“And it was that day I first began to understand that a collection could be like the environment— slowly evolving, morphing, and changing—and that a trend could be something that describes a slow movement over a decade (or two).” – Natalie
Burt’s Bees is among the most prominent brands in America with a sustainable approach to doing business. Their ingredients and packaging are simple, natural, and responsible. The company describes itself as “a bunch of hands-on, tree-hugging, greased elbow do-gooders,” and we believe that is among dozens of reasons why Burt’s Bees Baby is a natural collaborator for Alabama Chanin.
We have partnered with Burt’s Bees Baby to launch a limited-edition capsule collection of baby clothes in three sets. Alabama Chanin has always strived to be a zero-waste company and Burt’s Bees Baby has also made a commitment to sending zero waste to the landfill. As a result, we offer this zero-waste collaboration, using scraps from our Fall Collection.
Each piece in this collection is sewn in our Bldg.14 facility and the embroideries are completed by our Alabama Chanin artisans. The collection includes the “Bee in her Bonnet Set”— bloomers and ruffle dress set; “The Bees Knees Set”—a kimono wrap top and pants set; and the “Busy as a Bee Set”—a waffle-knit raglan top, pull-on pants, and a top knot hat set. The styles are all made from our soft organic cotton fabrics and are comfortable yet durable. They are available in sizes ranging from 0 to 12 months.
Find the collection on the Alabama Chanin website, at The Factory in Florence, and on BurtsBeesBaby.com. We are honored to work alongside the team at Burt’s Bees Baby doing work that celebrates sustainable life and design.
In March, we introduced new Collection designs on the Spring Equinox. Two months later, as we begin to dip our toes into summer, we expand on the Collection with a handful of new designs to welcome the change of seasons. Even though our designs are not classed to a particular season, we do find inspiration and energy in the change of the natural world and our environment.
If you aren’t familiar with our design philosophy: our timeless and quality designs last and supersede trends and daily wear. We work with 100% organic cotton—soft, luxurious, and sustainably grown. All of our production takes places in our community, and we pride ourselves on continuing the art of textile craft.
Explore our latest Collection designs below that bring these elements together.
This skirt’s unique, exposed pockets are functional from outside and inside the skirt. The Inside Out Skirt flares generously at the hip with snap closures at the waist, and the color block binding adds an interesting design detail.
Our Air Love Tee has been a popular style and best seller since it’s was introduced last fall. We’ve incorporated the hand-beaded graphic design into our Waffle Drape Tank for a fun and comfortable look.
This skirt design takes the Inside-Out Skirt to a new level with intricate hand embroidery and pockets that are functional on the inside and outside.
This full skirt was introduced in last fall’s Collection where we began using organic cotton chambray fabrics. We introduce a new color—Dark Indigo—to the current palette of Black and Vetiver.
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.
Geometric lines and spring florals layer over core styles, creating one-of-a-kind looks for the artist at work and in life. (We interpret the word artist loosely and encourage you to find a creative energy unique to you.)
Our artist smocks and double-breasted dresses feature pockets and princess seams—functional and feminine details. We offer basic hand-stitched styles and embroidered versions.
Lead image: The Beckett Smock styled with The Elbow Scoop and The Crop Pant.
Shop our current Collection here.
We’ve written before about the process of mending and of integrating it into your lifestyle. Embracing mending as sustainable practice and a component of everyday life can be a small change that makes a big difference. Mending acts as a solution to economic challenges by utilizing your own skills to repurpose, repair, and restore your wardrobe. With the perpetuation of “fast-fashion”, mending your clothes is an action you can take to make an impact on a grassroots level.
Plus, as we have discussed in our Worn Stories conversations, people develop relationships with their clothing, keeping and valuing them long past their intended lifespan. Our garments can become part of our personal histories, whether we intend them to or not.
Mending is part of the philosophy of the “living arts” and, like the rest of those skills, we want to see mending grow in popularity. We have hosted Patagonia’s traveling “Worn Wear” repair truck that, in accordance with the company’s repair philosophy, travels the country mending clothing or accepting donations of items that can’t be repaired so they may be repurposed—just as they have been in our Patagonia scarf collaboration. Places like repair cafés—locations where people can take broken or worn items and learn to repair them rather than throw them away—are slowly popping up across the country. iPhone owners are proposing vocal arguments that they should have the ability to repair their own electronics instead of having to buy new (very expensive) phones and gadgets.
As part of our support for the mending movement, Alabama Chanin has created its own mending space that is available to everyone. This month, The School of Making store and workshop space has undergone an expansion, allowing more room to integrate the community into our space. Our expansion includes a mending table, a loom for our zero-waste product development, and a larger workshop area (which is currently getting its finishing touches). The mending table will offer tools like needles, thread, and scissors for those who want to mend any items—not just Alabama Chanin pieces—whether you need to attach a button, patch a hole, or want to rework your item to give it a new life. Organic cotton fabric scraps will be available for purchase to patch and repair your garments too.
The new mending space is open now, and its hours are in conjunction with our store hours: Monday – Friday from 10am – 5pm and Saturdays by appointment. Join us in advancing the mending movement in America.
Introduced last May, the Alabama Chanin Core Club highlights the artistry and craftsmanship of our ethical machine manufacturing and hand sewing. Featured in Vogue, it includes five “starter” organic knit styles that incorporate seamlessly into your existing wardrobe. The separates also pair together to create multiple outfits and looks on their own.
Last winter, we introduced new colors, and now the bundle gets a brand new look as it evolves over the seasons.
Find the updated Alabama Chanin Core Club here. #alabamachanincoreclub
Bldg. 14 was founded in 2013 as a means to produce quality, machine-sewn garments for ourselves and also to provide manufacturing opportunities to designers who want to make in the United States (like us) and work with our organic fabrics. Since its inception, we’ve collaborated with Patagonia, Stella Ishii, Heath Ceramics, and Billy Reid. Our latest manufacturing project is with Nashville-based Jamie + The Jones.
Jamie + The Jones is the creation of Jamie Frazier and Hannah Jones, who met while studying at O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tennessee (just two hours north of Florence). They’ve been creating honest and simple clothing since 2009, inspired by color and collaboration. They dream of effortless beauty blended with quality fabrications and craftsmanship, combined with whimsical and wearable silhouettes.
Bldg. 14 is proud to be a part of their newest launch—designed by Jamie + The Jones and cut and sewn in Alabama Chanin’s Bldg. 14 in Florence, Alabama. Discover more about Jamie + The Jones and find their newest line here.
In 2014, we began an incredible partnership with Patagonia repurposing down jackets into one-of-a-kind scarves. The Reclaimed Down Scarf was developed as a solution for the jacket’s end-of-life problem—where does it go now? Patagonia’s Worn Wear Program allows you to trade in fully functioning Patagonia clothing and receive a credit. The down jackets that are being repurposed are a part of that program. By creating a new product, we are preventing them from going into landfills.
Our brands approached product development in a thoughtful way—with circular design and manufacturing in mind. With this, the goal is for every product to reflect sustainability from the beginning of life as a raw material, through design, manufacturing, active life, and end-of-life processes. Garments that have reached the end of their lives become an active part of the environment through composting or upcycling into a new form—like our Reclaimed Down Scarf.
The reclaimed scarves are created by our Bldg. 14 team and our artisans. Each scarf is truly one-of-a-kind and is made by deconstructing the jackets and resewing the material. Our organic cotton jersey is used to finish the edges and provide a soft (and sustainable) accent on the scarves.
Top left image credit: Jeff Johnson. Image courtesy of Patagonia.
Our first foray into robe-making, the Waffle Robe is a kimono style cover-up that can be worn as a housecoat or bathrobe.
With its super soft, waffle weave, this well-designed luxury robe features lightweight jersey trims, deep front pockets, wide cropped sleeves, and a waist tie with belt loops.
Find the organic Waffle Robe here.
A culmination of our favorite Core Essential styles, the Alabama Chanin Core Club includes five styles bundled together in one shipment with over 20% savings.
Featured in Vogue, the Alabama Chanin Core Club provides a perfect sampling of basic pieces to take your wardrobe through the year. The styles include The Easy Dress with cap sleeves, The Rib Skirt, The Rib Turtleneck with long sleeves, The Rib Dress in sleeveless, The Scoop in an elbow length—each thoughtfully designed and ethically made in Alabama.
The styles complement one another and create opportunities for outfit building. Available in a pre-selected Black, the color palette provides a dark, sophisticated base to build on. Simplify and wear alone, layer them together, or combine with garments in your existing wardrobe.
We moved into 2017 with a growing machine-sewn knit program as part of Bldg. 14. Our design team has eagerly worked over the last year to create Core Essential styles that accompany the Alabama Chanin Collection. We finish out this year by updating our Core Club with this new color offering, and we’ve updated our scarf add-on to feature our hand-embroidered Sylvan design.
Find the updated Alabama Chanin Core Club here.
P.S.: The machine-sewn pieces pictured here were made by Victoria, as initialed in the “Made by” section of our label. View our Team page to meet Victoria and the entire Bldg. 14 team.
Bldg.14 was created during the summer of 2013, with our machine-sewn line officially launching in 2014. (Some of you might remember that it was originally called A. Chanin.) Our organic machine-sewn styles are still being produced in-house by Bldg. 14 and can be found in the current Collection. Bldg. 14 offers organic fabrics and American-made options for companies and designers wishing to produce ethically and sustainably. We work with organizations on many different levels that include fabric wholesale to complete manufacturing services. Look for a new program in 2018 where we produce t-shirt blanks ready for screen printing.
On the previous site, you would have found Bldg. 14 under The School of Making. Now it stands proudly on its own.
Bldg. 14 wraps up the introduction to our new site which reflects our Family of Businesses. We have spent the week reviewing each of them here: Alabama Chanin, The School of Making, The Factory, and today Bldg. 14.
And here’s a bit about our Footer:
Previously found at the top of our site, all of our company-wide Events—including workshops and dinners—are organized in one place in the footer.
See articles from the latest publications that feature our work.
Looking for a job? If we’re hiring we’ll post it here.
Our Wholesale program includes the Alabama Chanin Collection, machine-sewn styles, and fabrics.
A resource to find your way around our site.
Legal guidelines for use of our site.
Here’s where we’ll answer your questions on shipping and returns.
If you still have questions or are having trouble finding something, give us a call or email.
Inspired by the work of French naïve artist, Henri Rousseau, and originally used in our 2015 Collection, the Large Paradise stencil is now available through The School of Making. The stencil features a tropical-inspired motif that harkens back to Rousseau’s lush, jungle setting of his 1910 painting The Dream.
Sunset is the perfect balance of a bright and muted pink hue, making this color a customer favorite this summer. Introduced in our Core Essentials, Sunset is now available in our hand-embroidered Sylvan design with and without beaded details.
A selection of our Collection garments is crafted entirely by hand. Some pieces feature a combination of machine and hand sewing (as the Carly Dress and Lonnie Tunic above)—some are solely machine sewn in Bldg 14.
The Lily Tee (pictured above with The Rib Skirt) and Josef Dress debuts in Sunset with stripes.
The Keyhole Tunic (shown above with cap sleeves) and The Coverup (shown in the sleeveless option above) were updated earlier this summer with new sleeve length options.
Explore the Collection to always find our updated designs and more.
Garment sizing is an issue that all women contend with—and an issue we have had many conversations about here at Alabama Chanin. One of the key components of our book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns was instruction on how to customize garments to fit your unique body shape—whatever it may be.
In an effort to expand our offerings, we have added the size XXL to our machine-made Core Essentials. Each piece is made from 100% organic lightweight rib knit or medium-weight jersey. These garments are meant to be year-round staples and can be easily integrated into your wardrobe and exist comfortably alongside our handmade and more embellished items. As with all of our machine-made garments, each piece is made to order.
View our machine-made basics, alongside our handmade pieces, here.
In the first image, from left to right: Caroline is 5’10” and wearing a size Small, Victoria is 5’4” and wearing a size Medium, and Maggie is 6’1” and wearing a size XXL in The Rib Dress.
What makes a pink sunset?
The colors of the sunset result from a phenomenon called scattering, a scientific term used to describe the reflection or re-direction of light by small particles. Scattering affects the color of light coming from the sky, but the details are determined by the wavelength of the light and the size of the particle.
It’s also noted that clean air is, in fact, the main ingredient common to brightly colored sunrises and sunsets.
Our newest Collection color, Sunset, is reminiscent of a desert sky at dusk with dusty rose, pale pink, and coral hues. Explore the Collection and find our Core Essential styles available in this color.
P.S.: Do your part and support environmental conservation organizations—like the Environmental Defense Fund or the Natural Resources Defense Council—that we can all continue to enjoy our sunsets and our Planet.
Shop our current Collection here.
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.
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.
Anni Albers challenged artists to reject “recipes” and repetition and the safety of what they know will work. She encouraged artists to step away from formulaic making strategies, replacing them “with the adventure of new exploring.” Her life and work are a mirror for finding rich complexity and diversity within simplicity. The photograph of Anni above in her white pant suit exudes this elevated simplicity. Taken by her husband Josef Albers during a visit to Florida, it inspires me to get dressed for summer.
P.S.: Inspired by Anni’s outfit, we have created a wide-leg pant for the Collection in both full-length and cropped versions—made with Alabama Chanin’s 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey.
Image Credit: Anni Albers in Florida, circa 1938, photograph by Josef Albers © the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / ARS, NY
The idea for our current Core Essentials began in 2013 with a collection of hand-sewn basic styles. Last week, we mapped the evolution of those designs and you can read that history here.
Today, we share a guide to our Core Essential tops and tunics which fall in a price range from under $100 to just over $400.
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 overstock of unwanted items.
A few updates (for those of you who already have your favorites):
- The Rib Crew (long sleeve), Rib Tee (short sleeve), and Rib Shell (sleeveless) are now found in one place under The Rib Crew—with three sleeve length options.
- The Sleeveless Scoop, The Elbow Scoop and The Scoop (long sleeve) are now found under The Scoop—with three sleeve length options.
- The Coverup 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.
Continue your year of making and designing with our second, limited-edition Design Bundle. Like the first quarter, Design Bundle #2 contains fabric, thread, embroidery floss, and beads that are intended to be used as tools to practice appliqué, embroidery, or beading treatments from our Alabama Studio Book Series.
Offering a new range of pre-selected fabric and paint colors, this Design Bundle includes Natural, Ochre, Peacock, Black, and Faded Polka Dot fabric selections. Our classic Small Polka Dot stencil is paired with Aurora—a new stencil design with an Art Deco motif. New, complementary paint colors are also introduced with each fabric color.
The notion colors are updated to include Ochre, Ecru, Peacock, Black, and Ashe Embroidery Floss and Gold Armor Beads.
Use the treatments, color combinations, and beading designs as inspiration for your next sewing project and add all the completed swatches to your growing fabric library.
What you will get:
- Design Bundle Color Card
- 10 – 10” x 16” swatches of organic medium-weight cotton jersey (two of each) in Natural, Faded Polka Dot, Ochre, Peacock, and Black, as your bottom layer
- 5 – 10” x 16” swatches of organic medium-weight cotton jersey (one of each) in Natural, Faded Polka Dot, Ochre, Peacock, and Black stenciled in Aurora to use as your top layer
- 5 – 10” x 16” swatches of organic medium-weight cotton jersey (one of each) in Natural, Faded Polka Dot, Ochre, Peacock, and Black stenciled in Small Polka Dot to use as your top layer
- Choose between tonal or metallic paint (metallic paint pictured above)
- 5 spools of Button Craft Thread in Cream, Slate, Dogwood, Navy, and Black
- 5 spools of Embroidery Floss in Ecru, Ashe, Ochre, Peacock, and Black
- 5 vials of Beads: Clear Bugle, Dark Grey Bugle, Gold Armor, Brown Seed, and Black Chop
“Unto this wood I came as to a nest; dreaming that sylvan peace offered the harrowed ease—Nature a soft release from men’s unrest.” – Thomas Hardy
Sylvan: of the woods; bucolic; idyllic; a mythical spirit of the forest
Deriving from Medieval Latin, Sylvanus—one who frequents the woods. Sylvanus is a Roman god of the woods and fields, sometimes identified with the Greek god, Pan.
The Sylvan stencil is derived from Victorian flower drawings, which idealized rustic and seasonal settings.
Garments embellished with the Sylvan stencil combine the elements of our current earthy color palette with a pastoral point-of-view. They are bold and yet delicate; decorative, but not too precious—a combination of the raw components of nature with the refined beauty of the forest.
Shop the entire Collection—all thoughtfully made in our studio and community in The Shoals—now with these new additions.
P.S.: We have also created two notable new layering pieces: the hand-sewn Cocoon and machine-sewn Cocoon Cardigan that will carry you easily from spring into summer. Look for a more elaborate, hand-embroidered Cocoon, the Claude Cocoon, which features the Sylvan design.
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.
There’s more in store this spring, as the current Collection evolves—with the introduction of new styles, a new color, Navy, and a new stencil design. We continue to love Frida, and introduce more embroidered designs in Baby Blue and Concrete colorways. With a bold floral pattern, our newest stencil design complements the delicate Frida embroidery. Learn about each of our latest updates below and find your new favorite in our Collection.
New Color: Navy
Our Core basic styles are now available in a dark blue shade. Our color palette looks like this for spring: Black, Navy, Concrete, Baby Blue, Natural, and White.
New Skirts: The Pull-on Skirt + The Mid-Length
We’re expanding our Core skirt styles. The Everyday Long Skirt and Pencil Skirt, part of our current offerings, are both classic and timeless designs. The Pull-on Skirt and The Mid-Length Skirt build on these great-fitting styles and offer more variation in length, fit, and details with updated wide elastic waistbands. The Pull-on flares slightly at the bottom, while the Mid-Length has a straighter fit and hand-sewn details at the pockets and a front split.
The Lane Skirt and Linden Skirt are embroidered versions of The Pull-on and Mid-Length Skirts that feature our Frida design.
New Spring Outerwear: The Cape + The Trench
The Trench and The Cape fill out our coat and jacket selections. They are what we call “hybrid” garments with both machine-constructed and hand-sewn details. The Cape has a unique, paneled design with openings at the elbows, deep pockets, and an open front for graceful movement. It snaps at the collar and is fitted across the shoulders, making it a notable layering piece.
The Trench features classic trench coat details like a deep back yoke, double-breasted front, vent at the back, and gun flap. The collar is lined with organic canvas.
New Top: The Crop Tee
The Crop Tee is made with our medium-weight jersey, taking a classic tee shirt fit and abbreviating its length. It is casual, comfortable and perfect for styling with a high-waist skirt or pants. This classic crop has a relaxed fit, short sleeves, and a crew neckline.
The form-flattering Rib Dress and Rib Skirt are updated with a new graphic, floral pattern that is hand-stenciled on the fabric.
Browse our current Collection.
As part of an ongoing exploration into indigo and other natural dyes, we are spotlighting artists we consider to be experts in the field—including Scott Peacock, Donna Hardy, and today, Kathy Hattori. Kathy is one of the founders of Botanical Colors, a well-respected source of materials, support, and educational offerings for those seeking to employ natural dyeing techniques. They offer a range of services for both the new dyer and the designer wishing to use a more sustainable supply chain—including color development, prototypes, sampling, and production. Kathy was a big help to us when we started our own natural dye house at The Factory in 2014. We sourced our indigo from her, and she patiently answered questions and helped us troubleshoot our vats.
Kathy has a background in environmental studies but spent years working in the tech industry before founding Botanical Colors. When asked why she wanted to make the change, Kathy told us, “The realization of how precious time is and how I wanted to spend it prompted the leap from telecommunications to textiles. And then I found it wasn’t a leap at all, but just a firm step forward. Working with colorants wasn’t my first career, but I had created for many years with textiles and dyes in my own work. The reason I moved toward natural dyes was that I felt strongly that my next career had to make a positive impact in the world.”
It is important to Kathy that both large- and small-scale makers see natural dyeing as a feasible alternative to synthetic dyeing, as long as you understand the benefits and limitations of each; to her, the differences between the two approaches can result in remarkably different results in quality. “Synthetic dyes are efficient, as they are engineered to bond with one fiber type and are designed to produce consistent results. Their color palette is very bright and saturated. [But] they are derived mainly from petrochemical feedstock and their manufacture can produce toxic waste if not carefully managed. Natural dyes…have a more varied color profile that must be coaxed from the plant onto the fabric. Their color palette is richly colored and less saturated.” And, as opposed to synthetics, natural dyes are cultivated, grown, and maintained on closely managed land using agricultural or food processing waste—or are responsibly wild-harvested.
“Ten years ago, natural dyers were often challenged and dismissed because the dyestuffs and methods we used were perceived as lower quality than synthetic dyes. That perception has shifted as makers and customers embrace the natural beauty of the color and learn how to create quality items using natural dyes. I see that natural dyes are overlapping and being used to create inks, paints, healing tinctures, and colorants for cosmetics, so makers are getting really creative and tapping into other aspects of the dyestuffs.”
Botanical Colors and Kathy are helping usher in a new era of artisan-driven growth in the textile industry. They use their expertise to help individual makers and small businesses find sustainable solutions that will work on their respective scales. “The new American manufacturer is often a smaller scale company who must innovate in order to survive, and they are often interested in new technology or intriguing collaborations. Most of the companies that we’ve worked with are also pioneers and innovators in sustainable production. Botanical Colors provides an interesting solution with plant-based, beautiful color and this seems to resonate deeply among designers and brands.” And like many farmers who use organic methods but cannot afford to go through the process of being certified organic, there are also textile manufacturers who produce using standards like those governed by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), but cannot afford to be officially certified. “GOTS certification certainly helps to identify suppliers who adhere to the standard,” she says. “But there are many suppliers who don’t carry certification and have built their businesses on thoughtful and sustainable practices, and these companies are equally worthy of our support.”
Kathy agrees with Donna Hardy’s assertion that natural dyeing can be utilized by large manufacturers, if they make the necessary commitment to responsible production. “Moving from artisan-based making to larger format production can be a challenge, as the equipment and volumes can change dramatically. That being said, larger scale natural dyeing is quite feasible. For companies who are concerned with toxicity and wastewater issues, natural dyes can provide a solution, so several visionary companies have made the leap and introduced natural dyes.” She and Botanical Colors work with Eileen Fisher on the Green Eileen and Vision 20/20 programs that aim to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. “Eileen Fisher has confronted the environmental issues facing the industry head-on with their Vision 20/20 policy. Vision 20/20 is the roadmap toward a more responsible and sustainable company including emphasis on organic fibers, fair trade, safe chemistry and wise water use. It’s been a great honor to work with them on their Green Eileen recycling initiative and extend the life of clothing.”
Kathy also recommends that consumers educate themselves on the issues surrounding garment production, safety, and the environment and she supports Greenpeace in this effort. “They offer an important service by exposing the complex chemistry that industry uses for dyeing and finishing garments and publicizing the brands that continue to use toxic substances in their clothing. These chemicals persist in the environment and in some cases break down into more toxic components with home laundering.”
More than anything else, it is obvious that Kathy Hattori is still enamored with the artistry of natural dyeing and excited by the possibilities. “I’ve worked with and learned from some very talented teachers in the natural dye world, and am constantly striving to improve processes, while celebrating the tradition of natural color. I love to see how natural colors change with different locations and water sources. There’s something about being able to drop a few flowers into a dye pot and pull out a beautifully dyed fabric. That will always be magic for me.”
P.S.: We have launched an Indigo Dye Kit with organic indigo and other materials sourced from Kathy. The kit provides you with enough ingredients to dye up to 6 yards of medium-weight jersey fabric or a handful of t-shirts, to make your own naturally dyed garments.
P.P.S.: We recently received a report from our dye house, and while many of our colors are not derived from natural dyestuffs, we take great strides to understand, be aware of, and be transparent with the process that our fabrics go through. Regarding the dyeing process for most of our organic cotton, “The only dyes to be used will be natural, low-energy, non-metal, reactive dyes, bi-functional dyes, or low impact dyes.” And the exact dye formula is kept on file along with MSDS (material safety data sheet) for each ingredient in the dye bath for review or audit.
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.
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.
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.
THE SCOOP SERIES
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
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.
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.
- Adrienne Wrap, The Corset, Camellia Skirt
- Guinevere Dress
- Fleur Tunic/Kennedy Dress/Antheia Skirt
- Stella Jacket, Elena Skirt, Adrienne Wrap, Lillian Coat, Madelyn Skirt, Gabriella Skirt, Amelia Skirt, Camellia Skirt, Avery Corset, Peyton Skirt, Charlotte Coat
- Donovan Coat, Long A-Line Dress
- Antheia Skirt
- Margot Tunic/Donovan Coat
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.
View our current Collection here.
This season, we’ve launched new additions to our Collections that include our recent Holiday garments; we’ve also incorporated styling rib-knit basics, socks, and scarves. Today we announce two more styles that will complete our Collection for 2016.
Our Madison and Piper Dresses introduce a hand-stenciled Flora design to our form-flattering Sleeveless and Long Sleeve Rib Dresses. The black silhouette is accented by a brown trim along the neckline and hems and a gold iridescent paint.
You’ll recognize this hand-stenciled design in a few other garments and accessories, including the Flora Wrap Scarf, Erin Crew, and Laurel Skirt.
Pictured here: Douglas Top, Laurel Skirt, Shortie Stripe Socks
Pictured here: Erin Crew and The Rib Skirt
View our current Collection here.
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
The Magdalena Classic Jacket DIY Kit is the newest addition to our (recently updated) DIY Collection. Featured in Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, our Classic Jacket hits at the hip and has a relaxed fit—making it a great everyday jacket. This kit comes with everything you’ll need (including variegated embroidery floss that we’ll match for you). We’ve chosen our Magdalena stencil in a backstitch quilted technique.
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Navy
Fabric color for inner layer – Navy
Button Craft thread – Navy
Embroidery floss – Black variegated
Textile paint color – Slate
Stencil – Magdalena
Technique – Backstitch quilted
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan stitch
You can also choose to customize this kit through our Custom DIY—we offer shorter and longer jacket kits ranging from cardigan to coat.
Our Cook + Dine textiles help you set a beautiful table year-round. Mix and match our solid, colorblock, and hand-painted designs with varied materials and textures in your kitchen, like our Heath Ceramics dinnerware, Etched Glasses, and Shelter Collection glassware—or your own pieces that have been gathered, passed down, and collected over the years.
Made from organic cotton, our kitchen textiles are machine sewn in our Building 14 facility. They’re designed and made right here in our headquarters in Florence and include Top-Stitch Placemats and Coasters, Colorblock Napkins, and our Aria Tea Towels and Apron.
We celebrate more artisan made with the introduction of new kitchen goods from Edward Wohl Woodworking and Design and Smithey Ironware Co—both Made-in-America companies. You can find Wohl’s Maple Cutting Boards and Smithey’s Cast Iron Skillet in the Cook + Dine section of our website. And look for more about each of these companies on the Journal next week.
We recently introduced our readers to The Commons, a Charleston-based shop selling responsibly produced, American-made goods for the home. Founders Erin Reitz and Kerry Speake curate a careful selection of high-quality, hand-crafted products.
In 2015, Erin and Kerry launched a partnership with STARworks, a non-profit from Star, North Carolina, that focuses on supporting the local economy through art and craft. Their collaboration produces a tableware line that includes hand-blown glassware and wheel-thrown ceramic pieces.
During the summer of 2016, Erin joined our design team here at Alabama Chanin (in addition to her duties at The Commons). Her philosophies and beliefs in supporting American-made craft fit perfectly with our company’s ethos. Our alignment on design and collaborative practices has made for a great working relationship.
This relationship has inspired a special collaboration between The Commons and Alabama Chanin, featuring hand-blown glassware that is color blocked with white glass at the base. When the pieces are made, it is unknown how the colors will react together until the process is complete. Each piece is unique and one-of-a-kind.
The Shelter Collection at Alabama Chanin prides itself on American-made craftsmanship. The pieces include a glass pitcher, large 16-ounce glass, and small 8-ounce glass.
Video courtesy of The Commons.
Today, we launch updates to our DIY Collection with new kits, colorways, patterns, and designs. We’re introducing new silhouettes while offering some of our customer favorites with new stencils and treatments. New projects include the Anna’s Garden Maggie Tunic and Polka Dot Walking Cape.
Our expanded selection includes a range of projects for the home, like the Magdalena Table Runner and Magdalena Tea Towels. Favorite styles, like our T-Shirt Top, are now available in the Magdalena stencil. A selection of all-time favorite kits—like the Anna’s Garden Long Skirt and Facets Classic Coat—remain but have been given a fresh look with new colorway options.
If you don’t find exactly what you want, you always have the option to create your own Custom DIY Kit. Our custom kit process allows you to mix and match garment styles, color choices, stencil design, and embroidery techniques to design your perfect garment. For more information on how to design your kit, visit our Custom DIY form. We also have a growing range of patterns and stencils available alongside our Maker Supplies—such as 100% organic cotton jersey, sewing notions, and stenciling supplies—if you enjoy every step of the making experience and prefer creating your garments start-to-finish at home.
As always, our DIY Kits come ready-to-sew with pre-cut and stenciled fabric and all the thread and notions you need to complete your project. Each kit is meant to be completed with help from our Studio Book Series, where you can find construction and embroidery instructions. Or you can learn Alabama Chanin techniques first-hand, as well as gain special instruction and insights, at one of our workshops hosted at The Factory. Learn more about our selection of workshops here.
Explore our current DIY Sewing Kit Collection here.
If you have any questions about our new DIY Collection, custom DIY kits, or workshops, contact us at +1.256.760.1090 or workshops (at) alabamachanin.com
“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.)
Last December, Natalie was invited by Chef Ashley Christensen to speak at Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum, presenting a lecture celebrating women in art and design. Ashley, who has been a constant source of inspiration for us, is deeply involved in the organization and in her community in Raleigh. As a thank you gift, Natalie received a personalized knife clutch, which was made by Raleigh-based company, Hawks and Doves.
Hawks and Doves was created by Jessica Ullom in 2012, as her obsession with Americana textiles grew into the business. Jessica uses repurposed materials, combined with both new and dead stock American-made textiles in all of her products. She strives to source her materials as locally as possible. Hawks and Doves products include everything from bags and accessories to kitchenwares and utilitarian home goods and have been “used, abused, tested and approved” by chefs and cooks to be incredibly durable.
Jessica’s husband, Andrew, is pastry chef for Ashley Christensen Restaurants, and the couple collaborated on designing a knife roll—a necessity for every professional cook (and home cooks, alike) to transport their tools. These bags are made from water-resistant waxed canvas with oiled leather closures. They are the ideal and safe place to store knives and kitchen utensils—especially for someone on the go.
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.
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.
We’ve had a fun (and colorful) month exploring natural dyes with Kristine Vejar through a series of projects from her book, The Modern Natural Dyer. Here’s a quick recap from our Journal, before we close out the month (which Kristine has tagged as #alabamachaninapril on Instagram) with a final project.
– Find inspiration from Kristine’s “printed flowers” project. Kristine used our organic cotton jersey with her pressed flowers technique from The Modern Natural Dyer. We made a Maggie Tunic, one of our Build a Wardrobe patterns.
– The Iron Age Tank and Gilded Cardigan project uses our machine-sewn garments and is included in Chapter 5 of The Modern Natural Dyer, where Kristine demonstrates how to dye with extracts. (Extracts are highly-concentrated powders derived from whole dyestuffs.) Kristine takes this project a step further on her blog, where she experiments with a range of colors and techniques.
For our last project, Kristine naturally dyed our machine-sewn Crop Cardigan with Quebracho Red, following the directions for The Gilded Cardigan. This extract is derived from the Quebracho tree, which is a member of the sumac family and grows in Central and South America. We love the coral hues, reminiscent of desert sunsets, that this color produces.
We used a ¼ yard of jersey, which was also dyed with Quebracho Red, to create our Random Ruffle technique on the front of the cardigan. This technique was developed in 2001 for our second collection of T-shirts. The ruffle can easily be used to embellish existing pieces of clothing like we did here with the naturally-dyed Crop Cardigan—adding a touch of hand-sewn detail. You can find instructions on page 107 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.
Because the ¼ yard of jersey weighs approximately 75g, you will need to bump up the dye to accommodate for this piece. Make iron-infused water, according to the directions on page 68 of The Modern Natural Dyer. Dip the piece of fabric slowly into the pot over the course of 10 minutes to achieve the gradient—a lovely shade of earthy purple.
The Shade Card on page 98 shows the variations that can be achieved with the colors. Look for the wheat bran bath and lower increment of dye for the instructions listed above.
OUR DESIGN CHOICES
Garment – Long Sleeve Crop Cardigan
Dyeing Technique – Garment dyeing with extracts (Quebracho Red) from The Modern Natural Dyer
Embroidery Technique – Random Ruffle from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Kristine has created a series of Work-Along Kits—materials that pair with the projects in The Modern Natural Dyer. The Phase 1 Kit includes our machine sewn V-Neck Tank, Crop Cardigan, and ¼ yard of organic cotton jersey (in addition to many more fabrics, yarns, and dyes).
We love the combination of our organic cotton jersey and natural dyes. They produce honest, tactile colors. And we always enjoy working with Kristine and look forward to more collaboration with the team from A Verb For Keeping Warm in the future. Thank you for all that you do for sustainable textiles and the maker movement.
Find more on Instagram: @theschoolofmaking and @avfkw
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.
As part of our commitment to responsible production, your goods will always be delivered to you via carbon neutral shipping.
Photos by Robert Rausch
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.
We often speak of collaboration and of creating a community of artists to share ideas. This philosophy is central to our artisan-based way of making. And when we stock our stores online and at The Factory, we offer a carefully curated selection of items that complement our own—always made by other artisans who follow a similar approach to collaboration or community.
Idyllwilde is a clothing company based in the Shoals that works with natural fibers like linen, cotton, wool, and silk. Founder and designer Nadene Mairesse named the company after the California town where she spent her summers, attending the Idyllwild Arts Academy. She praises her experiences there for introducing her to dance and music and for opening her eyes to the idea of a creative community. Idyllwilde makes clothing for women and children and a few sundry items—like the aprons and kitchen towels.
Nadene’s commitment to a collaborative way of making resulted in True North—a studio and retail space that she shares with local graphic designer and screen printer Chris James of Heavy Color. The two separate, established businesses have similar philosophies and priorities and they found sharing a space to be a good match. In this shared space, True North is growing a larger community of artists; they regularly host bands and open their space for artist exhibitions. Nadene also teaches workshops on basic sewing skills and indigo dyeing with Shibori techniques.
We also offer beautiful wooden spoons and spatulas, created by Steven Febres-Cordero, known by most as “The Spoonman”. Steven lives in Center Point, Alabama, and crafts a variety of woodcarvings by hand in the United States, all from exotic wood, sustainably harvested in South America.
Steven began working with wood when he was a young man and expanded his work into ceramics, painting, and clay. He has found the most satisfaction and success in his woodworking and, these days primarily focuses on his work with tropical hardwood. The Spoonman travels often between the United States and South America and he does not have a website, but he sells at craft fairs throughout the south. We offer three of his products: the 11” spoon, 12.5” slotted spoon, and 11” spatula—and their high quality and affordability make them popular gift items.
Look for other Alabama Chanin additions that complement the current offerings, which feature both hand- and machine-made goods.
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.
Today, we launch our Maggie Dress garment pattern—available in PDF format through our website. Part of our Build a Wardrobe programming and available for individual purchase at $18, the PDF download includes the nested pattern and comes in sizes XS to XXL along with instructions for fabric selection, cutting, and garment construction. Our PDF patterns (more styles coming each quarter in 2016) are designed for printing on wide-format printers or desktop printers, as both full-scale and tiled versions are included in the download.
The Build a Wardrobe project is comprised of four new DIY Garments that will be used as the basis for creating a hand-sewn wardrobe over the course of the coming year. Launching with our beloved Maggie Dress pattern, makers can work together to create wardrobe staples or follow along globally on social media with the hashtags #buildawardrobe2016 and #theschoolofmaking.
As we move through 2016, we will combine techniques, colorways, and stencils from our two previous Swatch of the Month bundles with our Build a Wardrobe garments. Look for embellished variations of the Maggie Dress in the coming months.
The format of Build a Wardrobe is similar to that of Swatch of the Month. Participants will subscribe for a year’s worth of content that will be executed with guidelines presented in our Alabama Studio Book Series and specifically Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. Each quarter, subscribers will receive an exclusive new printed pattern, instructions, and enough fabric to make basic garments in the colors of your choice (thread, notions, and digital pattern versions also included).
In addition, each quarter, subscribers will also have exclusive access to order custom DIY kits for that pattern at a discounted rate. For example, when we launch the Maggie Dress pattern, subscribers receive the printed Maggie Dress pattern, the Maggie Dress PDF pattern, a bundle of fabric yardage in the color(s) of their choice, a 15mm snap, and thread to complete the garment in an unembellished version. Subscribers also have the option to order custom DIY Maggie Dress kits for an additional cost—an exclusive offer that is available through 2016. These custom DIY kits are only available to Build a Wardrobe subscribers.
Each of our Studio Books provides a variety of stencil artwork—which means you have permission to reproduce them for home use and on your projects. We now offer these stencil designs—along with many of our all-time favorites—for purchase as downloadable PDFs in our newly formatted stencil design format which includes: a tiled version to print on letter- or A4-sized paper that you can piece together more easily at home, a full-scale PDF file that you can email or take to the local copy shop to print full-scale on a wide format printer, instructions for creating a stencil, and stencil transfer instructions. Find more information on how to print a garment or textile pattern here.
P.S.: We ask that you respect our policies and use our patterns for personal projects, as they are designed for individual use and not intended for commercial ventures or reproducing and distributing.
Follow along on social media and on our Journal with the hashtags:
In March of 2015, The School of Making launched a partnership with Nest—a non-profit that joins together with artisans across the world to bring about positive social impact through sustainable development. Nest works specifically with artisans because they are often community-based businesses or organizations; they collaborate with those artisans to provide tools, training, infrastructure, and other resources that champion artisans themselves as the makers of change. When artisans are empowered in this way, entire communities are better able to tackle global issues like poverty, preservation of craft and local tradition, and advancement of women (who are often both artisan and primary household caregiver).
Nest’s 2015 impact was felt strongly by artisans across the globe. Nest grew from serving just more than 1,500 artisans in 2014 to serving 5,646 artisans in 2015. Nest’s work is reaching more than 100,000 people, including not only artisans but also their families and members of their extended communities. For every artisan employed, 20 or more people are impacted through the ripple effect.
Our collaborative partnership with Nest finds voice through our educational arm, The School of Making, with a long-term goal of reversing some of the manufacturing outsourcing that has affected our local economy over the last two decades. Together, we are expanding Alabama Chanin’s Building 14 machine-manufacturing division with a plan to create educational programs and up-to-date training on modern textile manufacturing methods. This initiative provides further foundation for Florence, Alabama, and the greater Shoals community to continue growing in the global textile industry.
Alabama Chanin and our Building 14 Design + Manufacturing division are incredibly grateful for the donations we have received this year. When we consider the scope of our long-term goals, it gives us comfort and hope, knowing that Nest—and all of you—are standing alongside us as we grow. We know that during the holiday season, many of you “give” as a gift to others. We also hope that you will consider giving to Nest and to our Building 14 initiative to help us grow and create viable options for our region’s economic future.
To read more about the incredible initiatives Nest is guiding and to donate, please visit the Nest website.
Photos courtesy of Rinne Allen
Just over a year ago we launched our line of Alabama Chanin candles. Since then, they have become one of our most popular gift items. We worked diligently to find the right collaborator for this project and are lucky to have found DPM Fragrance, a regionally-owned business in Starkville, Mississippi.
The company, once named Aspen Bay Candles, was purchased by its current owner Tom Reed in 2001. Since then, Reed has added Capri Blue and Found Goods Market collections to the Aspen Bay brand and renamed the company DPM Fragrance. Each product line has a different aesthetic with distinctive scents, packaging, and branding.
DPM shares many of the same goals, like local production, as Alabama Chanin—and their success at impacting the local economy is impressive. When it began, DPM employed about 15 people; today, it employs over 150—with a plan to expand and hire over 100 more in the works. The company was listed for the past three years as one of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America. (In order to qualify for the list, you have to sustain 100% growth rate over a three-year time period, meaning that DPM has met that criteria for at least 5 years in a row.)
Like Alabama Chanin, DPM also works to source as many of their materials as possible in the United States. They use American-made wax and fragrance oils and utilize American-made glass whenever they can. The company produces with an eye towards increased sustainability, using all-natural soy wax blends, natural wicks, and recycled materials for their glass and packaging whenever possible.
We have witnessed the effect that employee investment has in our own successes and DPM sees the same kind of impact. They collaborate on the best processes for production with their employees, who are thoughtful and detail oriented in their work. Each of the candles is wicked by hand, poured by hand, labeled by hand, and carefully packed by hand. Some of their production employees have worked at the company for over a decade (and some for almost 2 decades).
As part of their company bio, DPM notes: Though it is not always easy, our team stands behind the established principles of the handmade product, where craftsmen with years of candle making experience bring our visions to life. Every candle we produce is created to make a lasting impression – each having been thoughtfully designed, delicately poured, and proudly packaged in our home of Starkville, Mississippi.
Last year, the company produced over 1.8 million candles that were sold in stores like Urban Outfitters, Crate and Barrel, Nordstrom, West Elm, and Anthropologie—where their Volcano scent has become known as the boutique’s signature fragrance. We burn our Alabama Chanin Grapefruit + Watercress scented candles both at home and at The Factory year round, since the scent is light and fresh—and appropriate for any season. It makes a wonderful gift as, once you burn your candle, you can repurpose the glassware as a drinking vessel or for dozens of other purposes. It’s like two gifts in one.
Bottom two photos courtesy of DPM Fragrances
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.”
Over the past two years, The School of Making has evolved into a community of creators who experiment together with a diverse range of sewing, stitching, and embroidery techniques, design concepts, dyeing methods, and a widening array of practical skills. Through our Swatch of the Month and our Host a Party programs, we’ve watched our community of makers grow in leaps-and-bounds. This year we expand our hand-sewing programming with Build a Wardrobe—moving from the fabric embellishment and embroidery techniques we developed through Swatch of the Month into garment fit and construction. Designed for use with our Alabama Studio Book Series, we’ll be featuring variations of new garment patterns throughout the year on our Journal. As we move through 2016, we will combine techniques, colorways, and stencils from our two previous Swatch of the Month bundles with our Build a Wardrobe garments.
Build a Wardrobe is comprised of four new DIY Garments that will be used as the basis for creating a hand-sewn wardrobe. Launching with our beloved Maggie Dress pattern in January, makers can work together to create wardrobe staples or follow along globally on social media with the hashtags #buildawardrobe2016 and #theschoolofmaking.
The format of Build a Wardrobe is similar to that of Swatch of the Month. Participants will subscribe for a year’s worth of content that will be executed with guidelines presented in our Alabama Studio Book Series and specifically Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. Each quarter, subscribers will receive an exclusive new printed pattern, instructions, and enough fabric to make basic garments in the colors of your choice (thread, notions, and digital pattern versions also included).
In addition, each quarter, subscribers will also have exclusive access to order custom DIY kits for that pattern at a discounted rate. For example, when we launch the Maggie Dress pattern, you will receive your bundle of fabric yardage, thread, and pattern that you will use to customize your garment. You will also have the option to order custom DIY Maggie Dress kits for an additional cost—an offer you can take advantage of at any time in the year. These custom DIY kits are only available to Build a Wardrobe subscribers.
When you order Build a Wardrobe you will receive:
- Digital inspiration and information packet of garment and treatment ideas for your wardrobe
- Digital link to a form where you will choose your fabric and thread colors for the year
- Discount coupon for 25% off stenciling supplies (for those who want to stencil their garments)
- Subscription to an exclusive monthly Build a Wardrobe newsletter
In January—the first quarter—you will receive:
- Maggie Dress Pattern in both printed and digital format. This pattern provides 3 length variations (top, tunic, and dress) and all necessary instructions
- 6 yards of 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey in two colors (3 yards each color)—enough to complete one double-layer 45” dress or two single-layer 45” dresses or any variation of your choice
- 2 spools of thread in the color of your choice
- 1 15mm snap
- Exclusive digital link to a Custom DIY form that gives you the option to purchase DIY Kits for the Maggie Dress—cut and stenciled to your specifications
In April—the second quarter—you will receive:
- Alabama Sweater Top Pattern in both printed and digital format. This pattern provides 3 length variations for the garment body (crop top, top, and tunic) with 4 variations for sleeve lengths and all necessary instructions.
- 2 yards of our 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey in one color—enough to complete a single-layer 31” tunic with long sleeves (or any variation of your choice)
- 1 spool of thread in the color of your choice
- Exclusive digital link to a Custom DIY form that gives you the option to purchase DIY Kits for the Maggie Dress and the Alabama Sweater Top—cut and stenciled to your specifications
In July—the third quarter—you will receive:
- Walking Cape Pattern in both printed and digital format. This pattern provides 3 pocket variations (Walking Cape pocket, patch, and 5-side).
- 4 yards of our 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey in two colors (2 yards of each color) for completing a double-layer walking cape
- 1 spool of thread in the color of your choice
- 1 32mm snap
- Exclusive digital link to a Custom DIY form that gives you the option to purchase DIY Kits for the Maggie Dress, the Alabama Sweater Top, and the Walking Cape—cut and stenciled to your specifications
In October—the fourth quarter—you will receive:
- Full Wrap Skirt Pattern in both printed and digital format. This pattern provides 3 variations (Full Wrap Skirt, Half-Skirt, and Pull-on Skirt) in three different lengths: 21”, 24” and 26”, with all necessary instructions.
- 4 yards of 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey in two colors (2 yards each color)—enough to complete one double-layer 26” Full Wrap Skirt or two single-layer 26” Full Wrap Skirts or any variation of your choice
- 1 spool of thread in the color of your choice
- Exclusive digital link to a Custom DIY form giving you the option to purchase DIY Kits for all of the 2016 Build a Wardrobe patterns—cut and stenciled to your specifications
Just as with our Swatch of the Month subscription, anyone can join at any point in the year. By purchasing the materials through Build a Wardrobe, you will automatically receive approximately a 25% discount off the total retail value of the materials, plus the printed pattern, special inspiration packet, and notions to complete your garments. Free domestic ground shipping. International orders may incur extra shipping fees.
Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns can be used as a guide for altering patterns and perfecting individual fit. The rest of our Studio Book Series provides excellent resources for embellishing these four basic garments to create one-of-a-kind wardrobe essentials.
As with most of our patterns, each of these new styles are created with multiple length variations—allowing each person to choose the length that fits their personal figure best.
All patterns in our Build a Wardrobe program will also be available for individual purchase in digital format from our website for $18 per pattern, each quarter as the new patterns are released. The Maggie Dress Pattern will be available beginning in January. Note that all garment patterns are intended for use in combination with our Alabama Studio Book Series.
If you make a basic of each variation of every pattern offered through Build a Wardrobe, you can end the year with 30 hand-sewn garments—a sturdy foundation to your own handmade wardrobe. Pattern possibilities, by the numbers:
- Maggie Dress – 3 garments (top, tunic, and dress)
- Alabama Sweater – 15 garments (3 length variations X 5 sleeve options)
- Walking Cape – 3 garments (one with each pocket variation)
- Full Wrap Skirt – 9 garments (3 pattern variations X 3 length variations)
Whether you need wardrobe-building basics or a new statement piece, Build a Wardrobe offers endless possibilities for customization—allowing you to develop your own personal (and sustainable) style.
Follow along on social media and on our Journal with the hashtags:
View our current Build a Wardrobe collection here.
Short Stack Editions is a beautiful series of small-format, hand-bound publications that are half cookbook, half food magazine. Each 4 1/2” x 7 1/2” edition is inspired by a single ingredient and written by an array of chefs, cookbook authors, and food writers. To sum it up, Short Stack Editions are a food-lovers’ pocket-sized dream—and are as functional as they are collectible. (Our staff has been poring over the volumes since their arrival at The Factory.)
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
The design world is filled with innovators making products that can impact the human experience for good or for ill. The idea of designing and making with positive, spirited intention is growing far beyond its early influencers like Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio or the now defunct Architecture for Humanity—inspired by Mockbee’s project. Today, AIGA—one of the oldest and largest professional design organizations—has an entire program dedicated to Design for Good. Design leader John Bielenberg created the innovative and influential Project M that is always generating creative solutions to real design challenges. (See Project M’s Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama, for an example.)
One of our earliest “social” collaborations was with an organization called Goods of Conscience, whom we worked with on some of our first indigo dyeing experiments. This was quite a few years ago, when design and social change were words that weren’t often used together. It was one of the early examples in the textile industry we encountered that proved the two ideas could exist together and elevate one another.
All design has social impact, but good design focuses on people as fundamental to the products they make. Designers have a remarkable ability to influence how we communicate and with whom, what we think about, what is relevant, and how social and economic power balances might be restructured. When designing for the good, effective ideas, methods, and products can better a society and humanity. Nest, the non-profit organization we’ve partnered with through The School of Making, has fostered successful initiatives by building deep relationships with the global makers with whom they partner—collaboratively building sustainable solutions to the greatest needs within communities where artisan craft stands to create positive, long-lasting change.
Patagonia’s Worn Wear truck and team arrived in Alabama and to The Factory yesterday morning. They’ve set up in the parking lot and brought fabrics and machines to repair your existing gear. As a bonus, they’ve also brought a slew of jackets that they’re giving away so we can learn to make our own repairs.
I scored this black down jacket which is shown below before repairs and after.
Of course, we added some Alabama Chanin touches. Lucky bonus: I found this tidily rolled dollar bill in the right pocket of my jacket.
Grab a jacket, a taco and a beer, and join come us…
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…
Early on in the life of Alabama Chanin, Natalie had the opportunity to visit the Ventura, California offices of Patagonia. That visit, along with a copy of founder Yvon Chouinard’s manifesto, Let My People Go Surfing, opened all of our eyes to the fact that it is possible to create a healthy workplace, make products responsibly, produce things that are meant to last, and still stay in business. (Or, at any rate, that is certainly our goal…) Patagonia’s The Footprint Chronicles shows the origins of Patagonia products and materials. Their supply chain is completely transparent, and directly inspired Alabama Chanin to document and publish our own supply chain.
Another Patagonia program that we’ve loved is Worn Wear, which documents stories of garments used, reused, repaired, and recycled. (You can read stories of individuals and their garments at the Worn Wear blog.) The Worn Wear program helps garment owners maintain their gear for as long as possible through product care and repair services. It also provides an easy way to recycle Patagonia garments that are beyond repair.
As the Patagonia team puts it, the biggest step we can take to reduce our impact is to do more with what we have. Repeated laundering, ironing, and drying can shorten a garment’s life, just as much as wearing them—so they offer tips for cleaning and care to extend the garment’s life cycle. But, if a garment gets excessively worn, Patagonia urges owners not to toss it, but instead repair it—or send it to them for repair. You can find easy-to-read repair guides on their website. Or, you can ship an item back to Patagonia to be repaired. The company employs 45 full-time repair technicians at their service center in Reno, Nevada. It’s the largest repair facility in North America—completing about 30,000 repairs per year.
Garments that are not salvageable can be returned to Patagonia (postage paid) to be recycled into new fiber, or repurposed. Since 2005, they have taken back over 82 tons of clothing for recycling. Our collaboration with Patagonia used just these cast-offs to create scarves from repurposed material.
Patagonia’s Worn Wear Repair Truck is currently on its fall tour (and upcoming stops can be tracked here). The truck and the Patagonia repair crew will be at The Factory for a special two-day event. On Friday, September 18 from 9:00am – 5:00pm and Saturday, September 19 from 10:00am – 4:00pm, we invite you to bring your well worn, well loved garments—of any brand—to be repaired for free by the Patagonia team. As they say, “If it’s broke, we fix it.”
We will offer regular lunch service at The Factory Café on Friday and a brunch taco stand with other sweet and savory items on Saturday. Alabama Chanin’s School of Making will sponsor a DIY mending station with thread and cotton jersey fabric scraps. Patagonia will also have DIY garments that if you can fix, you can take them home.
*All images Courtesy of Patagonia
Our first collaboration with Heath Ceramics, launched in 2011, has built a lasting, creatively symbiotic relationship. That joint development was a beautifully intensive design process that blended our techniques with theirs. Our Heath + Alabama Chanin line of dinnerware is made by hand, just like our Alabama Chanin handmade Collection. The artisans at Heath etch the designs into clay in much the same way that we embroider our garments. And just as our stitchers initial the garments they create, the Heath artists leave their marks on each of the finished products.
Over the last year, as we began experimenting with our indigo dye house, we became excited about the possibilities of this natural color and the richness and variations it creates. This excitement carried over into our ongoing conversations with Heath about expanding our collaboration. The new pieces build upon our previous work together and today we launch two new themes in our Alabama Chanin + Heath Ceramics collaboration: Indigo and Bird’s Nest.
Over the last five years, our work with Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic has been some of the most productive, exciting, and meaningful work that we’ve had the opportunity to do. Robin and Cathy are husband and wife, parents to Jasper, writers of the new book, Tile Makes the Room, and the owners and operators of Heath Ceramics. Cathy was an early member of our Makeshift initiative and has participated in almost every major Makeshift event since its inception. Our ongoing collaboration with Heath is one of our proudest (and longest lasting) joint design ventures. And throughout the process, Cathy has become a trusted friend.
Prior to her work at Heath, Cathy founded One & Co., a design consultancy with clients like Microsoft, Palm, and Apple. (Prior to THAT, she worked as a footwear designer at Nike in Portland.) In 2004, she and Robin purchased and rehabilitated Heath Ceramics, founded by Edith Heath in 1948 and run by Edith and her family until Edith was in her 80s. When they made the purchase, both were searching for more satisfying outlets for designing and making—and found that at Heath, which required hands-on work to revive and preserve, while keeping the original design aesthetic intact.
I met Stella Ishii over a decade ago, as I was just beginning to define who I was as a designer. She was simultaneously likeable and intimidating—but intimidating only because of her impressive resume and effortless cool. She began her career in fashion not because she was fluent in design technique—but because she was fluent in English. Japanese-born Ishii heard of a job opening for a translator at a design house and eventually was hired to work for Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. By the mid-90s, she was head of Staff USA—a branch of Staff International, the Italian parent company of fashion brands like Maison Margiela and Vivienne Westwood. Ishii and Staff USA were key to introducing these (and other) brands stateside.
Stella launched The News in 2001, a sales and press agency—slash—showroom and incubator located in a Soho loft. The News has helped nurture and grow designers and brands like Alexander Wang, The Row, and 3.1 Phillip Lim. Just about 3 years ago, she and her business partner Lasse Karlson launched 6397 (N-E-W-S on a telephone keypad), a denim-oriented line of clothing designed by Stella—a true denim aficionado. Stella has long depended on denim as her most reliable (almost iconic) wardrobe staple. 6397 captures the androgynous elegance that well made denim can offer.
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
Fabric: 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Outer layer color: Sapphire
Backing layer color: Black
Beads: Black bugle and chop
Sequins: Gun Metal
Seams: Inside felled
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.
Indigo – electric, deep, light, or tropical
Indigo can be bright, violet-blue, midnight blue.
Electric indigo represents the sixth chakra—the Anja—that includes the third eye.
It is the color of intuition and self-awareness.
Today, the New Leaves stencil + layers of indigo of the Indigo Shell Top made me think of this:
Phosphorescent leaves floating on a pond, lighting up the night with a dreamy, radiant blue glow.
According to Wikipedia, supply chain is defined as “a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer.” At Alabama Chanin we strive to responsibly produce quality, sustainable products—at every level of the supply chain. We believe that responsibility means transparency and understanding where each material comes from and whose hands it touches before it arrives to the end consumer. For over a decade, we have worked tirelessly to secure a supply chain that is, as much as is humanly possible, Made in the USA.
With events like the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, consumers are asking questions about how and where their clothes are made. We’ve noticed an increase in emails, phone calls, and questions about our 100% organic cotton jersey fabric—and we welcome those questions. In response, we have compiled all the information here. Each time we take a closer look into our supply chain, we discover something new. This is the projected course of our supply chain in the best case scenario, which is often altered by Mother Nature. Unfortunately, there are always circumstances out of our control, so we share this information with that in mind. As of 2016, this is every step of the supply chain for our medium-weight cotton jersey—from Texas, to the Carolinas, to Alabama.
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.
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.
Our design and production team at Bldg. 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.
P.S.: Look for new styles, colors, and collection pieces in the coming weeks.
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
“Zero” is both a number and a concept. It is both incredibly complex and perfectly simple. Zero is both a value and a digit—a number and a placeholder. It can be called: nil, oh, naught, nada, and zilch. Complex chemical and physical theories involve and surround the concept of zero. All of this to say that, though the word “zero” may describe something that is very small, the larger idea of zero is very, very big.
Our goal at Alabama Chanin is to become a zero waste company. This means we repurpose and recycle every possible material, letting nothing go to waste. There are times when it is challenging to approach design with the idea of waste in mind; designing patterns and establishing cutting techniques that maximize our materials are not necessarily glamorous or exciting tasks. But, we believe taking those extra steps makes our products—and our company—more beautiful.
Previously, I shared the story of my first encounter with Jill Dumain of Patagonia. Meeting Jill and hearing her speak not only opened my eyes to the good work that company was going; it opened my eyes to what is possible. Years of conversation finally resulted in a collaboration between Alabama Chanin and Patagonia, as part of their Truth to Materials initiative. By repurposing garments that have reached the end of their lives into new products—Reclaimed Down Scarves—we create a new product, with a life cycle of its own. We recently had the chance to speak with Jill Dumain about this project and about Patagonia as a company, and she generously took the time to answer some questions.
AC: Your title at Patagonia is Director of Environmental Analysis. That sounds like a pretty expansive area of oversight. How would you describe your primary responsibilities? What issues that you address are nearest to your heart?
Jill Dumain: Yes, it is certainly an expansive area, and that can be a little daunting at times. I think what also makes it especially daunting is that people look to Patagonia to see what we’ll do next. It’s a challenge and an opportunity to meet that expectation. I, personally, look at what we do from a business standpoint and examine how we can be doing better from an environmental perspective. It runs the gamut from evaluating new carpet to bioswale installations to new products to communication on our website. But for me, it’s really about how I do my job and empower people at the same time. I look for the projects that “teach people to fish” versus just giving people fish. It’s thrilling when I’m able to encourage my colleagues and get them excited about bringing environmental work into their lives. It’s good for the company. It spreads knowledge throughout the ranks and gets the greater Patagonia family involved in the process, not just my team. And they’ve really become experts in their areas. We recently switched our catalogue to be printed on 100% recycled content, and that decision came from within our creative department. It’s a huge win to see it work that way!
Eight years ago, and three months after Maggie was born, I stood in the wings on a stage in New York City, waiting to go on and tell the story of Alabama Chanin. I was nervous and jittery, waiting my turn while a woman named Jill Dumain talked about the sustainability work of the company she had worked with for over a decade. It was an unexpected life-changing moment. Instead of thinking and preparing for my own talk, I got carried away by the story of Patagonia and their mission. I had always been a fan, but that day I became a devotee.
My own talk on that massive stage paled in comparison to the sharp wit and factual detail that Jill Dumain offered—the same determination that she brings daily to the job she loves. Jill and I became friends over the course of that weekend, and we stayed in touch over the following years. Two years ago, she emailed me about the possibility of collaborating on a project using Patagonia down jackets that had reached their end-of-life. The “dogs” she called them: jackets that really couldn’t be recycled as usable garments. They were garments with beautiful stories, jackets that may have been down and/or up mountains, weathered many a winter with their wearer, and come to a final resting place in a warehouse. You see, Patagonia takes responsibility for every garment they make—from design to discard method, they are involved.
Any garment you purchase from Patagonia can be returned to Patagonia—at the beginning of its life or at the end of its life. Over the years, the company goal is to extend the life of a garment through good design and great materials, as detailed in their Worn Wear stories. At the same time, Patagonia has implemented buy-back programs for used garments in good condition and have offered initiatives that repair garments, extending their lives beyond one user. Their Truth to Materials initiative is the culmination of this work towards circular design and manufacturing. The ultimate goal is for every product to reflect sustainability from the beginning of life as a raw material, through design, manufacturing, active life, and end-of-life processes. Garments that have reached the end of their lives become an active part of the environment through composting or upcycling into a new form, like our reclaimed down scarves.
Indigo—a celebration of our natural dye house at The Factory in Florence.
This collection includes updated classic styles, available in a range of shades from Light to Dark Indigo and Blue Grey. View our permanent staples—available year-round—alongside a revolving selection of one-of-a-kind, limited-edition pieces we love.
Check back regularly for more hand-dyed goodness.
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.
It’s no secret that we at Alabama Chanin have long been admirers of Heath Ceramics – their work, their approach to responsible manufacturing, and their embrace of beautiful, sustainable design sets them apart from so many companies today. We have also been honored (and excited) to collaborate with them on several projects, including a line of dinnerware, the MAKESHIFT conversations, and most recently, two clocks designed to celebrate the 10 year ownership of the company by friends Cathy Bailey and Robin Petrovic.
Edith Heath originally founded Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California, in 1948. She was an accomplished ceramist who cared deeply for the craft and believed in the importance of using quality materials. She grew up in rural Iowa during the Great Depression, which made her a natural conservator. In the late 1930s she worked with Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which influenced her design aesthetic. Heath searched constantly to source the right materials and experimented for years to find the best techniques and glazes; she was once quoted as saying that she wanted to use clay that had “character” and “guts”.
Edith’s attempts to adapt her hand-thrown techniques using industrial production methods were met with controversy. She was told that machine-produced items didn’t qualify as “craft,” which prompted her to respond, “The machine doesn’t decide what the shape is going to be; a human being has to decide that… Just because you make it by hand doesn’t make it good, or a work of art.”
I have done a bit of traveling and it has been my lifelong habit to observe local fashion trends – what crosses regional boundaries or doesn’t, what I predict will be a passing fad, and what has become a mainstay. In the last couple of years, it has become evident that tweed is reappearing in a big way all across the globe. Years ago, it was considered by many to be an old man’s fabric, representative of a stuffy, moneyed culture. It is refreshing to see that contemporary designers and connoisseurs have adopted tweed and added modern styling touches. Tweed is timeless. And today, certain varieties of tweed are still hand woven by individual artisans in their own homes; a skill that is reminiscent of our own artisans.
Tweed was first crafted in Scotland and Ireland in the 1700s; a coarse cloth woven from virgin wool, it is naturally wind and water resistant and well suited for the local farmers working in damp, cold climates. In fact, surplus cloth was often traded among farmers and workmen – becoming a form of currency in the Scottish Isles; it was not uncommon for islanders to pay rent in tweed blankets or bolts of cloth. There are a remarkable number of types and classifications of tweed. There are clan tartan tweeds, which are used to identify members of a specific family, and estate tweeds, which were used to denote people who lived and worked on an individual estate. Some tweeds are named for the type of sheep who produced their wool (like Cheviot or Shetland); others denote their region of origin (Donegal or Saxony). There are also brand names of tweed – such as Pendleton Woolen Mills and Harris Tweed (the latter being one of the most well-known).
The process of starting our own dye house began with an exploration into the materials and methods that involve the chemistry of dyeing. That exploration began with indigo.
In its natural form, indigo is a tropical, leafy shrub and a member of the legume family, and a version of the plant is native to our own Alabama climate. The wide range of blue shades that this ancient plant can produce as a dye has made it one of the most popular (and successful) dye plants throughout history (and present day).
Alabama Chanin has experimented with indigo and other natural dyes for years, and recently set up two dye vats in-house, that we can better produce our classic Indigo colors here at The Factory. Diane, our head seamstress (and now head dye master), is overseeing the project with the assistance of Maggie, one of our studio team members. The vats were set up with the help of Zee Boudreaux — a friend we met during our time at Penland — who has spent time studying indigo and other natural dyes.
Zee worked here in our studio with Diane and Maggie during our beginning phase and generously answered a few questions for us about indigo and his experiences with natural dyeing.
AC: How did you first become involved with natural dyes?
ZB: In 1995, I was traveling and met a weaver/dyer who introduced me to textiles; she wasn’t using natural dyes, but my established environmental awareness and love for traditional processes led me to look for a natural dye class. I found natural dyer Cheryl Kolander and attended one of her workshops. I even apprenticed with Cheryl after the workshop. Seeing natural color come out of the dye pot for the first time was all it took to lead me down this path.
About four years ago (to my dismay), Diane Hall, our head seamstress and studio directress, turned in her five-year notice. However, as her retirement grows closer, it has become evident to all of us at the studio that we will continue to see her around The Factory after her “official” retirement.
Diane has developed a passion for natural dyeing—in addition to sewing, pattern making, etc. She first encountered natural dyeing with indigo during our workshop at Shakerag in 2012. Her experience there with the renowned dyer Michel Garcia left a lasting impression. Last summer, while our entire company was writing a 10-year vision, Diane wrote that she envisioned a natural dye house here at The Factory and volunteered herself as the head dye master after her retirement.
After that simple act of writing our vision, the dye house miraculously began to take shape.
Each month, we feature a favorite Alabama Chanin embroidery technique as part of our Swatch of the Month Club. Additionally, we offer suggestions as to how you might put your completed swatches to use. Past month’s project offerings have included the DIY Clutch, DIY Book Covers, and DIY Swatch Pillows. This month – with 6 completed swatches to utilize – we offer instructions on how to construct a Tied Wrap. Our wrap uses our completed swatches from January through June; each reworked using a White/Natural colorway.
6 completed Swatch of the Month panels (or 6 – 10” x 16” cotton jersey fabric swatches of your choice)
1 – 20” x 48” rectangle of cotton jersey fabric, for optional backing layer
2 cotton jersey ropes 18” long (see page 8 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design)
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, needles, thread, pins, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, which includes all necessary instructions for completing swatches and Tied Wrap.
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.”
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?
“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.
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.
In early May, we will be traveling to Montgomery, Alabama, to participate in the second annual Southern Makers event. Southern Makers is a one-day affair that celebrates innovation and creativity of all types in Alabama. From panel discussions and artist talks, to cooking demonstrations and workshops, Southern Makers highlights some of the top talent working throughout the Southeast.
This year, Alabama Chanin will be hosting a DIY Chair Workshop. This workshop offers guests the opportunity to work with Natalie and her team to repurpose a selection of gently used chairs using fabric, paint, stencils, and an assortment of tools. Guests will choose a chair to repurpose on a first come, first served basis. An assortment of tools and materials will be available for use; however, you are welcome to bring your own chair and materials.
This workshop models itself after Alabama Chanin’s Makeshift workshop series: Crafting Design, featured in the New York Times. Also, the Woven Farm Chairs project found in our first book, Alabama Studio Style, repairs old chairs using cotton-jersey pulls made from fabric scraps. The workshop will cover a range of topics including craft, design, and DIY.
Saturday, May 3, 2014 from 1:00pm – 3:00pm
The Union Station Train Shed (Downtown)
300 Water Street
Montgomery, AL 36104
For more information, contact: workshops(at)alabamachanin.com, or call: +1.256.760.1090.
There will also be a Market Place Bazaar at this year’s event, featuring wares and goods from talented southern artisans and chefs (including an Alabama Chanin Pop-Up Shop). Stay tuned…
We’ve written before about the textile and manufacturing history of the Shoals, and our current strides towards revitalizing manufacturing within our community (and beyond). Florence was once known as the T-shirt Capital of The World, and another northern Alabama town—Fort Payne (home to Little River Sock Mill)—held the title of Sock Capital of The World. We are proud to launch this line of Alabama-manufactured organic cotton socks, alongside the machine-manufactured line A. Chanin.
Recently, Building 14, our new Design + Manufacturing Services division, produced the Grist in collaboration with our friends at Billy Reid. This raglan style men’s t-shirt is made with our 100% organic cotton and features an antique button snap pocket.
Read more about our team, the manufacturing collaboration, and Building 14 on the Billy Reid Journal.
Photos courtesy of Bradley Dean.
Last year, we announced with great excitement that Alabama Chanin would be launching a machine-made line called A. Chanin. After months of hard work from our team (and the receipt of the CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge award), the inaugural A. Chanin pieces are here.
Until now, all Alabama Chanin products have been made by hand, using sustainable practices. We have worked hard to develop machine-made garments that stay true to our ideals of high quality, slow fashion, sustainable design, and Made in the USA production. The A. Chanin line maintains the same commitment to these ideals that our products have always demonstrated, but at a lower price.
Lance and Evelyn Massengill
In 2008, Maxine Payne, an Arkansas-based artist, self-published a book of photographs titled Making Pictures: Three For A Dime. She catalogued the work of the Massengill family who worked from 1937 to 1941 as itinerant photographers in rural Arkansas documenting farmers, young couples, babies, and anyone else who had a few minutes and an extra dime to spend. The Massengills’ photos provided candid snapshots of the rural South just before the Second World War. Through her efforts, Maxine Payne has given new life to these old photographs by coordinating exhibitions and projects, including a forthcoming book by the Atlanta-based publisher Dust-to-Digital and a collaboration with Alabama Chanin on our new collection. We asked Maxine to describe her connection to the Massengill family and her involvement with Three For A Dime:
We are very proud to announce the launch of the new Alabama Chanin collection. Here at the studio, we have all been busy over the past months preparing for this endeavor—from a collaboration with artist Maxine Payne (more from the story behind our inspiration and Maxine tomorrow…), to perfecting organic cotton fabric and colors, designing and producing garments pattern-by-pattern, swatch-by-swatch, creating and hand sewing sample garments, organizing photo shoots, and finally, preparing for this launch today.
Lots of work, time, and love go into every piece of a new collection. Each of our fabrics and garments are designed to last a lifetime: some pieces intended as heirlooms, others seamlessly integrated into everyday wardrobes.
The new collection features several designs, including our Magdalena, Daisy, Scallops, and Whispering Rose patterns worked in a variety of techniques and a selection of colors including: Natural, Navy, Black, Lime, Natural Blue Grey, and Ballet.
When Alabama Chanin was founded, part of our initial mission was to create modern garments using age-old techniques, like hand sewing and quilting. Though we have continually grown, we still believe in celebrating the “living arts” and community-building traditions like quilting circles. As Alabama Chanin has expanded, our goals have also matured and expanded and we are happily developing our scope and physical size – though we continue to embrace that first set of ideals.
The past year has seen a growth and expansion that I could never have imagined those many years ago. We opened a flagship store and café in our Factory home and we are preparing to launch our machine-made line, A. Chanin. When I was beginning my efforts to produce those first t-shirts, I was told repeatedly that it was not possible to produce responsibly sourced, machine-made garments in the United States. Time after time, I heard that this kind of item would never make a profit. And, yet, we persevered.
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.
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.
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
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.
In February, we launched our Basics line of Alabama Chanin garments in clean, unadorned silhouettes: garments for everyday life, to wear with everything. As temperatures climb into the 90’s here in North Alabama, the Basics have found their way into the wardrobe rotation more frequently, particularly the Halter Top.
Hand-stitched in 100% organic cotton medium-weight jersey, the Halter Top (shown here in our color, Denim) is a comfortable slip-on piece with an adjustable tie behind the neck, Cretan stitch finish on the rib, and a tapered, feminine fit through the chest and waist. Top hits at the hip, measuring approximately 23” from the center neckline and 17” from the back to bottom edge.
We love it with our Pleated Skirt or jeans or over a swimsuit on our way to the lake. The Halter Top comes in a variety of lightweight and medium-weight cotton jersey colors.
Wash gently + Hang to dry. Free shipping. Made in the USA.
I’ve been thinking about painting my back porch and deck white since it was built last summer. After all, we spend about fifty percent of our time out there. I’ve long disliked the toxicity of commercial paints on the market. Most common indoor and outdoor household paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs contain a variety of chemicals, some of which give off noxious fumes and may have short term or long term adverse health effects. According to the EPA, levels of some VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher inside a home than outside; when you are painting or stripping paint in your home, particularly in older homes where lead paint may have been used in the past, indoor levels of VOCs may be 1000 times that of outdoor levels. I’ve used VOC-free paints for all of my indoor and outdoor painting since they came on the market some years back.
In thinking about my outdoor living area, I wanted to investigate additional ways to paint more safely, and came across two options that I could possibly make myself: whitewash and milk paint. Whitewashing, which many of us remember from Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was commonly used for years because it is inexpensive, can be homemade, and homeowners could use ingredients they had on-hand, improvising their own recipes. It is still used in rural areas to protect wooden surfaces like fences and barns, or by designers who want to give furniture a rustic look. The mixture’s base is always lime and water, which makes a chalky type of plaster. Then, ingredients might be added to thicken or strengthen the mixture, like flour, glue, sugar, soap, soil, or milk.
This past February, Alabama Chanin partnered with the team at Bluprint, an online community of makers who offer projects, craft ideas, and courses on dozens of topics. Our online class, Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, has provided us with a new way to interact with our fellow makers and has given us the opportunity to share just a few of the techniques that we teach in our Workshops.
We have talked before about the concept of online learning and how the Internet is making education opportunities that were once expensive and inconvenient cheaper and more accessible. Enrolling in online courses takes geography out of the equation. It is no longer essential to sit in a physical classroom with other participants. You don’t have to plan your life around when classes are scheduled. Online classes, like our Bluprint course, allow you the opportunity to learn the same stitches and techniques as someone on the other side of the country, or the world.
At Alabama Chanin, we practice Slow Design, which focuses on producing goods in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The intent is to design clothing and home goods that are made from sustainable raw materials using environmentally sound methods, resulting in beautiful, healthy, and long-lasting products. We want to create connections with our customers and for Alabama Chanin pieces to be used and worn for many years, to be incorporated into the life of a customer.
Our business model and method of production is based on sustainable practices. Rather than purchase low cost materials and manufacture products quickly and cheaply, we opt for a Made-in-the-USA approach, using local, artisanal labor sources. To-date, Alabama Chanin items have been made entirely by hand, without any machine work.
Last month we wrote about Slow Design, specifically in contrast to Fast Fashion, as the death toll from a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh rose by the hour, reaching 1,127. During the three weeks the tragedy made headlines, NPR’s “Fresh Air” broadcast an interview with Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, where Cline and Terry Gross discussed Overdressed and how the Dhaka tragedy has affected global consciousness of the Fast Fashion issue. The interview ushered us to (finally) read Cline’s book, and we’re glad we did.
Overdressed is often compared to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma for its social influence, and is a book we feel is a necessary read for anyone wanting to better understand the negative impact Fast Fashion has on our environment, our humanity, and our personal carbon footprint.
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.
The practice of numbering houses supposedly began in Paris in the 1500’s. Having a house number is something we don’t give a second thought to these days, but they have not always been used and they certainly have not always been popular.
Some countries have numbered zones, requirements for the number of digits, double sets of numbers, and different color street numbers for different purposes, like upstairs and downstairs. Every country, state, city, or county seems to have their own numbering system. Early numbering systems were developed for the controversial purposes of census taking, drafting men into the military, taxation, creating borders, and other government functions. They were not created for their current purpose: ease of navigation. No matter the country, modern day houses are often required to be numbered for purposes of delivering mail or in case emergency services are needed.
Early identification methods didn’t involve numbers at all. If you wanted to identify or contact the residents of a home, you used the house’s name. But house names were not always displayed, there was no central directory, and sometimes there was more than one house with the same name. This meant that locals could find other locals, but outsiders had a difficult time finding their way around. When the idea of numbering houses was introduced, the idea was not incredibly popular, as it was seen by many as a form of government control.
Today, in modern day America, there is no set standard for how streets get numbered, but there are some practices that are used often. For instance, odd numbered houses are almost always on one side of the street, and even numbered houses are on the opposite side. Some cities are designed as grids with a center point; each block that moves farther from the center increases by 100 (2nd, 3rd, 4th Avenue, etc.) and directional modifiers are determined based upon this point (2nd Avenue North, for example).
My father has been hounding me for years about numbering my house. I’ve never been sure why it was important, since I get my mail and people seem to find the place pretty easily. But, when I saw these numbered tiles, part of a collaboration between House Industries and Heath Ceramics, I coveted house numbers. House Industries creates beautiful fonts and designs, often from unusual or inspired origins. Their typography can take inspiration from a number of sources, blending musical, cultural, and graphic elements. Their design aesthetic works perfectly with the Heath brand. Both companies focus on craftsmanship and forming partnerships and each of them use a hands-on approach when creating products. I purchased the Neutra numbers, but there is also an Eames-inspired collection that is just as beautiful.
I guess my house will not remain incognito anymore. I like that the house numbers add warmth to the entrance and my father is happy to know my house is now properly attired.
On the heels of MAKESHIFT 2013, we are inspired and invigorated by the conversations around design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY that took place last week during New York Design Week. We hope that you have followed our explorations throughout the events this year and have used our discussions to begin conversations of your own. We are even more convinced about the importance of making, sharing, and finding common ground, and look forward to expanding the conversations about design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY over the coming months.
One thing that resonates from those talks last week, are the concepts of collaboration and skill sharing. As we continue to open source our ideas, our Alabama Chanin 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).
On Sunday, as part of MAKESHIFT 2013, we co-hosted a Chair Workshop, modeled after the MAKESHIFT 2012 workshop, Crafting Design, sponsored by Partners and Spade. This year we teamed up with Build It Green!NYC (BIG!NYC) and Krrb and invited an array of makers to join us for an afternoon of collaboration, innovation, and chair re-design. While our event at The Standard focused on conversation (though there was plenty of making going on as well), the chair event has evolved into a make-centered occasion where a community of designers work both independently and together through skill sharing and mutual encouragement.
The event was held at BIG!NYC’s restore facility in Brooklyn – a warehouse filled with doors, fireplace mantels, sinks, mirrors, tiles and a number of other goods, much of it vintage and antique, acquired through donations and offered at low prices for those looking to save money (and the landfill) in home renovations. Or in the case of friend Kerry Diamond (of Cherry Bombe Magazine) and her chef/partner Robert Newton, the interior of their third and most recent restaurant, Nightingale 9, was designed with salvage bought from BIG!NYC.
Two weekends ago, we participated in the inaugural Southern Makers event in Montgomery, Alabama. The one-day affair, curated and created over the last year by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Matter, and E.A.T. South, celebrated Alabama-based makers and designers who focus on producing and transforming modern sustainable products derived from local traditions in architecture, food, fashion, and design. The afternoon included workshops, panel discussions, a maker bazaar, chef tasting booths, live bands, and a wealth of conversations that grew over coffee, delicious food, and locally brewed beer.
The Union Station Train Shed on the Alabama River offered the perfect venue for the 90+ artisans, artists, chefs, musicians, designers, and makers who convened for the day. The set, designed by Bell + Bragg and Southern Accents Architectural Antiques, had a distinctly Southern aesthetic, and was organized by region: Points North; Points Central; Points South. We shared a section of the train shed with friends Butch Anthony, Billy Reid, and artist Audwin McGee. Live bands, including Florence natives, The Pollies, occupied the stage that anchored the north end of the depot, set before the backdrop of windows, a wall of doors, and a constantly occupied swing that hung from the enormous roof.
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.
As MAKESHIFT 2013 takes shape, we continue the conversation that began last year about the intersection of art, craft, making, producing, designing, and manufacturing. One of last year’s most popular events, Crafting Design: Chair Workshop with Partners and Spade, found resonance with a league of artists, designers, crafters, and makers. And due its popularity, we are excited to be curating the workshop again, this year hosted by Build It Green!NYC, on the 19th of May, in their Gowanus, Brooklyn location, and in collaboration with Krrb. This year’s event includes a Chair Exhibition, followed by a party—both open to the public. Expect some local brew, a food truck (or two), and some surprises along the way.
Build It Green!NYC (BIG!NYC) is New York City’s only non-profit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building supplies and materials. Co-sponsored by Community Environmental Center (CEC), which assists New York buildings with energy efficiency, BIG!NYC works to keep building materials out of landfills, using all materials where possible (much like Alabama Chanin). You can find most anything at BIG!NYC, whether it’s shutters, panel doors or refrigerators. Construction and demolition waste is a massive portion of landfill content (over 19,000 tons of building material are thrown out each day in NYC) and that waste contains pollutants, GHG emissions, and contributes to climate change and global warming. All proceeds from sales through BIG!NYC go back into supporting CEC’s environmental programs throughout the city: BIG!Compost, BIG!Blooms, BIG!NYC Gives Back, along with a variety of other projects that continue to emerge.
Our friends (and Southern Foodways Alliance cohorts) Kerry Diamond (of Cherry Bombe Magazine) and her chef/partner Robert Newton (of Smith Canteen) built their newest endeavor, Nightingale 9, from materials found at Build It Green!NYC.
Last October, Hurricane Sandy nearly destroyed one of BIG!NYC’s reuse centers, flooding their 21,000 square foot warehouse with five feet of water. Two days later, volunteers from across the state amassed on the site to help remove the unsalvageable and clean what could be saved. With the help of those volunteers, Build It Green!NYC was back in business within days, aiding those hit hard by the storm and providing needed building materials. BIG!NYC suffered major losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which only reinforced their mission to extend the usability of construction materials by keeping them out of landfills.
Like last year’s chair workshop, participants in this year’s event will repurpose cast-off, found chairs into objects of beauty. And like last year, friends, makers, and designers, like Natalie, A.J. Mason, Andrew Wagner, Tanya Aguiniga, Amy Devers, and more, will be on-hand to help and participate. While space for this workshop is limited, a Chair Exhibit and party will take place directly after the workshop and are open to all. Build It Green!NYC will also be open for business during the workshop with a portion of all sales benefiting Build It Green!NYC Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Come join us…
P.S.: The workshop is currently wait listed, but spots may open so go ahead and send us an email. We want to hear from you: rsvp (at) alabamachanin.com
We often hear the mantra, “Live for today.” Most of us need to slow down, curb our expectations and anxieties, and embrace the present. And for the most part, I try to approach life that way. But we can’t always live completely in the present. Sometimes we have to plan ahead, we have to think of our future generations and give them the tools they need to make this world a better place.
It’s not always easy to be a mom (single or otherwise) and live constantly in the present. Duties call. Spilled milk may not be something to cry over, but someone still has to clean it up. I was having one of those spilled milk days – dog chaos, bills to pay, groceries to put away – when Maggie came to me with this drawing and said, “I want you to make this dress for me.” It’s a miracle I even heard her.
As you can see, the dress was made, Maggie was ecstatic, and somehow, in the midst of chaos, I was able to inspire her to believe she can make anything. The best Mother’s Day gift of all is just to have that moment when you think, “I do make a difference.”
Happy Mother/Daughter Day (coming soon) to Maggie and me… and to you and yours.
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.”
From far away, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s large-scale artworks take on the appearance of textiles and tapestries with patterns resembling those a master weaver might create. But upon closer inspection, the poignant pieces are actually constructed with simple bottle tops connected by copper wire. Flattened then stitched, their unique assembly allows the works to move, flow, and take almost any shape. They speak volumes about El Anatsui’s education and home.
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.
Heirlooms aren’t created overnight, and it’s the time that goes into embellishing and constructing an artisanal garment that gives life to its one-of-a-kind beauty. Join me, Natalie Chanin, for my new online Bluprint class, Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, and enjoy the process of creating a timeless piece of clothing.
In our first lesson, we’ll look at an assortment of our beautiful hand-embroidered swatches and discuss a vast array of embellishment options for the included Vogue coat pattern. Then, together, we’ll practice a variety of hand sewing techniques to make your coat come together seamlessly. Working with cotton jersey, we’ll cut out, mark, and prepare the pattern pieces for embellishment, using techniques to minimize fabric distortion. Now we are ready to embellish. We’ll create a stencil using the included PDF stencil pattern, and paint designs onto your fabric. After that, I’ll walk you through a multitude of techniques for appliqué and reverse appliqué. We’ll also explore how to sew bugle, chop, seed beads, and sequins onto your garment, and combine beads with embroidery stitches. In our final lessons, we’ll talk through constructing the coat, plus learn finishing details such as adding topstitching, ribbing, and more. Enroll in Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, and mix and match hand sewing and embellishment techniques, creating a stylish garment that will be treasured forever.
Though my mother once gave me a gorgeous Elna sewing machine, my initial forays into sewing were consistently shaky. Yet, the memories of my grandmothers sewing and creating had long ago taken root deep within my consciousness; these memories eventually bore fruit when I set out , at eighteen years old, for a life away from home to study fashion and design, live abroad, and gain valuable experience as a stylist and designer. When I eventually returned to the ranch-style house my grandfather built in rural Alabama, it was to start Alabama Chanin, my lifestyle clothing and design brand. Alabama Chanin maintains and celebrates the traditions and materials of my grandparents, creating garments by hand, using sustainable practices, and exclusively featuring hand and small lot-dyed organic cotton and recycled materials from local artisans. I look forward to sharing the unique Alabama Chanin process with you in my new Bluprint class.
My class was filmed at the Alabama Chanin studio in Florence, Alabama, but you can join me for these lessons from anywhere in the world. Just like the skills you’ll learn, my class is yours to keep—you can watch it whenever and however many times you like. Plus, the Bluprint classroom lets you pose questions so that your classmates and I can get back to you with answers. You can also use Bluprint’s video notes to mark and return to important techniques easily, plus you can utilize the thirty-second repeat feature to loop a technique without taking your hands off your sewing. My class has a wealth of information that I know you will enjoy, but if for any reason you aren’t satisfied, you can receive your money back with no questions asked.
Sign up for Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, and learn a collection of enduring sewing techniques for unique garments with invaluable appeal. All supply bundles are discounted on our website.
P.S.: Photo of Maggie, Stella, and Natalie by Joe Baran.
“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?
SHIFTING THOUGHTS ON DESIGN, FASHION, COMMUNITY, CRAFT & DIY
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.
In the last few months, I have been given two wreaths made from living materials. The one above comes from my friend Erica Rosenberg of St. Florian Fiber Farm—just outside of Florence, Alabama. The wreath below was lovingly made by Sybil Brooke Sylvester of Wildflower Design in Birmingham, Alabama.
There are so many ways that you can use elements from your yard, your community, and your environment to make your own wreaths and decorations. Follow our new Landscape + Architecture board on Pinterest and share with us what natural materials you are using for building decorations.
Weave the name of one of the Newtown, Connecticut victims into your handmade wreaths in memorial.
I have been somewhat of an herbalist since I was a small child. Plant names and properties have always come as second nature. While I struggle with the names and faces of people (sometimes people I have just met can go undistinguished an hour later), I have a recall for plants that sometimes baffles. It is almost like I have a memory older than myself when it comes to leaves and weeds.
Like Juliette of the Herbs (see the clip at the bottom of this post), I have planted many a garden—across the globe—and while each garden has its own story, every garden I planted has included rosemary. After a brief “settling in period,” this elegant (and evergreen) shrub grows tall and wide in the Alabama climate. There is an Old Wives’ Tale about perennial plants: “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps.” It’s true. I have two rosemary shrubs in my home that I took as small diggings from the garden of my last house—our old production office at Lovelace Crossroads. Five years later, those bushes thrive and have spiced many a lunch, dinner, and, yes, cocktail. Come back this afternoon for our Rosemary Infused Vodka recipe .
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
(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
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.
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.
Sustainable. Natural. Organic. These are all words that are integral to the Alabama Chanin identity. Our core values compel us to take a holistic approach to our design methods, looking at every aspect, quality, material or person that may play a part in our production process. This way of thinking led us toward using natural dyes on our fabrics. One of the companies that carefully colors our fabrics is Artisan Natural Dyeworks based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Alabama Chanin was originally introduced to the women behind the company by a mutual acquaintance. At the time, the dye company was being run by sisters Alesandra and Sarah. The sisters, both transplants to Nashville, decided to start a business together, but wanted to make sure that it reflected their values, drew from their strengths and interests, and celebrated their deep love for the earth. Though neither sister had any experience with natural dyes (or apparel, or production), they ambitiously decided that establishing a natural dye house would perfectly integrate all of their requirements.
A combination of hand and manmade dyes are used for our fabric selection (over 45 colors and growing) at Alabama Chanin. Today we share some information on the natural dye processes, which we use for four of our fabrics: our current Coral and Indigo, Light Golden, and Goldenrod.
Our organic cotton jersey is dyed at two locations in the southeast region: Tumbling Colors in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville, Tennessee. In the Bronx, New York, we dye Indigo with Father Andrew at Goods of Conscience.
Artisan Natural Dyeworks naturally dyes our cotton jersey fabric from the following plants: common madder root to produce Coral, the indigo plant to produce Indigo, and osage orange wood and myrobalan fruit for our Light Golden and Goldenrod fabrics. (More on Artisan Natural Dyeworks this Friday.)
Our newest pieces from Alabama Chanin arrive today in the form of Indigo and Carmine—mixed to complement classic pieces from our Denim collection. From the Alabama Chanin Sarong to the Fitted Cotton Blazer, these garments are designed for everyday wear. The 100% organic cotton pieces featured in Indigo and Carmine can take you from the office to a night out-without a wardrobe change.
We will host our first One-Day Retreat of the fall season in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley on Sunday, September 16th. Our day will be spent in a restored nineteenth century factory and will feature local food from Barbara Goldstein of Blima’s.
We were able to talk to friend Melissa Auf der Maur from Basilica to find out a little more about the history of the space, future plans for the center, and where to spend the rest of our weekend in the Hudson Valley.
Below we share what learned – which includes lessons on historic preservation and roof gardens.
“Sustainability is the forerunner of greater diversity and choice, not less.”
– Paul Hawken
In the book Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change, our friends Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose tackle the issue of sustainability in the fashion world. Within its pages you will discover practices that have the potential to transform the fashion system for the better. From framework to production to design practices, Kate and Lynda break down the topics that matter when it comes to the design process of the fashion industry.
Their work challenges designers and manufacturers to consider their practices and the impact they have on the environment. Reduce, re-use, and recycle are words we hear often, but this book offers real ways to integrate those words into daily practices. Not only that, it shares how to do so with little cost or interruption to the manufacturing or creative processes; you might even say it enhances these processes by challenging creators to explore new methods and materials.
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.
As we move towards Independence Day, we’d like to highlight some companies who are making great things in the United States. We encourage you to share with us any companies we should look to for ‘Made in America’ excellence and quality.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of purchasing domestically and shopping locally. We must support the businesses and companies who strive for excellence in craft and manufacturing, those who provide fair wages and proper working conditions for their employees, and companies who take pride in their products.
These are types of companies that, at one point in time, were abundant in my North Alabama manufacturing community.
I frequent A Continuous Lean, and am always moved by the beautiful images and stories. A recent post about Huge, a Japanese magazine whose June issue focuses on products and manufacturing here in America, is beautifully inspiring. Huge shares with readers some companies doing great things.
One featured company is Archival Clothing, whose manufacturing is based in Oregon. They make an array of stylish bags, varying in size and function. Their company values resonated strongly with our team at Alabama Chanin, as they believe, “Perhaps over time, our efforts will help to stimulate the domestic market and encourage US manufacturers to expand their offerings. We hope you will help us with that. We stand behind all of our products, the ones we make and the ones we offer in our store.”
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.
Spending the past couple of days in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve seen firsthand the “making” spirit that defines the unique culture and character of life here. Alabama Chanin feels very connected to–and inspired by the creativity, craftsmanship, quality, and local manufacturing in this community.
From Make, Do, Change:
“ …that creativity is very strongly back to appreciating good craftsmanship and quality in physical objects, and the idea that making products and working with your hands is something to be respected…”
-Robin Petravic, of HEATH Ceramics.
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.
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
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.
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
It is no secret that I feel a commitment to my community; it is equally evident the role that growing up in Florence, Alabama, had on my development as a designer. Textiles – the growing, picking, spinning, knitting, cutting, and sewing – were a part of the vernacular of small southern towns from the late 1800s until the signing of NAFTA. My community has been no different.
This textile history is present in our studio today and we are surrounded by friends, colleagues, and families who have worked textiles, their parents worked textiles, and their grandparents worked textiles. My great grandmother “worked socks” at the Sweetwater Mill in East Florence. 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.
The Alabama Chanin collection is a luxury line. Hand-selected fabric is sourced, dyed, re-dyed, and sometimes dyed again to achieve the perfect shade. Our team has hand-mixed thousands of paint colors, looking for the perfect complement to a certain hue. Giant rolls of fabric have been returned, donated, or recycled because a run, tear, or other minor defect was spotted. Designs are sketched and often re-sketched. Then come the patterns, more patterns, and finally dozens of samples (all hand-sewn), alterations, editing, more patterns, more samples. Repeat.
Our embellishments are next. We add the glass beads, the intricate decorative stitching, the sturdy straight stitch, endless crocheted snaps, and once again, repeat. Southern couture is expensive, lovely, and nothing less than a passion for those artisans who initial the tags in each one-of-a-kind Alabama Chanin garment.
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
On the 18th of November last year, Natalie held a Facebook Chat about Design Process + Manufacturing as part of her EcoSalon Post titled: From Field to Fashion. Here is a synopsis of the conversation that unfolded. Keep the conversation going in the comments section of this post and come back each week to read our post for Sustainable Design Tuesdays. Thank you to everyone who joined us that Friday afternoon.
Tammy Abramovitz: Well, I would like to take this opportunity to voice my adoration of you and your company! Love all things Alabama Chanin!!!!
AC: Thank you Tammy!
Doc Waller: Same here, The Layman Group and I are fans as well!
Amy DuFault: Natalie, what was the first piece of clothing/design you ever created?
AC: I started sewing with my grandmothers… so, I would have to say that the first piece was way back then. But, the first piece I sewed “Alabama Style” was a t-shirt—of course.
Penland School of Crafts is a magical institution nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its mission and philosophy are as inspiring as the surrounding landscape, and believe me- it’s an incredible setting. I first learned of Penland as a student at the NCSU College of Design. As a young mother with little time and no money, Penland seemed so out of reach. My son, Zach, wasn’t even two when I started university and I was barely twenty; there was never time for more than being mom, working, and school and the ends never seemed to meet.
At the suggestion of one of my professors I applied for a Studio Assistantship. Luckily for me, the stars aligned and I was admitted – the rest is history. My mother helped with Zach, Penland took care of tuition, and I learned to dream of design. I’m still living that dream and will be forever grateful for that single summer that changed everything.
My son is now 30 – and expecting a child of his own. (Yes! I am going to be a grandmother!) I visited Penland for a few days last summer in anticipation of teaching for two weeks this coming summer. Life comes full circle.
I never really thought much about what punks, pirates, and the Spanish Armada had to do with farmers markets or sustainable life until I saw Richard McCarthy – a pirate of the very best order – speak. He has quite an amazing story to tell, made palatable by his charming humor, an easy-to-understand presentation, and, more importantly, good works.
I have thought so much about Richard, his work in the farmers markets – and the Spanish Armada – since hearing him speak at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi. We will have to trust Richard’s accounts of naval history to be true. But, correct or not, I have thought about this presentation countless times and wrote to Richard on New Year’s Day.
I told him that working to change a fast-fashion industry feels like swimming upstream backwards –on a good day. His talk, with its simple illustrations, some good punk analogies, and the account of the sinking of the Spanish Armada give me hope and make my swim seem a little easier.
Watch his talk here and follow my rough summary of his talk and illustrations below. The illustrations pasted in here don’t have the wit, charm, and power of the man himself, so take the time to watch when you can.
I have pulled out the core that relates to all cultural assets (food, clothing, shelter) but please watch the entire presentation for more literal workings of punks and pirates.
Richard begins his presentation: “I want to start where, I am sure all SFA talks begin, obscure 16th Century Naval Military History.”
Finding ways to use fabric scraps could easily be a full time job at Alabama Chanin. Hopefully, our company will one day be large enough to facilitate an entire scrap development team; however, right now we are moonlighters and dabblers in the art of manipulating scraps of our organic cotton jersey into a variety of projects, products, and playthings.
Our goal of becoming a zero waste company means that every scrap of fabric we cut is taken seriously. We are constantly looking for new ways to mold, shape, and incorporate these fabric cuttings into our everyday work – lest they overtake us like the roadside kudzu that swallows entire towns in the South. Continue reading
In follow-up to our blog post on Sustainism this morning, Alabama Chanin (AC) held a Facebook chat today with Michiel Schwarz (MS) to explore his manifesto – created with Joost Elffers titled Sustainism Is the New Modernism: A Cultural Manifesto for the Sustainist Era. The text below recaps the questions and answers that surfaced during our hour-long chat.
I had the opportunity to meet Michiel Schwarz last September when I spoke at the Hello Etsy conference in Berlin. His purpose at the conference was to present his concept and book: Sustainism: A Cultural Manifesto for the Sustainist Era.
The New York Times did a fantastic review of the book – calling out its good points and problem areas. Alice Rawsthorn writes that the book is more an exercise in branding and that today’s “designers are already well aware of the principles outlined in the book, most of which have been analyzed in greater depth elsewhere. “ Very true, but although the book was originally created for designers, I see it more as a place for non-designers to find tangible manifesto points that they can easily process and assimilate into daily life. Truth be told, we human beings need things simplified for us sometimes and I think that the tidy graphics might just find a voice on office walls and farmers’ market pamphlets. At least I believe that it is worth a conversation.
In his talk in Berlin, Michiel admits that the book is “naively optimistic,” in that it doesn’t address the real issues that we need to overcome: climate change, “social inequalities, and the degradation of nature.” However, he says, “We believe that it is important to shift from the negative to the positive,” and mentions a conference talk given by William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle, where McDonough decries the focus that is always placed on what we are NOT supposed to do.
“We hear over and over again that we need to reduce everything to zero, that we need to reduce emissions to zero, zero this, zero that. In this way, we are making the future on the things that we don’t want. We need a future on the things that we DO want. That’s why it was so important for us to name where that future is.”
Michiel’s point is that, “we are moving into a new cultural era,” and that hopefully the manifesto of Sustainism will give us symbols to describe the move from modernism to sustainism.
Check out my post this week on EcoSalon.
Board By Board:
This is a conversation that played out in my head countless times this last week:
“I need to sit down and write the EcoSalon post.”
“The laundry really needs to get done.”
“I NEED to sit down and write the EcoSalon post.”
“Maybe, I should go weed the garden.”
“I NEED to SIT DOWN NOW and write the EcoSalon post.”
“There is that bird pecking around in the yard, I could go stare at it for a while.”
As the year closes, I thought I would put together a list of those people and organizations who have made a difference for me in 2011. For a moment, let’s celebrate just a few of those who are creating inspiring works by striving toward a better, more beautiful, sustainable world.
The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, have been producing inspiring material for years, as producers of such programs as Hidden Kitchens, Lost and Found Sound, and now, The Hidden World of Girls. One particularly inspiring piece, the film “White Gloves,” by Courtney Stevens and Les Blank focuses on the Oakland Museum Women’s Board. The short piece is poignant in its focus on volunteerism, women, and the relationships that bond people together. The Kitchen Sisters never fail to tell important stories and create moving art. (Images at the top of this post from Francesca Woodman.)
The book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, offers a challenge to the notion that more is better and instead emphasizes the importance of locally-centered commerce, politics and culture. The author, Bill McKibben, challenges us to consider why we buy what we do and urges us to think about our role within a community at large. McKibben makes appeals for action, but he also leaves us with a sense of what is possible. I believe in community and the fact that change is possible.
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.
There has been such a buzz around the studio these last weeks as we prepare for the holidays. So much buzz, in fact, that I have not really had time to sit down with our new book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Last night, I remedied that with a quiet house, a cocktail, and my “comfy chair,” as my daughter Maggie calls it.
I wrote last August about the process of writing this book and the moment of awaiting proofs from the publisher, but it seems like I just batted my eyes and the book is lying in my lap.
I’ve had time to recover since writing that post. I am once again in the studio and have – once again – been pulled away from the book and into other projects. Much like giving birth, it seems that the pain of delivery subsides as you move away from the actual moment of delivery and on to holding that growing life. Not to compare my book with a new life BUT, when Alabama Stitch Book first came out, my editor, Melanie Falick, said “the best part of writing a book is watching that book come to life in the hands of another.” It’s true. I experience that exact feeling as I sit here today and write this post. While the book is not a life, it does take on a life of its own. Today, I am the proud mama of a 1 pound, glowing book.
So, without further ado, here you find photographs of some of my favorite spreads in the book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. You will notice that I have included instructions and patterns for some of our favorite collection pieces. You can find the book on-the-shelves by mid-February (good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise – as we like to say in the South).
DIY Kits, fabrics, and other goodies will begin to appear in our online store over the next weeks. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say… xoNatalie
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.
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.
Thanks to all the HEATH Ceramics team for this lovely piece on Alabama Chanin in their November Newsletter:
Slowing Down (and Sitting Down) with Alabama Chanin
Stitch and clay intersect to create modern heirlooms in our newest collection
Slow down. This may feel like an impossible pursuit, particularly in this season, but when Heath Ceramics Creative Director Catherine Bailey explained that one of the intentions of Heath’s collaboration with Owner + Designer Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin was to “celebrate slow, thoughtful design,” the word really resonated.
It is no secret that I adore Robin Petrovic and Cathy Bailey from HEATH Ceramics. My daughter Maggie loves their son Jasper – and I follow her very smart lead. (The kids have most recently been sharing the iPhone App Cookie Doodle drawings with one another.) Cathy and Robin are the kind of designers that you want to be and the kind of people you just want to stand next to. One part cool, one part super smart, one part gentle family, they are wholly open, terrifically kind, and just plain engaging. I am grateful to have them in my life as both friends and colleagues.
Our HEATH and Alabama Chanin Collaboration launched last week with additional textile pieces coming this coming week. The work includes plates and bowls in full table settings along with napkins, tablecloths and other soft tableware. Continue reading
Grow – verb:
To increase by natural development:
Our collection continues to grow.
To arise or issue as a natural development from an original happening, circumstance, or source:
Our friendship grew from common interests.
To increase gradually in size, amount, etc.; become greater or larger; expand:
Over the coming weeks and months, the collection will continue to grow – while old favorites move away.
Our experiment in the evolving face of fashion.
We are finishing up our costume fitting this morning for the Collard Opera.
The excerpt from Leaves of Green below ran yesterday on The Huffington Post.
Click here to download the full text.
When I was real little, my mama would say,
“Child eat your collards, don’t push them away.”
But that word made me shudder, and I’d beg and say “Please
I don’t even like Spinach, don’t make me eat these.”
But after my pleading, bad becomes worse.
“You don’t eat your collards, you get no dessert!”
So I mustered enough courage to take the first bite
And I found out then that my mama was right.
So now when I look at a table that’s spread
with casseroles, pastas, fish, meat, and bread,
I search through the bounty and say, “By all means
Fill up this plate with them Collard Greens.”
I am in love with Oxford, Mississippi and the Southern Foodways Alliance…
Leaves of Green
Sunday, October 30, 2011, 10 am
The Lyric Theater
Get out your stencils and decorate.
Happy Halloween from all of us @ Alabama Chanin
So excited about our collaboration with HEATH Ceramics. Look for the entire collection to launch next week. Until then, a little sneak preview via the New York Times…
My latest post for EcoSalon is about how good things – like good design – take time.
Take time to have a read: Give The Story Time To Unfold
And then let us know what you think…
GIVE THE STORY TIME TO UNFOLD
I found a letter that I wrote some years ago. It starts like this:
“First, I will start with my apology: I am really a terrible friend. I have been ‘absent.’ I have made many people feel as though I did not care. I am sorry; however, if I am really honest, it is not so much that I am sorry as much as I have missed you and missed so many important things in my life.
It has been FULL time. And it will be hard for me to begin to tell all of the laughter, tears, frustrations, joys, moments, days, weeks, years that have happened. I try to find the beginning and the only thing I find is my wish to have you here with me in this moment…”
Isn’t that just how life is? It gets all full and messy and good at the same time.
And isn’t that the story of a really good friend – one who is willing to wait for the story to unfold?
Southerners are renowned storytellers. I don’t know if that is because it gets so hot that we have to slow down and consequently hear more, or if the porch just provides the best venue for recounting tales. Perhaps we’ve just lived so close to the land for so many generations that the stories naturally grew. Whatever the reason, there are libraries filled with sections with titles that cover a “Southern Sense of Place,” “Southern Gothic,” and “Southern Short Story.”
And while many of us are born storytellers, our stories do take time to unfold. We are slow, methodical, practiced in our pace. My father and my son – following in his grandfather’s very slow footsteps – are masters in this art. They take the right breaths, they slowly move from one part of the room to the other. My father can take three days to answer a particular question. I will unexpectedly get a call and find my father simply replying to a question asked days earlier. Sometimes, I have to stop and think back to what actually prompted the question. This was infuriating as a child, “Daddy, can I go to the movie this afternoon with my friends?”
Silence. It would be like he didn’t even hear me. Perhaps an hour later, he would call me in from outside, “Are you ready to go to the movie?” My heart would skip and it was like a present, wrapped up in a slowly unfolding package that had just been delivered. I would grab my things and go savor the movie.
The writer George Dawes Green provided the best storytelling platform EVER with the founding of The Moth. He started The Moth because he “wanted to recreate in New York the feeling of sultry summer evenings on his native St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, where he and a small circle of friends would gather to spin spellbinding tales on his friend Wanda’s porch.”
I once wrote a blog post about his story “The House that Sherman Didn’t Burn.” This is one of the best Southern Gothic tales I have ever heard. (Keep in mind that all the stories told at The Moth are true.)
My friend, writer, and folklorist, Fred Fussell loved this story but thinks that the audience laughs in all the wrong places – which made me laugh as well. But the thing about stories is this, they are personal: personal for the teller and personal for listener as we are constantly searching for our own humanity within the story. We need that connection from teller to self. We need to FEEL our friend’s life in and around their words. The beauty of The Moth is that each storyteller feels like a friend once their story is told. And in the telling, like my father, they take their time. Their stories are not told, they unfold. Yes, good stories – like good friends take time.
Shouldn’t this be the same with good design? In a world that seems to spin faster and faster out of control, shouldn’t we be looking for products that take time to unfold? Or products whose usefulness we savor? Shouldn’t we demand products that have stories to tell? Like good wine, a good design needs time to be a part of our lives, time to reach its full maturity. If we could stop the ever spinning merry-go-round of fashion to see the consequences of our fast fashion choices, we might begin to appreciate the tales that our garments tell. Some items would tell tales of sorrow; others would tell beautiful tales of how they found their way to the wearer. I think that we would start to breathe and listen to the stories of our clothes and their makers – because there are great people out there telling beautiful stories.
American designer Sister Parish said, “Even the simplest wicker basket can become priceless when it is loved and cared for through the generations of a family.” The next time we purchase a single item, perhaps we should exercise patience and think back to this idea. Can this product I am about to buy be cared for and loved through the generations? What story does this item tell? Isn’t buying a product with a long life the same as exercising patience for a good story?
Patience has never been at the top of my list of virtues. I have been told that I have a calm, patient appearance on the outside, but my inner life is much less composed. You might even go so far as to say that my inner life and outer life were disconnected in my youth. This was the cause of much consternation and drama in my earlier days. But what I understand today is that I needed time. I needed time to grow up and to grow into my own story. If I can give my daughter one piece of advice, I will tell her to slow down, be calm, and wait.
Good things – like good design – take time and good friends are worth waiting for.
In 2006, Leslie Hoffman of Earth Pledge asked me to write an 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.
If you can’t be with us in Berlin tomorrow for Hello Etsy, check this out:
“If you can’t make a DIY Summit in your area, be sure to tune in LIVE in our Online Labs. You can watch from anywhere in the world! Use this handy timezone conversion tool to find what the Eastern Standard Timezone converts to for your region. Be sure to RSVP for each event so you receive an email reminder to tune in. Use the #HelloEtsy tag on Twitter to join in the global conversation all weekend long!”
Use the arrows at the top of the photographs at the Online Lab to scroll through all of the great talks.
Natalie Chanin – Connecting Your Business to Your Community
Saturday, September 17 from 8:00 AM to 8:30 AM EDT
See you there!
While working on my own wabi-sabi this week, I came across the work of friend Carolyn Strauss and her partner in slowLab – Alastair Fuad-Luke – on page 30-31 of Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House.
I was reminded of the importance of these six principles:
1. Reveal: Slow design reveals spaces and experiences in everyday life that are often missed or forgotten, including the materials and processes that can easily be overlooked in an artifact’s existence or creation.
2. Expand: Slow design considers the real and potential “expressions” of artifacts and environments beyond their perceived functionality, physical attributes and lifespans.
3. Reflect: Slowly-designed artifacts and environments induce contemplation and ‘reflective consumption.
4. Engage: Slow design processes are “open source” and collaborative, relying on sharing, co-operation and transparency of information so that designs may continue to evolve into the future.
5. Participate: Slow design encourages users to become active participants in the design process, embracing ideas of conviviality and exchange to foster social accountability and enhance communities.
6. Evolve: Slow design recognizes that richer experiences can emerge from the dynamic maturation of artifacts and environments over time. Looking beyond the needs and circumstances of the present day, slow design processes and outcomes become agents of both preservation and transformation.
“Slow Design’s manifesto urges designers to ‘satisfy real needs rather than transient fashionable or market-driven needs’ by:
Creating moments to savor and enjoy the (human) senses
Designing for space to think, react, dream and muse
Designing for people first, commercialization second
Balancing the local with the global and the social with the environmental
Demystifying and democratizing design by reawakening individual’s own design potential
Catalyzing social transformation toward a less materialistic way of living”
This seems like a great place to start with any project.
If you are in New York for Fashion Week, mark your calendar for the opening of YIELD on September 10th at the Textile Arts Center.
And learn more about zero waste in Subtraction Cutting School, by Julian Roberts.
Our most popular A-line skirt is a versatile piece that can pull double duty as an elegant swing top. It is, as always, sewn and adorned by hand using our Anna’s Garden pattern in contrasting applique and glass bugle and chop beads. You see it here styled with two long skirts for our collection photos:
Pleated Stripe Skirt in silt with white and sand-colored applique (available for custom order),
and the Long Embroidered Skirt with negative reverse Anna’s Garden applique in white on white.
Of course, this is only one way to style the pieces. You will see members of our Alabama Chanin team mixing it up all the time, combining colors, patterns, and styles. We encourage you to use your own sense of style. Don’t be afraid to show your creativity.
I once had a close friend who was the most incredible painter, yet never sold a single piece of art. I (and everyone who saw her work) was certain she was destined for artistic greatness and critical acclaim, if only she could get people to see her work. She thought it unfair and ridiculous to allow a gallery to take a commission on her sales when she did all of the work. As her collection grew, her apartment shrank, and I decided to play hero – or at least middle man. That was free of charge.
Unfortunately, my efforts met with failure after failure; despite interested buyers, the deal always fell through. Mostly she claimed the piece was in need of some minor finishing then failed to follow up, refused to return calls. How could someone struggling with bills be so unmotivated that they couldn’t even schedule a time to collect some cash? Finally I realized (and after a couple of cocktails she admitted) that she had no intention of selling those paintings- they simply meant to much to her.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist who hasn’t experienced this sort of attachment to their art. Investing so much of your time and energy into a piece shapes the way you view and how much you appreciate it. When I begin a project that I know is destined for someone-somewhere else, I take a moment to focus on that fact; I take a moment to hope it will bring happiness to the wearer. Then, I let it go.
It’s hard to see a piece of our clothing in-person and not touch it – strangers have been known to sacrifice their understanding of personal boundaries on more than one occasion. The beauty of hand-stitching is almost shocking in its simplicity, and even the most perfect looking stitches are not- that’s the point. It is impossible to conceal the artistry and expression in a garment that has been made by human hands. Diane, our head seamstress (who you will meet later), can tell you which one of our stitchers is responsible for a garment with a quick glance… we wonder if she can tell their mood as well.
Alabama Fur (in the picture above) is one of the most time-intensive treatments in the collection; it can take several weeks to complete an all-over application. Every time I run my hands across a sample of it I can’t help but think of how much time it spent with the artist who made it. Was it put aside at the same time every day in the name of homework assistance? Did it suffer through the new season of True Blood, or help with any important decisions?
The Alabama Chanin collection (in the best case scenario) is made from cotton that is grown in Texas, spun in North Carolina, knit in South Carolina, dyed in Tennessee and North Carolina, and sewn by our incredible Artists here in Alabama. I’d like to introduce you to the people that take part in the making of your Alabama Chanin pieces, those that cut your fabric, pack the boxes that are mailed to you, and those that hand-stitch our collection on their own terms and time. Each garment is hand-numbered and signed by the artisan who assembled it. Who made your favorite piece? Check the tag, and if you’re inclined, say hello when he or she is featured. We love learning more about our friends, fans, and clients. We hope you enjoy getting to know us a little better during the upcoming months.
A lovely shot from our friend Sarah E. Lewis – laboring on location today (with our collection) in New York City.
Please watch this beautiful film about the labor of making linen.
Join the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative for their annual Fall Field Day on Thursday, October 20, 2011, in the heart of the South Plains of Texas.
And thank you to Eric and Beth at Etsy for sharing the Be Linen Movie by Benoit Millot with us!
I want to make a film about the production of our organic cotton.
My daughter received a sandwich wrap similar to these for her birthday two years ago and it quickly became a treasured item in our household (Thank you Carrie and Michael). So treasured, in fact, that we have almost worn it out. With back-to-school this year, I realized that we need many of these in our kitchen – in fact, one for every day.
We used scraps of medium-weight 100% cotton jersey in ochre, light grey, and faded leaves from our studio to make the wraps pictured here. They are lined with a PUL fabric (found at our local fabric store), but I have also used wax paper as a liner for a particularly messy sandwich.
There are so many computer and electronic device covers on the market today that are perfectly serviceable and will take you lots of places. I have avoided writing about these functional items for years; however, our babysitter made a version of the one shown above for her reading device and I was inspired to create our own Alabama Chanin version. I love the juxtaposition of materials that functionally protect the device and the hand-sewn detailing that make the piece personal.
Follow the instructions below to make your own cover:
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
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.
I have several of these Alabama Chanin zipper bags to hold pens and pencils, small electronics, sewing supplies, and cosmetics. But, my daughter can think of a million (very important) things that need a bag (hair bows, toy ponies, pennies, you name it).
Over the years, I have misplaced so many bags that I started customizing each bag with my contact information so that kind souls may help my beautiful bags come back to me. Works like a charm.
100% Organic Cotton Canvas + Made in the USA. Permanent markers for customization included with every purchase made before August 31, 2011.
Give us a shout-out in the comments below by August 31st for a chance to win this (already) customized bag for your very own.
It is hard for me to believe that I am almost finished with my third book, now titled Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Had someone asked a decade ago where I saw myself in ten years, it certainly would not be lying in bed, reviewing and making notes on a “pass” (publishing lingo for a low-resolution printout) of my third book, writing additional texts, and trying to be quiet while a sleeping five-year-old tries to nudge me out of my own bed.
Strange where life takes you when you least expect it.
For our avid journal readers, I believe that it was clear over the last year that I was – at times – absent. I most definitely was. There were certainly times when I wanted to write – and felt that there was something important to say – but could not find the words.
For my staff, it must have seemed that I would never return (and am not fully “back” yet).
I am driven by enthusiasm – in all areas of my life. So, when we signed the contract with STC for our third book, I was over the moon and (CERTAIN I) knew exactly how the book would work and look. I was convinced that this was going to be a piece of pie. You know, third book, seasoned designer, a decade of work behind me… I was sure things would just fall into place, right?One and a half years later, I am thinking that I survived by the skin of my teeth. I can’t tell you exactly why this book was harder than the rest. But I assure you, it was. I remember once distinctly calling out across our studio, “Can someone please drive me to O’Neal Bridge, so I can jump off?”
Those days are fading in (my tarnished) memory and these days I patiently await the final proof from the printer – the last step in this intricate process. I look back over the printout from the photo above and I am surprised how much information we managed to pack into 176 pages. And I think to myself that, I am really, really proud of this work.
The Alabama Studio Design Series truly documents my path these last ten years. From simple new t-shirts crafted from recycled ones, to couture garments, to sustainability on all levels, the books follow from one stage to the next. Alabama Chanin history is all here: from the materials we use, to the way we make our garments, to cultural sustainability, and finally to open-sourcing our patterns for individuals. (More about my decision to open-source coming soon.) It is a path that makes me proud.
A big warm thank you to everyone in our studio – who put up with me over the last year (I am asking forgiveness for all transgressions), to Sara Martin – who read and reread and listened to me rant, to Robert Rausch – our book designer – who practiced zen patience with every tiny change, and to Melanie and all the folks at STC who believed that we had one more in us.
After reading the newspaper this morning, I am thinking that we could all use a little (a lot) more Deep Economy.
I just arrived back from a whirlwind trip to Penland School of Crafts.
It is a remarkable, inspiring, and beautiful place. I found that here was something for each moment of the day and the time went by much too quickly. Maggie insists that we are going back next year. Indeed, we will.
In our few days, I found a place to sit,
and lots of doors to open.
I will be teaching a two-week class there next summer on “Experiments in Hand-Sewing: A Study on Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”
Class registration opens in January 2012.
“Despite the prevalence of green in nature, no single plant produces a color-fast, deep green dye. Until the invention of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, people around the world typically combined indigo blue with various yellow dyes to create green textiles.”
(Be sure to browse the entire online catalog as it is very informative and beautifully written.)
Perhaps this fusing of colors – or ideas – is what it is going to take for us to eventually really come into fulfillment of the “Green Movement.” As I walked through the exhibition today, a green war is beginning in my own state.
Detail from the above exhibition signage by Gyongy Laky, Apple tree cuttings, grapevine, nails, wire; improvised.
Ayelet Lindenstrauss Larsen, Re-Use, 2009, Linen, cotton, fabric marker; embroidered, hand lettered.
Maggy Rozycki Hiltner, Hothouse Flowers, 2005, Cotton and found textiles; embroidered.
Jane Dunnewold, Sacred Planet: The Pride of Barbados/Mask/Pride of Barbados, 2009, Cotton; digitally printed, dyed, screen printed, stitched.
Teresa Paschke, CEAH1, 2009, Cotton; inkjet printed, hand embroidered.
James Koehler, Rhythms of Nature II, 2009, Wool; tapestry woven.
and “like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.”
Vacation 30A Style.
*Quote of the Month from Lettergirl.
The house above in Seaside, Florida was designed by Samuel Mockbee.
For a decade, my work at Alabama Chanin has been made possible by our artisans. Without them and our amazing staff, there would be no Alabama Chanin.
Many of the artisans working with us today are the very same women who sewed those first deconstructed t-shirts. I want to express my deep gratitude. Wielding needle and thread for a decade, they have brought beauty, laughter, amazement and joy to my life and company (not to mention all the garments, home-furnishings and projects along the way).
Over the decade, they have ranged in age from 20 to 80; among them have been secretaries, students, former textile mill employees, retired school teachers, and single mothers. They are mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, husbands, wives and friends but above all, they have proven talented, committed and proud to do the work they do.
Thanks to each and every one of you who has passed through our door- it has been a wonderful (and still growing) adventure…
*Photos from Elizabeth DeRamus
New Look. New Decade.
December 23rd marks 10 years Alabama.
Help us celebrate:
Receive 20% on all orders over $150 from our online stores with the code HAPPYHOLIDAYS20 and also receive a 100% organic cotton Alabama Chanin tote (with our new label) as our way of saying THANK YOU for an amazing decade.
Happy Holidays from all of us @ Alabama Chanin
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.
It is pouring rain today. This calls for Maggie’s Dress and Wellies as I leave to drive the new collection to the airport for its trip to New York City.
It is one of our most beautiful ever. Isn’t rain on your wedding day good luck?
This would be a beautiful way to retrieve eggs every morning.
Beautiful design to good purpose and on my holiday wish list.
Nogg via ianclaridge
Tune into PBS on MONDAY, AUGUST 23rd, 9PM CST
(AFTER HISTORY DETECTIVES)
for the National Broadcast of
CITIZEN ARCHITECT: SAMUEL MOCKBEE AND THE RURAL STUDIO
If you can not tune in, check out the website / or facebook page for theatrical screening updates / or buy the DVD online:
Bravo to our friends Sam and Jay… and, of course, to Samuel Mockbee – who inspired a generation.
Watch and then plan your road trip to Hale County, Alabama…
Sneak peek to Fall/Winter 2010 when it is 105 degrees outside…
Just a few of my favorites…more coming soon!
This year marks a decade on my journey to Alabama Chanin.
Looking at where we started, where we have been and where we are headed has been an amazing and beautiful process. What a time of laughter, tears, exploration, and, well, growing up.
To celebrate our growing up, we will be launching several exciting collaborations over the next months, planning celebrations, looking back and, of course, looking forward.
The first of these collaborations – with our friends at Commune Design – has resulted in a set of new logos for Alabama Chanin and Alabama Studio Style.
Here today we present our new Alabama Chanin logo…
Look for the new logo to be integrated into our couture clothing, our site and the Alabama Chanin world over the next months. Come back tomorrow for a chat with Roman Alonso, from Commune, about design, his trip to Alabama, a bit of history and the humor behind our new and improved label.
Thanks to everyone for sticking with us this past decade… looking forward to the next.
In a sea (literally) of bad news about our Gulf, I cleaned up my desk this morning to find some good. While I was traveling over the past few months, a lovely package worked its way to the bottom of a pile just to be discovered this morning.
Our newest catalog for Alabama Denim is up and ready to view. Additional garments will be coming to our online store over the next few days. Stay tuned…
And look for some of these shots in the newest issue of Refueled – dropping on May 31st. I am looking forward to seeing everything Chris has put together!
A few of my favorites:
Thank you to the amazing Penelope Greene and all the folks at the New York Times for the lovely piece about Butch, the Woods of Wonder and the Doo Nanny.
I love this picture of Maggie jumping on the bed:
And thank you to Robert Rausch for the lovely images of my family.
Don’t miss Robert’s pictures here.
When I first thought about the blog tour for Alabama Studio Style, I did not realize what a great opportunity this was going to be to travel the world, connect with some of my favorite people and experience life from my own beautiful table. Now, half-way through, I am awed by deep, thoughtful questions, the vision of these women and sometimes, simply sitting and sewing. Here are a few of the highlights & THANK YOU to everyone who has had me round. I am looking forward to New York next week and to the rest of the tour. A few of my favorites:
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.
(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.)
“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.
The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum has announced their upcoming National Design Triennial series for spring 2010.
“Why Design Now?” will be on view from May 14 through January 9, 2011, and will explore the work of designers addressing human and environmental problems across many fields of design from architecture and product design to fashion, graphics, new media and landscape design. Organized by Cooper-Hewitt curators Ellen Lupton, Cara McCarty, Matilda McQuaid and Cynthia Smith, the Triennial will be global in reach for the first time, reflecting the connectedness of design practices and the need for international cooperation to solve the world’s problems.
We are incredibly humbled & proud to announce that Alabama Chanin will be featured alongside esteemed designers like Martin Margiela in a section entitled “Prosperity:”
Progressive designers and entrepreneurs are building engines of prosperity that enable local communities to use their own resources to create their own wealth, as well as to participate in the global economy. Projects on view include a number of items that address basic necessities, such as a pearl millet thresher and a low-smoke stove developed for use in India; examples of slow design such as hand-made, limited-edition clothing by Alabama Chanin; and works made in collaboration with international designers and local craftspeople like the Witches’ Kitchen Collection, Design with a Conscience Series, manufactured by Artecnica.
The exhibition opens on May 14th, 2010 and runs through January 11, 2011 and will include garments and fabrics from our Alabama Chanin collections.
Thanks to all of our supporters who have helped to make this possible.
Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
And back to the thought of using what you have…
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we only brought products (things) into our homes that we wanted to keep for the rest of our lives? And when those products and things become old, we simply recycle them into our own lives.
So it is with this coat that one day no longer suited my life but is now one of my favorite pieces. I am continually stopped in airports, shops, and restaurants and asked, “Where did you get that coat?”
“Recycled,” I answer.
I used the Rose Stencil – from Alabama Stitch Book and new to our online store – to paint the bottom of my coat with our textile paint and then appliquéd the Rose stencil in our 100% organic cotton jersey fabric using our burgundy color, burgundy Button Craft thread and a whip stitch.
William Morris said: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
I would say it this way: “If you want to make a difference on the planet, this is it: Have nothing in your home or life that you do not know to be useful, believe to be beautiful or know that you will strive to keep in your life forever.”
**Photo of my (not yet finished) coat in our studio taken by me.
After lofty plans to post each day about the last decade – and the next, my computer slipped from my hands last Tuesday morning and crashed (literally) to the floor and shattered. Later that afternoon, my Blackberry decided to follow suit. My deduction was that it was time to take a much needed sabbatical from all things electronic. A week later, everything and everyone seems to have survived without me. The world is still spinning, I am no further behind than I was last Tuesday, and I have had a week to “Reflect, Rejoice and Renew.” So, here we are, a few days later and making a fresh start. Thank you to Kathy Kemp and al.com for this lovely article. And, thank you again to everyone who makes this a wonderful project each and every day…
Florence-based designer’s skirt creation completes Obamas’ Christmas tree, By Kathy Kemp — The Birmingham News December 22, 2009, 5:30AM
Alabama Chanin, the Florence-based couture fashion design house, has sewn another bead into its weighty crown.
The company created the stenciled, beaded blue and white tree skirt that completes the official White House Christmas tree, on display in the Blue Room through December. Alabama Chanin founder Natalie Chanin attended the recent unveiling — her latest stop in a series of high-profile appearances.
“We were honored to be asked to do this,” says Chanin, who was a Top-10 finalist for the coveted CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize, presented last month in New York City. Vogue magazine featured her in a full-page color spread in November, and she was also the subject of a Birmingham News profile. In The News’ story, Chanin couldn’t talk about the tree skirt because the White House had yet to unveil the tree. But now the entire world can see it — in pictures, at least, or in a tour of the nation’s home.
Twenty-two Alabama Chanin artisans, mostly local northwest Alabama seamstresses, spent three weeks sewing and constructing the tree skirt, which measures 14 feet in diameter and weighs about 28 pounds. The skirt features 13 large panels representing the original 13 colonies, and holds about two kilos of Chanin’s white satin bugle beads, all sewn by hand. It is made of Chanin’s signature fabric, 100 percent organic cotton jersey, in the colors, as requested by the White House, of white, peacock blue, Navy blue and storm blue piping. “We painted the entire piece with our Maggie stencil, then used quilting, reverse applique and reverse applique with beading on different sections,” Chanin explains. (She teaches her techniques in her “Alabama Stitch Book,” available at www.alabamachanin.com.)
Chanin, like other artists the White House invited to create decorative pieces for the tree, paid for the materials, labor and shipping of her own work. Chanin is already taking orders for custom tree skirts for the 2010 holiday season (contact email@example.com for details).
The 2009 White House tree, a Douglas fir from Shepherdstown, W.V., stands 18.5 feet tall, reaching all the way to the ceiling. Each year, the Blue Room tree is the same height, because the power source is on the ceiling.
“Reflect, Rejoice, Renew” is the theme for President Obama and his family’s first White House Christmas. Reflecting the national desire to conserve and recycle, the tree is lit with environmentally sound LED lights and decorated with bows and more than 650 ornaments from previous generations. Chanin’s work fits nicely with this year’s theme. She uses local artisans, rather than shipping production overseas. She’s long been known for using organic products and recycling materials. Every scrap left over from her clothing creations is used for something else. In fact, she had piles of jersey strips baled and used them to make a sofa for the Alabama Chanin office.
At the White House this month, more than 50,000 people are expected to see the tree — and its skirt — while attending parties and other functions. When the tree comes down, Chanin’s skirt, along with the tree ornaments, will be archived with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
© 2009 al.com. All rights reserved.
For me, this past decade was about learning to use the resources that I had readily available. My goal for the next decade will be about digging deeper to fully understand all of the resources that I have and then to use those resources wisely and wildly.
It is my wish that we will use all of our gifts to enrich our lives this & every season of the year and upcoming decade:
Make the fabric above – “Waste Not Want Not” – by printing your left-over bubble wrap using a textile airbrush paint.
Simply lay out your fabric on a clean work table and apply paint lightly to the bubbly side of bubble wrap with any sort of sponge or brush. Print onto fabric by pressing the painted side of the bubble wrap gently to your fabric. Repeat as desired.
We used a taupe color paint (mixing white with tiny amounts of yellow and black) on a white fabric; however, any color will work.
Let your printed fabric dry thoroughly and do not wash for at least three weeks to allow curing. This resource can be used for paper, wood or any other surface that you might choose to decorate.
Wash bubble wrap after use and store for using over and over and over again.
Back in the studio after what seems months & happy to get back to the business of making beautiful things…
Here is my favorite shot from Spring/Summer 2010. I feel like I can breathe this blue. We will be working on the web catalog and hope to have something to share by next week.
Watch one of my favorite films: Blue from Three Colors Trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski
By SUZY MENKES From the New York Times:
September 13, 2009
NEW YORK —
“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.
Thanks to Tonne Goodman, all the folks at Vogue, and Jessica Alba for this lovely piece about Alabama Chanin and style ethics in the July 2009 issue.
Another article I had saved on my computer and was reminded of recently…
A call to arms from Suzy Menkes:
I keep thinking, over and over again, about this quote that I read on Treehugger.com in the midst of the Earth Day celebrations:
“Writing in Mother Jones, Joel Makower waves the white flag. Green consumerism, it seems, was one of those well-intended passing fancies, testament to Americans’ never-ending quest for simple quick, and efficient solutions to complex problems. It’s only a matter of time before… the public recognizes that for every pound of trash that ends up in municipal landfills, at least 40 more pounds are created upstream by industrial processes – and that a lot of this waste is far more dangerous to environmental and human health than our newspapers and grass clippings.
At that point, the locus of concern could shift away from beverage containers, grocery bags, and the other mundane leftovers of daily life to what happens behind the scenes – the production, crating, storing and shipping of the goods we buy and use.”
Read the whole story here.
It also reminds me of The Story of Stuff and that, as designers and consumers, it is our responsibility to consider the impact of each and every decision in the design, development and manufacturing process.
As I told a group of students at SCAD last week: For a very long time, designers have been at the core of the problem, creating product, after product, after product without regard to the consequences. It is time for us as designers to solve the problem and design the solution.
My Maggie, pictured above, thanks you…
Bravo to Cathy and Robin @ Heath for their commitment to quality, exceptional design, and community.
From The New York Times:
April 23, 2009, A Label of Pride That Pays
By TRACEY TAYLOR
In a timeworn factory in Sausalito, Calif., 67 workers turn out Heath ceramics, doing everything from mixing the clay to applying the finishing glazes. Twenty miles away, a Japanese robot called Ziggy works day and night in a converted brass foundry in Berkeley, making precision-cut office furniture.
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.
Robert Rausch just finished our final catalog and lookbook for The Songbirds…
The photographs are lovely – thank you to Russ Harrington and everyone involved. It was a beautiful process. We are working on updating our website and will soon have this and a slew of other new projects going up. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites:
The term describes “a type of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth that was frequently used to transport clothes, gifts or other goods.”
“Although there are still Furoshiki users in Japan, their numbers declined in the post-war period, in large part due to the proliferation of the plastic shopping bag. In recent years, it has seen a renewed interest as environmental protection became a concern.”
THANKS to the Fashion Council for a lovely event.
“As we abandon long-established notions of the past and truly embrace this young century, the agricultural community will become the planet’s new elite, dominating our essential needs and inspiring years of farmer styles. After all, the farmers of the future will clothe us, house us, feed us, fuel us and hopefully even heal us. Ultimately they will be able to engineer design and grow furniture in a symbiosis of technology and biology, and therefore rural and urban lifestyles will merge and become one; resulting in an inversed social landscape with a greener city and a more contemporary countryside.
We will see vertical farming in the inner cities and the return of smaller luxury farms in the countryside to handle the market for fresh niche products, while arid areas of the globe will be used to power solar plants and farm new kinds of bio fuels. The farm will even become a destination for beauty and learning as well as a cradle for new retail strategies and marketplaces for the future.
This rural revival will sustain far into the future, influencing our habitations and interiors….” Li Edelkoort – an excerpt from View on Color – A World of Folk, page 67
Copies of The World of Folk issue can be purchased by contacting Tel: 212 420 7622 Edelkoort, Inc.– $95.00 + $ 7 shipping
I found this very straight forward and informative post while jumping around this morning. The site boasts many other interesting tidbits too: Green Fashion Glossary
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being able to visit the Yancey Chapel in Sawyerville, Alabama. A part of the works from Rural Studio, this chapel has been closed to the public for some time.
The work and life of Samuel Mockbee is a yardstick for us to hold up to our lives each and every day to take measure of the road that we walk on this planet. Learn more about Samuel, his life and legacy here:
There have been some questions recently about why I want the world to know that “I AM NO LONGER PART OF PROJECT ALABAMA.” While there is a long and delicate history behind this statement, the crux of the situation is this:
Project Alabama started one day in the year 2000 as I hand-sewed a t-shirt for myself; however, the concept of making t-shirts goes back to about a year before that fateful day. That first hand-sewn shirt hatched a company, a concept, a clothing line and ultimately brought me back to my family, childhood home and community. The concept of Project Alabama was to make community-based fashion by-hand, focusing on recycled and sustainable materials, using traditional techniques with an American flavor. It is my feeling today that we did those things and we did them very well. I am proud of the company that I started, ran and loved with all my heart and soul.
As happens, things change, people, companies and concepts grow and take on their own lives. The Project Alabama that I started closed in September of 2006 and the company that I loved grew into what is now Alabama Chanin. Continue reading
A beautifully illustrated, and clever, look at our current production system:
The Coats (and Dresses and Shirts) of Utopia
But today, I am thankful and smiling about a conversation that I had with one of the team members who traveled to our offices for the photo shoot:
He said, “Embrace the perfection.”
I looked at him blankly. “What did you say? Embrace the perfection?”
“Well,” he continued, “everything always works out for the best, right?”
I laugh and reply, “Yes, it certainly seems to…”
He says, “Then the best thing you can do is embrace the perfection of this moment because it is taking you to that future where everything always works out for the best anyway.”
“Even the simplest wicker basket can become priceless when it is loved and cared for through the generations of a family.”
– Sister Parish
I had the opportunity to visit all the folks at Patagonia yesterday. What an amazing group of people, an amazing place, and an amazing company. From the ladies in the sewing room to their organic cafeteria, I was floored at the knowledge, care and passion that infuse their lives.
Patagonia has long been an inspiration to me because 1) it grew from an artisan/hand work base 2) they make clothes to fit the body, not clothes that you have to fit your body to 3) they make products that are designed to stand the test of time and don’t forget the fact that you can also climb mountains and swim seas in the things they make.
And aside from the fact that it is a GREAT company from the product side, it is even more outstanding from a perspective of social and ecological responsibility. The first things you see as you pull into their parking lot are the solar panels that run the offices and the playground for the daycare center.
Their mission statement could be a guideline for life:
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
The book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman gives a really beautiful vision of where they came from and where they are going. Be sure to visit the Footprint Chronicles to have a very serious look at manufacturing processes.
And One Percent for the Planet is just a very, very good idea.
Our work in Alabama began with a T-shirt. Pietra Rivoli does an amazing job of defining the role this modest piece of clothing plays in today’s global economy:
And you can further explore the role of cotton in these books by Stephen Yafa:
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: