be killed by frost before they ever open into cotton.  People who picked cotton always picked a field twice.  The large machinery that harvests cotton picks once and leaves a tremendous amount on the ground.

Coffee is ready;  I’ll shut up now.  I’ll keep you posted,

Love always,
Lisa
(Poet Laureate of Cotton)

P.S.: At least there were no tornadoes and everyone is okay despite the strong storms.  Keep your fingers crossed for our little field. More on the Official Picking Party coming this week. xoNatalie

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 8/30/12 (+ 8/29 too)

Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:04 AM
Subject: Our first cotton angel

Hi Everyone,

I was at the cotton field this morning when a car pulled up and a tiny young lady got out and put on her work gloves and went to work!!  She is still there working!!!  I sent a photo from my phone to your phone with her name.  Can you believe she drove from Giles County Tennessee to Lawrence County Alabama to work in the hot steamy cotton field!

She is a wonderful person.  I hope she will be in touch with you so that you can know her.  Jimmy and I were so touched that she came such a long way and is such a hard worker.  She is devoted and she is one in a million.

Love you guys,
Lisa

P.S. when I left the cotton field this morning with my pillowcase pick sack, I drove straight to the Trinity Post Office to get them to weigh my pick sack!  I walked in covered with sweat from head to toe and carrying a pillow sack with a lump of cotton in it.  I’m sure they thought I was on Meth or Crack or something.  I picked 2 pounds and 9 ounces of cotton this morning.

Don’t laugh.  Imagine bending and stooping and sweating and gnats up your nose and ants biting your legs and stinging weeds with thorns..  It ain’t pretty work, that is for sure.  Jimmy informs me that he was paid $3.00 for picking 100 pounds of cotton.  Oh my god it makes my back hurt to think about it…..

 

Continue reading

A PLEA FOR COTTON

If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve read about the rollercoaster that has been our first exposure to cotton farming. Having survived the terrible drought, the cotton has been carried through the summer by equal parts rainfall and sunshine. Right now, the bolls are looking healthy, but so are the weeds. Following the organic guidelines, we did not use any chemicals to eradicate the weeds. Lisa and “friend” Jimmy have done the leg, and arm, and back work.

Last Wednesday, the Alabama Chanin staff, along with Lisa and Jimmy, made a trip to weed the field. We arrived to a daunting 6 1/2 acres of beautifully forming cotton alongside big, ugly weeds. The next few weeks are crucial to a successful harvest of the first ever organic cotton crop in North Alabama (that is, since the invention of pesticides and genetically modified seeds). Our plants need ample light, air circulation, and nutrients from the soil to continue to develop and open.  We were overjoyed when Lisa sent images on Saturday morning of the first bolls that have opened. But some of the weeds have still got to go. If this crop is to see a successful harvest, it’s going to need more help to survive and thrive.

Continue reading

EcoSalon: NATALIE CHANIN ON WORKING HER OWN ORGANIC COTTON FIELD

Thanks to Amy DuFault and EcoSalon for sharing the story of our cotton on their blog today:

Last week, the Alabama Chanin team, along with friends Lisa and Jimmy, took to the organic cotton field we share with the team from Billy Reid. With rubber boots, loppers, and gloves in hand, we were there helping our organic cotton bolls survive after a long summer of drought and heat followed by excessive rain and weed growth.

We walked the rows, hoed, chopped, and pulled until the sun and heat forced us out of the field. Hard to imagine the days in Alabama heat where people were not allowed out of the field. Makes me think about how things were, how things are, and how things will be.

Nine of us barely made a dent in the work that needs to be done. As we documented the day with black and white images, it looked so romantic and felt like a moment from a Willa Cather novel. But the reality behind the black and white is a sordid, ugly history. I can’t pretend that I didn’t think about those that did this work because they had no choice. But I live TODAY and I WANT to grow organic cotton in the state of Alabama TODAY.

Continue reading

THE HEART: COTTON UPDATE + JIMMY AND LISA

Wednesday morning, Alabama Chanin closed its doors for half the day and made a trip out to the cotton field to visit (and weed with) Lisa and her husband, “friend” Jimmy (as he jokingly refers to himself). Jimmy and Lisa have been the determined and loving caretakers of our cotton these last months. Living near what we understand to be the FIRST privately owned organic cotton field in North Alabama (if not the entire state), they stop by each day to keep a watchful eye on our crop and monitor its progress.

Jimmy grew up less than a mile from the site of the field. His strong determination and easygoing personality, paired with a true farmer’s work ethic, have made him invaluable to the establishment of our field.  Recently retired, and a friend of K.P. and Katy McNeill of Billy Reid, Jimmy was interested in finding a way to occupy his newly acquired free time. He offered to plow, plant, and cultivate the cotton field. He and K.P. have spent many weekends in Trinity this summer, discussing and working the land. Having chopped and picked cotton growing up, Jimmy expressed (with some disdain) he did not want a role in those later processes. He knew better.

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OUR COTTON FIELD + AN ALABAMA DROUGHT

I was driving through the desert of New Mexico en route to Taos talking about our cotton. I can’t remember a summer as scorchingly hot as this one–and there were some hot ones in the late 60s and early 70s. In the last weeks, temperatures have consistently been over 100. If we have a few more summers like this one, our landscape might morph into something more like the desert. While a desert can be a beautiful landscape, it is much different from our home here in Alabama.

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UPDATE: PLANTING ORGANIC COTTON

Last Friday, before we left for New York for an inspiring week of MAKESHIFT, we received wonderful news: the cotton seed had been planted. The week before, Jimmy, K.P., and I met early in the morning at the site of the cotton field, prepared to spend the day planting. However, the soil needed to be broken up more finely in order to allow the planter to properly cover the seed. This set us back a few days, but after another day of plowing to break the soil, Jimmy was finally ready to plant.

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THE HEART: UPDATES FROM THE FIELD

We left off two weeks ago in search of a two-row planter that will help get our cottonseed in the ground. Fortunately, we were able to find one locally. The planter’s shovels have been adjusted. The soil has been finely chopped. There have been conference calls between the field, the Factory office, and Kelly’s office in Texas. More thanks to Kelly Pepper.

Upon receiving our soil test results, we are determining the proper nutrients needed and the best organic fertilizers for the field. Staff at Auburn University has been helpful answering questions, and we’ve had the chance to learn more about the organic certification process through a local advisor.

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THE HEART: PLANTING WITH BILLY REID AND OUR FRIEND, JIMMY

Yesterday, a well awaited package was delivered to the Factory: organic, or “black” cottonseed, as I’ve learned it is called. In our effort to grow organic cotton, we’ve taken a step-by-step approach. We started with the seed, and now we move on to the land. We are learning as we go, and taking every experience to heart.

The search for seed began and taught us some of the important facts of organic cotton and cottonseed. Organizations like Textile Exchange and Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative lent their support and gave us direction in our search for non-GMO, non-treated cottonseed. In our conversation with Lynda Grose at Sustainable Cotton Project, Lynda shared her thoughts on organic, sustainable textiles, and the importance of knowing and working with your local farmers.

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HIGHER GROUNDS

As our world continues to evolve and expand, sometimes the origins of things, the details and processes seem to get lost. I’m always curious about where things come from, the story, the people, and the hands that go into each thing that we consume. It seems that wherever you may be, there is someone that can provide you with what you need, locally.

In 2006 the owners of Higher Grounds Coffee Roasters, located in a small town called Leeds, Alabama, gave Natalie a bag of their freshly roasted, fair-trade, organic coffee beans. Since that day, Higher Grounds has been a staple here at Alabama Chanin, something that we look forward to enjoying each morning.  When we received that first bag of coffee, it seemed that local coffee roasters in the South were few and far between. Fast forward six years and it seems that everywhere you look there are new and exciting things happening in the coffee world.

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THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON Q&A WITH LYNDA GROSE

Last week, as we started to learn about organic cottonseed, we discovered that there are significant challenges associated with seed supply. Our conversation began with industry leaders, as we had our fair share of questions. This week we continue our discussion on the process of growing organic cotton in an interview with Lynda Grose.

Lynda has been involved with sustainable fashion and textiles since 1995 when she co-founded ESPRIT’s ecollection, which was the first ecologically responsible clothing line developed by a major corporation. Lynda currently serves as assistant professor in CCA’s Fashion Design Program and works with the Sustainable Cotton Project in California, and many more businesses and non-profits.

Lynda Grose, an inspired activist and friend for years – a part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin. Continue reading

MARKET BULLETIN

After our fall visit to the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, we learned about the South’s Forgotten Locavores, market bulletins, and how these newsletters helped heirloom varieties of vegetables and plants survive generations.

We subscribed to Alabama’s Farmers and Consumers Bulletin shortly thereafter and are happy to report that we received our first issue just in time for spring cultivation. Old- timey Tennessee Red Cob Corn and Cow Horn Okra will be great additions to my garden. Continue reading

THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON SEEDS

Our exploration into organic cotton growing continues. As we brainstorm, discuss, research, and learn all there is to know about growing our own organic cotton, we decided that the best place to begin is with a study of the seeds themselves. So this week Erin–who is new to our studio – dug in deep to learn more about seed supply and just how to find those organic seeds. Here are some of her reflections and discoveries:

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SUSTAINABLE DESIGN TUESDAY: ALABAMA CHANIN FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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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THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON

Organic cotton is the heart of Alabama Chanin. It binds all aspects of the company: sustainability, fashion, DIY, and craft. All of our garments- couture or DIY- are made with these naturally grown fibers. We have examined the influence cotton has had on our community. We have thought about its global impact. We have voiced our concerns.

I have spent countless hours contemplating major business decisions because I feel it is vital to my own ethical truths and the philosophy of our company to buy and sell only organic cotton. But, we have our own supply chain issues that affect commitment to organic cotton (more to come on this very soon). Continue reading

A ROUND BUSINESS MODEL

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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2011 – A REVIEW

It seems unbelievable to me that 2011 is coming to a close.  The Alabama Chanin journal has covered so many topics over the 2011 year and we have been so grateful for the opportunity to share our thoughts, travels, milestones and inspirations with you. As the year’s end approaches, we thought we would recap some of the favorite topics of the year.

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A PLEA FOR ORGANIC COTTON

Thanks to everyone who reached out about and/or shared my post on organic cotton last Friday on @EcoSalon.

For the sake of making a plea for organic cotton, here it is again… spread the word.
xoNatalie

Pound for Pound:

I am pissed. It doesn’t happen often, but, it does happen.

I grew up in cotton country. My mother and her sisters picked cotton every summer to make money for new school clothes, as they didn’t want to head back in “handmade.” My aunts and uncles raised this cotton. I slept under blankets made from scrap cotton that grows after the harvest has taken place – the dregs that are left over.  I made a film about cotton and rural quilting. For better or for worse, cotton is part of the vernacular of my community, my childhood, and my life. I would venture that cotton plays a large role in your life as well.

Since this fiber is so prevalent in our lives, I think that there are 10 things you should know about it.

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DETOX UPDATE

I felt reluctant to continue writing about my detox after the first post as I thought that it could be, frankly, a bit boring. Each of us has visited a site where the writer has a fondness to overshare about their eating habits and diet: each morsel eaten, photos of unmentionable detox attributes, things that we really don’t want to know – way too much information. I don’t want to be that person.

However, I was surprised over the last week to receive emails, phone calls and questions from friends, and friends of friends asking about my progress. What I found was that there are people who genuinely want to know how it is going, how I feel, and if I have made progress.

If you are one of those people who really does NOT want to know, please look the other way, skip this post and forgive me. I won’t be offended.

I think that the crux of the matter is this:  we all have things about ourselves that we want to change.  And however difficult those changes might prove, they are harder in the “thinking about them” than they are in the doing. So we get inspiration for making our own changes where we can and sometimes look to others for inspiration on our own path. Hopefully, this update inspires courage to change and not just a bit of eye-rolling!

My uncle George used to say that the hardest part of running each morning was “tying his shoes.” On detox day seventeen, I have to agree. I put off a detox for years (literally).  There are myriad excuses:  can’t live without my morning coffee, my evening beer, wine, cocktail, my bread and olive oil, my _____ (fill in the blank).  Today, I am strangely elated to report that I don’t really miss any of those things.  The hardest part was actually starting and the withdrawal from those luscious, delicious, beautiful things.

I did continue to document my progress in short snippets – which you find below.  I want to say upfront that I would urge anyone attempting a similar cleanse to taper off and go slowly into the process rather that taking my lead to go cold turkey.

All the books present it, doctors sternly recommend it, and everyone you talk to is in agreement: phase out toxins, phase in the detox.  Why I chose to approach it this way, I cannot say – perhaps I threw caution to the wind?  I am stubborn?  I didn’t have time? (I chose a time when my daughter would be out-of-town.) Perhaps it was the only way I could have done it? Whatever the excuse, I don’t recommend it! Don’t do it… employ moderation.  (A theme I have spent my life trying to learn.)

All this being said, I am happy to report that I did survive (regardless of the pain of Day 6).  I am still here and I am still at it.

We left off on Day 5:

Day 6 – If I hit the wall on day three, the wall fell today.  More like the dam broke.  Sick. Sick. Sick.  I see myself as a healthy person, I grow our food, I cook at home, I eat organic. How could my body be so sick? Complete breakdown after the dam broke, I go to bed and start to feel better. I am alive. I sit very still.  I meditate.

Day 7 – Feeling better this morning.  And I mean better than before I started the detox. I write lunch on my calendar and pledge to take the time to prepare, sit and eat each day (well, at least three days a week). I breathe. Pilates feels good.

Day 8 – I tell my friend Angie that I am actually beginning to enjoy cooking in this new way.  Trying new combinations of smoothies. Meals without wheat.  A week ago I thought I could never live without coffee, wine, bread, and cheese – today a quinoa salad with baked chicken for lunch is delicious.

Day 9 – High energy.  First day since I started detox that I am not hungry. I feel energized and want to smile at the whole world. No one really notices the new me – except me. Sigh.

Day 10 – Ditto.

Day 11 – Ditto – High energy seems to be becoming a way of life…

Day 12 – I break down, break out and have a “wild” day:  A few pita chips with my salad, and a frozen yoghurt at night. I feel great and I am not ashamed. My girlfriend laughs that my “wild day” has certainly evolved (can’t imagine what she might be referring to).

Day 13 – I wake up and feel like I want to make a plan for life. I have lost 8 more pounds.

Day 14 – Finally, friends start to notice that I am standing up straighter, feeling better, and have more energy.  They ask what I have been doing and I explain my detox/acupuncture/Pilates combo.  I haven’t had a headache since the third day and three girlfriends commit to joining me in detox.  I urge them to taper off and ease in. We make a plan to go “hardcore” in two weeks.

Day 15 – I ease off the detox “program” and feel like a whole new world and way to look at food is beginning. I have a plan.  I will continue to ease off the detox for the next two weeks but, I won’t do the full three-week detox with friends – partners.  So, I am easing off but starting again – from the beginning.  However, this time without the withdrawal symptoms – at least they will not be as severe.

I have a good day that includes a visit to my favorite Mexican restaurant in celebration of my daughter’s first day at kindergarten – it includes a salad and a margarita. Two weeks ahead to learn what feels good to my body and what doesn’t. I make the “Natalie Plan” which is a mixture of eating from my garden, the farmers market, Clean, Fat Flush and “The Maggie” (my daughter’s plan).

Day 16 – I wake up each morning energized – without my morning latte (or 3).  I head to the farmers market and buy a load of fruit to freeze for my morning smoothies – seems to make it easier for me and the smoothies become like ice cream.  I will work in the studio for a while and then head home for my planned, healthy and relaxing lunch. There will always be a few “treats” included in my day, but they feel like just that – “treats.”  I will savor each and every one.

I purchase Canyon Ranch: Nourish which my friend Kay recommends.

I vow to cook more. I will celebrate.

Thank you for all the well-wishes, emails, phone calls, recipes, ideas, and support along the way,
xoNatalie

ONE WOMAN’S TESTAMENT TO THREAD AND NEEDLE

This is my first installment of a new bi-weekly fashion column for EcoSalon. Material Witness will offers my perspective on the fashion industry, textile history and what happens when love for community trumps all.

From EcoSalon – August 12, 2011

ONE WOMAN’S TESTAMENT TO THREAD AND NEEDLE

As a designer and entrepreneur in the fashion industry, it is a bit uncommon that I am also an author. A few weeks ago I turned in the very last edits to my third book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Truth be told, in my younger, bolder, high school days, I fancied myself an aspiring writer. I imagined traveling the globe with pen in hand, creating change at every turn. I fantasized leisurely lunches at Paris cafés. I subscribed to magazines; I was an avid reader. My only hindrance in achieving my dreams was that I was a rather lazy student and proper usage of English grammar and punctuation escaped me. Even today, the comma splice can present problems. So, it is a bit exciting, humbling, and, frankly, scary that I have been so graciously asked to contribute as a bi-weekly columnist at EcoSalon.

While I have had the opportunity to lunch in places like Paris over the years, I haven’t quite traveled the globe with pen in hand yet, though circumstances always change. These books I have written aren’t the next great American novel, they’re craft books. They’re books that teach the time-honored, hand-sewing techniques that are the basis of my fashion company, Alabama Chanin. The books are simply guides that speak to a sustainable lifestyle that is at the core of my work. I want to make that lifestyle available to all.

The decision to open-source Alabama Chanin for individuals through our books is not common in the fashion world, in an industry that is more accustomed to secrecy. However, you have to look at the whole of the picture to understand why sustainable designers do what we do.

My personal work is expensive because it is organic, custom-dyed cotton jersey that is cut, painted, sewn, and embellished completely by hand in America with skilled artisans who set a fair price for their work. Over the years, I heard rumblings in the media of my work being “elitist,” and “inaccessible” because of its price. And while our collections have been deemed “couture,” we run our business in the most down-to-earth way from a small community in North Alabama. Sustainability – both ecological and cultural – has defined our growth from the very beginning and “elitist” would actually be the antithesis of who we are.

When the thought of sharing our techniques and patterns to individual users arose, I understood that this could both sustain the needlework traditions that our company celebrates while making our work available to many more people. The concept of open-sourcing seemed a way to make our products more accessible.

Timing is everything and to understand my decision it’s important to understand the period in which I was working. As all of this was unfolding in 2003, open-sourcing was a new idea. Wired Magazine wrote about and provided music tracks for sampling that were free reign for anyone who had the desire to use them. The internet was spreading like fire and for the first time, vast amounts of information was, almost literally, at our fingertips. Books like The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson (on my required reading list), about the concept of selling less of more were being heatedly discussed. The world of business was changing and it seemed to me that sharing traditions that I did not invent was not only the right thing to do but the modern way to approach my business.

Of course, there were naysayers who firmly believed that, by openly sharing, I was putting the nails in my own coffin. They thought that once our “trade secrets” were common knowledge, no one would purchase our couture garments. Honestly, I was fearful when Alabama Stitch Book landed on the shelves around February 2008. However, the book sold well and, more importantly, interest in our couture collections continued to grow. My fears proved groundless. But then, isn’t that the way it usually goes?

Readers who work with the techniques described in the books now tell us that they understand not only why our garments cost so much but why they are worth so much. At the same time, a completely new part of our business has burgeoned. We now sell the supplies needed to make our designs (organic cotton jersey, thread, stencils, fabric paint, beads, and project kits) via the internet and host hands-on workshops both in our studio in Florence, Alabama and around the country.

So, all of this information is the story of how a feeling to do what is right – not perhaps what was right for my industry – changed my business and my life. I am not sitting in too many Paris cafes these days. But then, I have a five-year-old daughter and I imagine that she and I will have plenty of time for that together. I do write a lot these days – revisiting my younger, bolder, high school dreams – and, it seems that I am traveling the world, pen (or computer and camera) in hand and trying to make a difference. On this journey, I find it inspiring to start conversations about life, living and, of course, fashion.

The thing about fashion is this: I want to OWN my clothing on all levels – just like I want to own my life. I want to cut it up, sew it back, and make it MINE. I want a skirt I buy to make it through the first wash and a hundred more.  I want to take the time to make decisions about what I choose to put on my body with the same care that I decide what I put in my body.  I’m hopeful that you feel the same way. In fact, I want to know more about you and hope to start a conversation next time by answering ten reader inspired questions – fashion industry or otherwise.

 

 

DETOX DAY 5

The book Clean, by Alejandro Junger, has been sitting on my nightstand since December of last year. Over the last months, I have read parts of it and “toyed” with some of the recommended practices (eliminating aluminum pans from the kitchen, drinking clean water, etc.), but it has taken some time for me to actually embrace the full-on detox program.  I started last Wednesday.  And when I say “started,” I mean hardcore:  no coffee, no dairy, no wheat, no red meat, no sugar, no alcohol, and as much organic as possible.

Cold turkey.

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THE FACTORY BLEND COFFEE + MY ESPRESSO MACHINE

I took my flight back from New York very, very, very early this morning and, consequently, did not get to make my morning coffee before leaving for the airport. Airport coffee, no matter the brand, is just not as good as my homemade cup. The entire trip, I dreamed of my little espresso machine, steamer and my favorite cup at my kitchen table.  Everyone in my community has become addicted to my homemade coffee—made with The Factory Blend coffee.

And be sure to read Coffee: The Fragrant Cup Revealed from friend and colleague Michelle Krell Kydd. This is the best post about the smells of milk and coffee I have ever read.

ORGANIC COTTON + WHITE GOLD

As I recently learned at the Textiles Futures Salon2, there is still a long way to go to understand the materials that we use and consume. We have been using organic cotton for the last year and plan to make the switch to 100% Organic by the spring of next year. And although this is just a small part of the picture, it is a good place to start.

Here are a few places to get started learning about the true cost of cotton:

White Gold – The True Cost of Cotton
A Report by the Environmental Justice Foundation

Green Basics: Organic Cotton
from Treehugger.com