Tag Archives: The Heart

ALABAMA CHANIN - THE HEART DESIGN TEAM

THE HEART: THE DESIGN TEAM

In the earliest years of this company, Natalie Chanin was a “design team” of one—one person to dream and research and sketch and make. While she was lucky to have a talented team to consult with (people like Diane Hall and Steven Smith), the heavy lifting was done by a single person. As Alabama Chanin grew and expanded our reach, Natalie carefully assembled a talented team of people who understood the company’s mission and vision, and who had the imagination to see where and how we could grow. Our design team is now a collective of individuals who take a collaborative approach to making and who challenge one another in the best possible ways. Natalie Chanin remains our lead designer, but she now works closely with Erin Reitz and Margaret May and to create our collections and plan for the future.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE HEART: THE DESIGN TEAM

Our team has developed a symbiotic relationship where each person relies upon and is driven and inspired by the others. Erin is based out of Charleston where she starts building many of our design concepts, and about once a month she travels to the Factory to work on-site; she works closely with Natalie to develop our collections, garment concepts, and to plan how to execute each idea. Margaret manages a good deal of our day-to-day processes—creating patterns, developing samples, problem solving, and offering logistical direction on the production side. She oversees our Building 14 production team that includes Luda, Victoria, Penny, and Iona—valuable team members who are creating the products on the sewing machines.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE HEART: THE DESIGN TEAM

One of the most essential questions that we always seek to address—through research and when creating processes—is “why”? Why does this product fit within our value set? Why does it improve upon what we are doing? Why is it important? We are storytellers in every way, and no story is well told without logic. A truly collaborative team can effectively communicate and challenge one another and look for new and meaningful perspectives on how to tell our stories. Each member of our design team has things in common but has her own style and sensibility. Our design environment also encourages creative freedom, innovation, and exploration because our feedback process is built upon organic growth and critical thinking, rather than fear or uncertainty. By building trust, we build a better product and a better brand.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE HEART: THE DESIGN TEAM

These last years have been instrumental in the company’s growth because—through our growing design team—we have seen that how we make informs what we make. Our design and production teams work so closely together because our communication processes are fluid. Though we have team members who are dedicated to design work and others who focus on production, the integration of those functions is nearly seamless. Alabama Chanin’s employees and design team are the watchdogs of our brand. Their work ensures that the things we make truly represent who we are.

Our design team—part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.

ALABAMA CHANIN - INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” — Audre Lorde

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and the global community is embracing this day more enthusiastically every year. Groups of women and men are coming together around the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

At Alabama Chanin, we want to be a part of creating a society where women of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, religions, socio-economic statuses, sexual identities, gender expressions, ages, abilities, and political points of view have the freedom and ability to care for themselves and their families in safe, happy, and healthy environments.

As a company that comprises 75% female employees, Alabama Chanin supports and celebrates International Women’s Day for many reasons—including this year’s challenge to #BeBoldForChange. We have always looked to the ideal of the Beloved Community as a guiding vision for our work and for the society we want to create. This means being a positive force in a world that is often unjust; it means building relationships when many seek to create fractures; it means helping other women attain their fullest potential.

Alabama Chanin is a woman-owned business that has always focused on empowering other women. We recognize that women are often the primary caregivers in the home and we have created a business structure that can offer our female artisans (each founders and operators of their own 100% woman-owned small businesses) an element of agency and control over their own lives and destinies. We continue this mission through our partnership with Nest—the non-profit organization that has helped women all over the world establish and grow businesses that help women, their families, and their communities to prosper.

Meet our team here who have helped build and shape this company—because we recognize that it takes a village. We hope you will join us.

The women in the grid are employees, collaborators, friends, historical figures, artists, and chefs who have been featured on the Alabama Chanin Journal. 

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNES DRESS COLLECTION 1

THE RINNE’S DRESS COLLECTION

One of the most fantastic things about surrounding yourself with creative people is that you are constantly inspired and challenged to look at ideas through new and ingenious lenses. Rinne Allen, a frequent collaborator, is someone who has a special skill for capturing moments—details that other people may not see. This quality has made our work with her singular and special.

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNES DRESS COLLECTION 2

In addition to her obvious talents, Rinne has her own inimitable sense of style derived from her carriage and demeanor, paired with that unique spirit and artist’s eye. When inspired to do so, she occasionally customizes garments she owns to fit her lifestyle and meet her day-to-day needs. This is how Rinne created one of our favorite dresses of hers: part vintage bodice, part well-worn Billy Reid dress. She describes its origins in this way: “I bought the Billy [Reid] dress 11 or 12 years ago… and I wore it so much that I kind-of wore it out! I have a bunch of vintage dresses that I have found over the years that I love, and I decided to ask a friend to make me a new dress using the parts of the Billy [Reid] dress that I loved—the full skirt—and a vintage dress that I liked—the bodice and banded collar. And I added pockets because, well, I love pockets.”

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNES DRESS COLLECTION 3

Rinne seems to have an untapped talent as a clothing designer because she can look at the clothes in her closet and have a vision for something more. A tweak here and a tuck there—and she has a fully customized wardrobe. “I do sew a bit and it started there, but I also know people who can sew much better than me and they are patient and help me with some of my ideas. I grew up wearing vintage clothes—and still do—and I think that helped me appreciate things that are unique; understanding sewing made me want to make things myself, once I learned what fits me well. I like functional clothes because I move around a lot and I’m outside a lot for work, so my clothes need to be tough and comfortable. But I also like things that are a little bit feminine, too. And I really do need pockets on most everything.”

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNES DRESS COLLECTION 4

Today we are launching what we (naturally) call the Rinne’s Dress Collection, designed in collaboration with Rinne and modeled after her style and that very special hybrid dress. The Rinne Dress has a fitted bodice that snaps up to a mock collar and has a ¾-length sleeve option that snaps at the cuff (on select styles) and can be rolled up or down. The full, pleated skirt sits at the natural waist and opens to a generous width at the hip. And, of course, it could never truly be a Rinne-inspired dress without generous pockets tucked in the skirt’s pleats and folds.

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNES DRESS COLLECTION 5

This collaboration also includes a stencil inspired by her Light Drawings. For more information about Rinne, visit her website—or read back on our Journal.

TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

As our home in The Shoals area continues to grow and expand, so does our list of things to do and see. Downtown Florence has been flourishing in the past few years, and new shops are popping up alongside tried-and-true mainstays. Ye Ole General Store, one of those longtime favorite spots, sits at the corner of Tombigbee and Seminary Streets, between a cycling shop and business offices.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

The shop, which opened in 1947, has known two other names: Darby’s and Killen’s. When current owner Gordon Glasscock’s grandfather bought the business in 1973, it was rechristened Ye Ole General Store. Originally Glasscock never intended to take over the family’s business. But in 2006, after years of working as a chef, he was given the opportunity to take over the store; the idea of changing pace and working in a store of his own design was too tempting to pass up. Ten years in and Glasscock continues to curate a unique shopping experience for his guests.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

Outside, a mannequin that Glasscock calls Rosie, welcomes you to the store. Over the years, her wardrobe has varied (though she almost always models one of the store’s many available hats), but these days she sports a t-shirt boasting Muscle Shoals’ music history. Once you take a step inside we recommend allowing at least an hour—if not more—to browse with intention.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

The Civil War-era hats and modern-day Auburn University beanies highlight the juxtaposition of old and new seen throughout the store. If you’re looking for overalls, Glasscock will gladly find your perfect size, as he has done for generations of loyal customers. And while the store stocks a variety of hats and American-made work wear, it is an actual “general store”, selling cast iron skillets, albums from local musicians, old-fashioned men’s shaving tools, and an array of varied, useful items.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

One of Glasscock’s favorite things about the store is that it allows him to meet interesting people from all walks of life—so take time to strike up a conversation with him. He’ll tell you about how he came to possess some of the biggest Levi’s jeans ever made (they measure 76 x 45) and about his most prized item in the store—an original print by Tommy Wright of Linda Ronstadt singing. That image is one of many Glasscock has collected over the years to create a visual tour of the area’s music history. Framed images of Donnie Fritts, David Hood, Donna Jean Godchaux-McKay, and other musicians tied to the Shoals are hung throughout the store.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

Ye Ole General Store allows Glasscock a platform to show off what this community means to him. When you eventually find your way back to the front of the store don’t forget to say farewell to Rosie as you leave.

Regular store hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays (though they keep seasonal hours, during certain times of the year).

Ye Ole General Store
219 North Seminary Street
Florence, Alabama
256.764.0601

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

TRAVEL: SLOSS FURNACE

There is an abundance of things to see and do right here in The Shoals, but as our travel series expands, so does our list of nearby attractions—nearby meaning within driving distance from The Factory. We’ve previously highlighted Birmingham, the city about 2 hours south of here that was built around the iron and steel industry. One of the metropolitan’s most iconic (and historical) landmarks is Sloss Furnaces.

The site, most commonly referred to as just ‘Sloss’, can be found on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham. It is hard to miss—the looming blast furnaces, boilers, factory buildings, and water tank will surely catch your eye.

The industrial boom that took place in Birmingham and the surrounding areas occurred in the years following the Civil War. Colonel James Withers Sloss was one of the entrepreneurs who helped found the city of Birmingham in 1871. At that time, our country was rebuilding itself and continuing to make connections across the land with railroads. Iron ore and coal deposits were plentiful in this area of central Alabama. As a railroad man, Colonel Sloss also played an important role in securing that the completed South and North rail line (built by L&N Railroad) pass through the burgeoning town. A decade later he established the Sloss Furnace Company, and in the spring of 1882, the furnaces went into blast, producing thousands of tons of pig iron.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: SLOSS FURNACE

Colonel Sloss retired and sold the company to a group of financiers in 1886, and over the next few decades the company (now known as Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron) experienced rapid growth and expansion. By the First World War, it was the one of the largest producers of pig iron in the world. The onset of World War II broadened the market for iron and steel, and in turn, created jobs for the Birmingham area labor force.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: SLOSS FURNACE

The furnaces went through many updates over the years—and though nothing remains of the original furnace site, the oldest building on the site was constructed in 1902. Sloss shuttered production in 1971 and remained a sort of industrial graveyard until it reopened its doors in 1983 as a museum and historical landmark.

Most folks know other stories about Sloss Furnaces—a darker sort of history. It could be a dangerous place to work, and many laborers died on site. Even more were gravely injured. It is believed by some that these lost souls haunt the factory grounds—earning Sloss the reputation as one of the most haunted places in America. The tales have proved so eerie and compelling that the furnaces have been featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures as well as the SyFy network’s Ghost Hunters. Sloss Furnaces even hosts a haunted adventure experience each Halloween.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: SLOSS FURNACE

Sloss Furnaces also offers a wide range of events throughout the year, including tours, concerts, festivals, and workshops. You can learn a new skill (or perfect your craft) at one of the many on-site public workshops. Subjects range from blacksmithing and welding, to cast iron sculpture and casting. So, the next time you find yourself traveling through Birmingham, sign up for a class and/or tour the historic facilities.

Visit Sloss Furnaces:

20 32nd Street North
Birmingham, AL 35222

Find more information on workshops here.

P.S. If you can’t make the trip, or just want to learn more, we recommend the Alabama Public Television documentary Sloss: Industry to Art. View it here.

THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Looking back on 2015, it’s clear that this was the year of collaboration for Alabama Chanin. We expanded upon work that we have been creating with others for many years, added major new initiatives with new partners, and built upon our partnerships across all parts of our business. Partnership has always meant growth for Alabama Chanin—physical, fiscal, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. As always, we want to thank each of you who made 2015 one of profound development—with more to come.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

We introduced our Collection #29 that features brand new garment styles and stencils. Our design team drew inspiration from vintage books, patterns, and textiles to create unique silhouettes and colorways. The collection saw an extension of our hand painting technique—which we experimented with as part of our indigo dyeing processes. It also allowed us to introduce new techniques—like our triple-layered technique, new styles—like the versatile Half Skirt, and a new organic textile—French Terry.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEWALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

We also updated and expanded on our line of Wardrobe Essentials, which includes a selection of both hand- and machine-sewn items that can be mixed and matched in a number of colors and classic silhouettes to fit your personal style and lifestyle. Use these as the basis for building your own sustainable wardrobe that will last you for many years.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEWALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

In July, Natalie and Maggie took a cross-country train trip on the California Zephyr to San Francisco as they traveled to the Alabama on Alabama exhibit hosted by Heath Ceramics at their Boiler Room venue. The month-long exhibit featured work from Alabama Chanin, Butch Anthony, John Henry Toney, and Rinne Allen. It also featured one of many pop-up shops that traveled across this country this year, including stops in Austin, New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Natalie was honored with an artist fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts that is allowing her to explore the source of creativity—and how each person’s approach may impact the final outcome. She has spoken to a wide range of artists on their creative processes, including Rinne Allen, Cathy Bailey of Heath Ceramics, Rosanne Cash, and Chef Anne Quatrano—with more to come in this series.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEWALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

The Factory Café has been working hard to grow its offerings with a diverse menu and a new beer and wine license. The café continues to bring the community inside Alabama Chanin to share meals or to make things at our Sip + Sew (with a new scheduling to come in 2016) and First + Third Tuesday sewing and socializing gatherings. We continued our popular Friends of the Café Dinner Series, which brought in Lisa Donovan and Angie Mosier to collaborate on a brunch to benefit Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Rob McDaniel of Springhouse Restaurant as part of a Piggy Bank fundraiser for the Southern Foodways Alliance, and Anne Quatrano as part of the Oxford American/Southern Makers dinner. This series brings nourishment to us in so many ways—sharing meals with old friends and new, and raising money for worthy causes. Look for more events in the coming year with incredible talents like Rodney Scott, Frank Stitt, Sean Brock, and more.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEWALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Regionally, we have partnered with Little River Sock Mill to make our custom line of Alabama Chanin socks and DPM Fragrance in Mississippi for our Alabama Chanin Grapefruit + Watercress candles. On a larger scale, we were also able to expand our longest collaboration—with Heath Ceramics—with our Indigo and Bird’s Nest patterns. They allowed us to take our experimentations in our indigo dye house and translate those into our expanding collection. The line includes new designs in many variations of the color indigo and introduced our newest Bird’s Nest etched pattern.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

We had a unique opportunity to work with legend (and heroine) Stella Ishii and her company 6397, turning overstock from their production processes into one-of-a-kind throws, unlike anything we have ever made before. Also, Alabama Chanin was honored to continue working with Patagonia on the Truth To Materials project, reclaiming discarded Patagonia jackets into warm patchwork scarves. The Patagonia Worn Wear Repair Truck made a stop at Alabama Chanin back in September to repair well-worn and well-loved garments for free.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Perhaps our most ambitious and wide-spanning collaboration has been with Nest, a non-profit that works with artisans across the world to build sustainable businesses with a positive social impact. Our partnership with Nest, formed under Alabama Chanin’s educational arm, The School of Making, hopes to reverse the trend of outsourced manufacturing that has impacted our region for decades. With Nest’s partnership, we are expanding our Building 14 machine-manufacturing division and implementing training and education at The Factory. As we move forward, we want to create new opportunities for those in our community to learn new techniques and update their skill sets—so that we may once again be a strong force in America’s textile industry.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

This year, we launched Alabama Studio Sewing + Patterns, which allows us to offer more new patterns than ever to home sewers. It provides instructions and suggestions on how to customize Alabama Chanin garments to fit your personal style or fit needs. We developed new and improved ways of delivering patterns to our DIY customers and have begun offering patterns never before sold to the public, like our Unisex T-Shirt and Natalie’s Apron.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

All of this brings us back to our growing and evolving partnership through The School of Making with makers in the global community. As we have grown the educational arm of our business, we have seized as many opportunities as possible to broaden the circle of participants in the making process. This year, that includes the introduction of Host a Party. Anyone who wants to gather 6 or more friends can organize their own Alabama Chanin-style sewing party. Guests get a 20% discount off of their DIY kit and the host receives a kit for free, in exchange for providing sewing instructions and hospitality.

As we move into the New Year, join us for our upcoming Build a Wardrobe series, which will build upon the format we established with Swatch of the Month—but will help you customize one (or more) garments in each quarter of 2016. We also have a full slate of workshops planned, including one at Chateau Dumas in France, as well as new products for Cook + Dine and A. Chanin. New collaborations are in the works, and the possibility of working on a new book is on the calendar in the coming months.

Keep up with us throughout the year by following the Journal and signing up for our mailing list and monthly Newsletter—and here’s to a prosperous New Year for all.

Thank you for following along with us,

Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin

P.S. – The grids shown above are a gallery of all of the promotional postcards our team made for The Factory and various events and programs over the course of the year. We’re proud of the beautiful year we’ve had and are excited about what the new year holds.

Follow along on social media and on our Journal with the hashtags:
#theschoolofmaking
#swatchofthemonth
#buildawardrobe2016

TRAVEL: MUSCLE SHOALS

Music has always been an integral part of The Shoals. We are placed along the banks of what the native people have long called, “the river that sings.” W.C. Handy, The Father of the Blues, was born here; legendary producer and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, is also from The Shoals. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the influential style of music known as the Muscle Shoals Sound emerged from this same musically rich place.

Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, we had an abstract idea of the big sounds being produced all around us—but no one ever made a fuss about it. Sure, our neighbors made music for a living, but those neighbors certainly weren’t famous, were they? (Were they?) And so it wasn’t until years later that many in our community began to understand exactly what was happening around us while we were growing up.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: MUSCLE SHOALS

Continue reading

TRAVEL: STAGGS DINER

“It is scientifically impossible to leave here unsatisfied.”
-Staggs’s Customer Taylor Smith

Less than five short miles from The Factory is a diner so well known in the Shoals community, locals simply call is “Staggs”—no elaboration is necessary. It is a place where social and economic barriers are ignored or discarded; everyone eats at Staggs, from mayor to millworker.

Staggs Grocery is located in East Florence, Alabama, an area that was once proud home to a booming textile district. The same family has run the market for generations. Taylor Wylie established the business as a meat market over a century ago, but the building was destroyed by fire. It was taken over by Wylie’s son in law, Lester D. Staggs, Sr., and his brother Webb Staggs and revamped into a meat market and grocery catering to families and workers in the textile district. Lynn Staggs, who currently owns and operates Staggs with his wife Pat, took over management after the passing of his father, L.D. Staggs, Sr.

TRAVEL: STAGG'S DINER

Continue reading

THE HEART: ZACHARIAH CHANIN

At almost any workplace, you can hear employees talk about their co-workers with a closeness and familiarity; after years of working alongside one another, your officemates can (in some cases) begin to feel like family. In the past, that has actually been the case here at Alabama Chanin. Studio and dye house directress Diane Hall has worked alongside her daughter—who has also been one of our artisan stitchers. Some of our other artisans have been sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces, cousins, and almost any other combination of relations. And all these years, it never occurred to me that I would have the opportunity to work with my son, Zachariah, known by everyone here as “Zach.”

The company that has become Alabama Chanin started in New York City, first in Brooklyn Heights and then at the Hotel Chelsea on 23rd street, in a borrowed apartment that was my first hand-sewing studio. The apartment was three rooms and a tiny kitchen. The front room, looking out over 23rd street, housed my bed, ironing board, and sewing center; the middle room was Zach’s. In those early days, he was enlisted to carry wet fabrics to the laundromat around the corner, keep me company on jaunts to the 26th Street Flea Market, and generally assist where needed.

I guess I should have known that he would eventually come to assist me in my design efforts. In fact, at my graduation from the School of Design at North Carolina State University, they asked Zach to stand, as he had completed most of my college education with me. He stood to a round of applause as the youngest “designer” to graduate from the program. (He is blushing as I write this…)

Continue reading

TRAVEL: TROWBRIDGE’S

I’d wager that every native, and recent guest, to The Shoals would urge future visitors to set aside time for lunch at Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Parlor and Sandwich Shop. The universally beloved local eatery is a backdrop for so many of our memories, and it has managed to serve up simple, delicious food for decades, while keeping its unpretentious charm. The green awning and the window advertising “Sandwiches, Ice Cream, Sundaes” are as iconic to residents as any official logo or state seal.

The little shop was opened in 1918 by Paul Trowbridge and is still run by his grandson. The story (as it was told to me) says that in 1917, Mr. Trowbridge was traveling to North Carolina for a dairy convention and stopped in Florence on the way. He loved the lush area and the town enough to move his family from Texas to Florence and opened Trowbridge’s shortly thereafter.

TRAVEL: TROWBRIDGE'S

Continue reading

TRAVEL: THE SHOALS

As our new travel series expands, we realized that we have never laid the groundwork by adequately defining and describing the community that we call “The Shoals.” Since Alabama Chanin’s inception, love of community has been the cornerstone of our inspiration, design philosophies, and production practices. Shared stories of our region’s history, our neighbors, and our food, have inspired our work and brought visitors from afar. Reflecting on how much we talk about our home—The Shoals—I thought we should (finally) explain exactly what that term means.

“The Shoals” is a reference to the low-lying shoals of the Tennessee River in Northwest Alabama, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, along which the cities of Florence (where The Factory is located), Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, and Tuscumbia are situated. The name “The Shoals” is also a shorter way of saying the Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Area—also known as the “Quad Cities”—which spans two counties and is home to somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 people. Before each city was named, the region was called the “Muscle Shoals District”; it was supposedly named such by Native Americans who found that navigating the strong current of the Tennessee River in this area almost impossible—and paddling upstream required a great deal of “muscle.”

It is believed that prehistoric Native American tribes crossed into North America during the Ice Age and followed herds of buffalo into the Northern Alabama region. This area was settled by what became the Woodland Indians (1000 BC – 900 AD) who built several ceremonial and burial mounds in the area. The largest in the area—tucked away between the local farmers co-op and the scrap metal yard—holds artifacts dating back over 10,000 years. I’ve been told that this holy site is believed by many to be part of a chain of important spiritual points in North America and has been visited by holy people of many different tribes across North and South America. Our friend Tom Hendrix’ wall is a living testament to the spiritual nature of our ancient Indian community.

Continue reading

REAL WOMEN: SOLA

Do you remember your first day of school? I don’t remember the actual day, but I do have photos of myself, standing outside my first grade classroom, smiling, wearing a plaid dress and knee socks. I do remember my children’s first school days—the nervous excitement they showed and the bittersweet pride I felt at witnessing this important milestone. While I don’t take those moments for granted, there was never a doubt that those moments would come. It’s common now to see Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram light up with school photos that document every moment of our children’s educational lives. A few months ago, I received an email from an old friend that provided some much-needed perspective.

The email offered a link to a Ted Talk by a woman named Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder of SOLA—Afghanistan’s first all-girl boarding school. The word “sola” means “peace” in the Pashto language, but it is also an acronym for School of Leadership, Afghanistan. Shabana was 6 years old when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and made it illegal for girls to go to school. So, for five years, her family dressed her as a boy and sent her to a secret school to learn. Even at this young age, she understood the risks that she—and her parents—were undertaking. She would walk for 30 minutes, even an hour, to schools. The locations would move, and she would walk different paths each day; sometimes class would take place in the morning and other times in the afternoon.

REAL WOMEN: SOLA

Continue reading

TRAVEL: IVY GREEN + HELEN KELLER

This post is the first of our new travel series; look for side trips (and side bars) on your way to and from The Factory—and from here to there. With this series, you’ll find some history, a bit of folk art, good diners, great bars and splendid adventures. Pack your bag, plan your road trip, and come for a visit.

xoNatalie

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

The South loves to claim people as our own. Just as many northern and coastal cities proudly label every barn and bedroom where George Washington supposedly slept, we are equally proud of our musicians’, artists’, and politicians’ southern roots. In fact, Mississippi-born Elvis Presley has no fewer than 5 “homes” across the region. Many visitors are surprised to learn that The Shoals houses the birthplace and childhood home of blind and deaf activist, thinker, writer, lecturer, and philanthropist, Helen Keller.

The Keller home, known as Ivy Green, sits on a quiet lot on North Commons street in West Tuscumbia. Initially, the 1820 Virginia-cottage style house sat on a 640-acre parcel next to a small bridal cottage, also known as the birthplace cottage and school house. The property, now only 10 acres, enshrines the life of the extraordinary woman who broke through the restraints of her physical limitations to become one of the most astonishing women of the early twentieth century.

The entire estate has such presence. The moment you step foot on the property, you immediately want to sense the place the way Helen Keller did. You close your eyes; you hear the wind through the giant trees, the sticky dew evaporating in the morning sun, the smell of early autumn and a tingle in the nose give hints at the way she may have known Ivy Green. It’s hard not to touch everything knowing it was all touched by Helen Keller.

TRAVEL: IVY GREEN + HELEN KELLER

Continue reading

HEIRLOOM #5: PEGGY LOUISE’S CLOCK

Through our Journal’s Heirloom series, we’ve been exploring the things we value and why we hold them dear. Each story reveals the value of tradition and honors possessions that were made to last. While these items may not be valuable to the world-at-large, to the owner they are priceless.

This week, Kasey, our Production Coordinator for the Alabama Chanin collection shares memories of the clock she inherited from her grandmother.

From Kasey:

My grandmother, Peggy Louise, was a mother of 6, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of 17 – and she somehow knew how to make each of us feel special. The time we spent together was filled with food, stories, and – above all – laughter.

Continue reading

THE HEART: MAGGIE CRISLER

Over the last several years, The Factory has expanded in leaps and bounds and the Alabama Chanin team has grown to keep in-step. Working in a creative industry, it takes a while to find the perfect mix; some people must be true creatives, while other jobs require a tactical mind. It is special when you find someone with both a free-spirited artistic mind and a love of logic, puzzles, and problem solving. Luckily, we found just that someone in Maggie Crisler.

Maggie works as a graphic designer, but also has a hand in managing inventory and works in the dye house. (See: a Jill-of-all-trades.) She came to us, as do many of our team members, through word of mouth. Back in 2012, our Director of Design, Olivia Sherif, mentioned to friends that we were looking for someone with a flexible schedule and some fabric cutting and sewing experience to work part time in our production department. Maggie volunteered herself and began working for us just before Christmas of that year. Her talents for illustrations and graphic design became quickly evident, so she was promoted to a full-time member of our media team.

THE HEART: MAGGIE CRISLER

Continue reading

THE HEART: JULIEN ARCHER

I met Julien Archer when he was only sixteen, in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. I was leading a workshop at the Visual Arts Center there. He was a creative and enterprising sophomore in high school who had already started a screen-printing business (and had designed shirts for the venue where we were holding the event).  A few years later, I was reintroduced to Julien at our first Makeshift event in New York City. He was living there at the time and expressed that he was ready for a change. So, I laughingly replied, “Move to Alabama!”

The two of us kept in touch and, several months later, he attended a Studio Weekend workshop at The Factory with his mother (and sometimes Alabama Chanin Trunk Show hostess). During that weekend, I had dinner with the two of them and offered Julien a three-month apprenticeship here in Alabama. Surprisingly, he accepted and – two years later – he is still here. A prolific member of our design team, he also works as a pattern maker and helps manage operations at Building 14.

Continue reading

THE HEART: ROBERT RAUSCH

You may have read recently about dear friend, advisor, and co-worker, Jennifer Rausch. As I recounted then, I have known Jennifer and her husband, Robert, since returning to Alabama. After moving home from New York (and after years abroad), I felt a little shy and out of place in my own hometown. It was a relief when Robert reached out to me, seeking artistic alliances. We were both looking for a relaxed camaraderie—someone to relate to in a somewhat unfamiliar world. After years of friendship and collaboration, we have Southern roots, design, sustainability, and family in common.

In those early days, Robert approached me and asked if I would speak to his university photography class about living and working as a fashion and photography stylist. Shortly thereafter, we became fast friends. It wasn’t long before Robert was helping me with projects for my first company. And since those early days, he has been a part of designing and creating images and photographs for the Alabama Chanin website, catalogs, the Studio Book series, and any number of other materials. We have co-hosted dinners, picnics, and events together over the years. We have raised kids, shared a dog, and talked design.

In 2002, Robert bought and restored a historic building in our community, which is now called GAS Design Center. He shares a deep love of sustainability and healthy living and this was evident in his approach to renovating the space and building the business. Every reusable board was repurposed and natural elements were invited in whenever possible. Natural light is perfectly harnessed in the GAS photography studio, to often-breathtaking effects. In fact, our first Alabama Chanin Workshop was held in Robert’s repurposed space—a comfortable place to launch what was then an intimidating venture for Alabama Chanin.

GAS-STUDIO

Continue reading

THE HEART: CARRA-ELLEN RUSSELL

If you have purchased an Alabama Chanin garment or DIY kit in the last year or so, there is a chance that the fabric in your hands was also touched by Carra-ellen Russell. Carra-ellen is our Production Manager and is present at the beginning of most of the things that we make; she starts each garment and kit on its journey by cutting them and passing them along to the next phase. Pieces come back to her once they have been painted, where she helps package them with the proper notions and supplies to be given to one of our stitchers or to be shipped as a DIY kit.

Carra-ellen came to us about a year-and-a-half ago, through the suggestion of our Director of Design and Special Services, Olivia. As we were growing and looking for well-organized team members, Olivia reached out to her friend, asking her to apply to be part of our production staff. Her transition into our staff happened quite naturally after that; she says that working at The Factory was meant to be.

Continue reading

CO-WORKERS

Each morning, when the rising sun (or my daughter) wakes me and I open my eyes, I begin to go over my plan for the day. This is a treasured time. Some days, I can’t wait to get going and the day’s tasks are joyous and fruitful; other days, work just feels like…work. Last summer, as I was writing a vision plan for Alabama Chanin, it became evident that having a solid team in place – a team that had the talent and the desire to carry out that vision – would be essential. Now, when I look around, I see that our team members are creating strong relationships that are enhancing our work environment and also enriching their personal lives.

History shows that workplace teams spark one another’s creativity and create long-lasting work. Colleagues Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind the fashion label Rodarte, create some of the most original pieces each season. The New Yorker wrote that, though they have their differences, the sisters “act like a single organism,” which speaks to their specific communication skills. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, known by music lovers as “The Swampers”, created such a successful working relationship that they became business partners and founded a storied recording studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important American designers of the last century. He studied architecture; she studied painting and sculpting; together they not only influenced the rise of modernism, but developed innovative ways of using materials and were champions of computer technology in design.

COWORKERS-01---Photographer-Rinne-Allen

Continue reading

HEIRLOOM #1: GRAM PERKINS’ BLANKET

Alabama Chanin has always aimed to make products that will last a lifetime – even multiple lifetimes. We create things that are both beautiful and durable and we embrace the ideas of Slow Design. But, once upon a time, Slow Design did not exist as a theory or a process; rather, it was simply how things were made. Those that were fluent in “The Living Arts” knew how to make things – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – and they didn’t want to make them more than once, unless they had to. Durability was necessity. Craftsmen and women were born out of requirement. But, often those craftsmen became so skilled that their products were, quite simply, art. Their creations that remain behind and are passed along—heirlooms—still hold meaning.

For some, the word “heirloom” brings to mind a valuable painting or, perhaps, an antique necklace. Certainly both of those things qualify; but, as part of a new series on the Journal, we want to highlight some of our own personal heirlooms – things that are valuable to us on a personal level, regardless of their financial value. As always, we want to celebrate the things that last, the things that we choose to keep in our lives, the things that we assign meaning to, on a personal level.

From Natalie:

The blanket above rested on an upstairs bed at my Grandmother Perkins’s—called Gram Perkins—house for as long as I can remember. In my mind, it belonged to my uncle, but I’m not absolutely sure. The upstairs of my grandparents’ home was completed when my mother was already in high school (although they had lived in the house for many years, starting in the basement and building up as they could afford).  In the upstairs, there were rooms for each of the four children. The older children were already in college by the time it was finished, so my uncle, the youngest sibling, spent the most time in the space and, though all of the bedrooms were filled with things, his room felt the least “empty.”

Continue reading

THE HEART: JENNIFER RAUSCH

Shortly after my move from New York to Alabama, I was sitting alone at our local Italian restaurant, reading magazines. After a while, a couple who’d been sitting across the room approached and introduced themselves to me. That couple, Jennifer and Robert Rausch, quickly became fixtures in my life; they’ve remained integral members of my Alabama family since that day.

These days, you can find Jennifer overseeing the day-to-day operations of the new flagship store and café at The Factory. She agreed to work with us at just the right time. The company was growing and I needed someone I could trust to help me make decisions that were thoughtful and confident. Growing a company can make one feel vulnerable; having an old friend there for support (especially one with an incredible work ethic) put me a bit more at ease.

She moves effortlessly between tasks and has a real desire to connect with everyone who walks through our door. This genuine approach, coupled with her wicked, infectious laugh, drew me to her initially and continues to make me smile, calm me, and draw me out of my shell when I become too introspective. She is practical and doesn’t hesitate to offer her opinion, even to play devil’s advocate in tough situations.

Continue reading

THE LIBRARY (PART 2)

My love of books is no secret. I still have a decades-old public library card, probably obtained when I was about 8 or 9, printed on card stock and housed in a small, paper envelope. It was one of my most prized possessions as a child. Today’s library cards can be scanned and swiped, but obtaining one is still an important rite of passage for so many.

In the past, we’ve explored the emotional responses that a love for books and for libraries can elicit from anyone who shares that same admiration. Our local library, the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, is a wonderful example of how a brick and mortar building can grow into a community of sorts, adapting to meet the needs of the public at-large, and embracing new technologies while reinforcing the importance of learning. This library, like many modern public libraries, has special initiatives geared toward younger children and teens, but also has a strong local history and genealogical research team. They are creating interactive experiences for the community through classes, meet-ups, and year-round programs. I am proud to see what an important part of our community the public library remains.

Continue reading

2013: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Looking back at what we have accomplished this year at Alabama Chanin, I feel nothing short of overwhelmed. With the help of many friends, Alabama Chanin has grown in ways I only imagined. Our company is the best it has ever been, and will only get better. Over the summer, and on the heels of Camp Bacon at Zingerman’s, I wrote a 10 year vision for the company—a peek into what I wanted for the future of our family of businesses. Many of the things I envisioned happening years from now were accomplished by this year’s end, with much hard work, dedication, occasional pains of labor, trial and error, and the true grit and determination of our team. All this growth and success doesn’t come from nowhere, after all.

It is hard to believe that so much has happened in the past year. While we are busy wrapping up our year-end Inventory Sale here at The Factory, it is nice to take the time to reflect on all the projects, people, and places we have experienced in just twelve incredible months.

YEAR-END-2W

Continue reading

HOLIDAY MARKET + THE FACTORY CAFÉ

“We are happy when we are growing.”
– William Butler Yeats

The Factory has been home to the Alabama Chanin design and production studio since 2008 and over the years has hosted workshops, events, and dinners. The space is filled with books, music, and the hum of making. Now, we are expanding The Factory to include a full-service café, serve as Workshop headquarters, and house the Alabama Chanin store.

HOLIDAY MARKET + THE FACTORY CAFE

Continue reading

PUMPKIN CARVING

Pumpkin carving has a deep-rooted history in American culture. As a child, my family always used the butcher knife/three-triangles-and-a-mouth method. Today, there are specialized carving tools available from a range of sources. Martha Stewart, a lover of all things Halloween, has brought pumpkin carving to a new level, offering creative designs and techniques. Meanwhile, Maggie’s dad, Butch, looks for the strangest pumpkins available and stacks them in towering sculptures before Halloween, and then plants rows and rows of the leftover seeds in his garden after the holiday.

PUMPKIN CARVING

Continue reading

THE HEART: THE FACTORY

If you visit our studio here in Alabama, you will arrive to find that we are housed in a sturdy, industrial-style, metal building which we call “The Factory.” Our community was, for generations, home to textile mills that employed an incredible number of area residents. This industrial building where we work and spend hours of our lives has seen thousands of workers pass through the doors over the years; it has heard the hum of machines running and the voices and laughter of employees passing the day away. This building is part of Alabama Chanin’s history, but, more importantly, it is part of our community’s history—a symbol of economic boom, hard times, and community rebuilding.

THE HEART: THE FACTORY

Continue reading

RECIPE FOR A WELL-LOVED DRESS

We frequently talk about the heirloom aspect of our hand-made clothing, the timeless design and lasting quality that allows for an Alabama Chanin garment to be worn for years and, in some cases, passed along to a younger family member. While we know this to be true, we don’t often have the opportunity to witness a specific garment change and evolve over time. Perhaps a perfect example: my daughter, Maggie has been wearing the above dress for five years (and counting).

The dress was made for her, cut from an oliver + s pattern, when she was a curly headed, cherub-faced two year old. Made with our organic cotton jersey in Butter and Natural, the dress has been through about a million washes and worn on too many occasions to count. It’s been stained, ripped, appliquéd (to cover the rips), and dyed blue (to cover the stains). No longer a dress but a summer top, she will not give it up.

RECIPE FOR A WELL-LOVED DRESS

Continue reading

9/11

As the Alabama Chanin team rushes around Manhattan with our new collection during New York Fashion Week, it is impossible not to remember this day twelve years ago. Twelve years of healing is not long enough. For most of us, this day will remain very personal for the rest of our lives. And yet, a dozen years is time enough for a new generation to grow up largely uninformed or dispassionate, if only because our reality has become a story to them, a tale, the way Pearl Harbor has become, to many, a history lesson and a bank holiday.

However, we will always remember those who perished that day, those who lost friends and loved ones, and all of the heroes who saved lives and found the humanity in recovery efforts. We recall the pain, but also the national pride as we joined together in silence and exercised resilience. We take the PeaceBuilders Pledge (again) with the continued hope that there will be an end to war and hate-driven tragedies in America and across the world.

Many of us on the Alabama Chanin team have lived in Manhattan. Some of us watched the towers burn from a few blocks away. Others arrived years later to a changed city skyline. But, no matter where each of us lived on that day, and since, we have watched America change. For so many, New York represents an opportunity for growth and transcendence. This day is a moment to remember compassion, love, and gratitude.

 

THE LIBRARY

I told someone the other day, “Books saved my life when I was growing up.”  And they did. I have spent days/weeks/years with my nose in books and, consequently, in libraries. As a designer, I find inspiration, and sometimes escape, inside of a library; as a business owner, I find critical information that has helped me grow who we are as a business and who I am as an entrepreneur. As Alabama Chanin (and my skill as a designer) has grown, so has my personal library (just ask our accountant). I have stopped dating certain men because of the absence of a library in their life, and my daughter believes the library is part of her own living room.

Ask almost anyone to describe their feelings about libraries and each person you speak to has a vivid memory of their own childhood library. I’m sure part of the reason for this is that, once upon a time, there were fewer ways to occupy yourself as a young person, and you had to actually check out a book to read it. An actual book – something that had weight, and pages you could turn, and needed bookmarks to hold your place. Ask someone about their smart phone or their Kindle and they will probably tell you how much they love it, how convenient it is, or how many features it has. Ask someone about a book, about a library, and people will tell you their memories.

THE LIBRARY

Continue reading

DIY MACHINE MANUFACTURING (IN ALABAMA)

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

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

DIY MANUFACTURING IN ALABAMA

Continue reading

WHITE OAK PASTURES

Cows were born to roam and graze. Hogs were born to root and wallow. Chickens were born to scratch and peck. According to Will Harris and White Oak Pastures, these are the natural behaviors of animals, making them commonsense tenets of how to raise healthy livestock. “Nature abhors a monoculture,” is one of Will’s favorite sayings.

Five generations of Harrises have farmed a tract of land in Georgia that now raises livestock using traditional, multi-species grazing rotation, no hormones and no antibiotics. But, business was not always done this way. Post WWII, the Harris family farm moved away from the traditional ways of doing things and began raising livestock using more chemicals and fertilizers and blending into the industrialized complex of food production. In the mid-90’s, Will Harris, the current head of White Oak Pastures, made what some called a foolish decision to bring the family farm full circle: moving back to the traditional ways of natural grazing, healthy animals, and respectful butchering.

WHITE OAK PASTURES

Continue reading

ZKANO ORGANIC SOCKS (AND A DIY PROJECT)

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

Zkano Knee Socks

Continue reading

AFTER THE PLAYBOYS

Last weekend we hosted the Texas Playboys from Austin, Texas. The baseball club made up of artists, architects, musicians, photographers and entrepreneurs joined us for a weekend of great music, food, cocktails, and baseball. We were thrilled and honored they voted to visit Florence, Alabama for this year’s travel game (see ballot above) and flattered they challenged our not-too-shabby Billy Reid + Alabama Chanin team in Barnstorm2013.

AFTER THE PLAYBOYS - Photography by Abraham Rowe

Continue reading

DIY LEARNING

There are a growing number of programs tailored to adults in the workforce who want to advance their careers or earn a degree. These days, it’s not unheard of for someone to earn their bachelor’s or master’s degree online. There are also entirely new platforms emerging, called MOOCs, or massive open online courses. The expectation is that these new platforms for learning are going to change online learning, opening up opportunities to those who thought they’d never have the chance to further their education. While many of these courses offer no credits, the demand for them isn’t waning. People are looking for outlets to learn – simply for the sake of personal growth.

The trend is expanding into fields outside of higher education. Google search or visit YouTube and you will find an incredible number of courses in all imaginable subjects. Some courses are free; others require a fee or subscription. Still, the possibility of learning something – a skill, a subject, a language – all in your living room has a certain appeal to those of us who can’t imagine the thought of sitting in a classroom again. These classes can be taken on your time, fit between loads of laundry or after the kids have gone to bed. This time, it’s perfectly acceptable to go to class in your pajamas.

DIY LEARNING

Continue reading

GIVING THANKS

Those of you who are frequent visitors to our blog may have read about the incredible Tom Hendrix and his beautiful tribute to his great-grandmother, The Wichahpi Commemorative Wall (known around here as simply, The Wall). Tom not only built an incredible monument for his great-grandmother, but he also took the time to tell her story in his book, If the Legends Fade. All proceeds from his book benefit his great-grandmother’s people, the Yuchi Nation.

All of us here at Alabama Chanin spent some days in the last months in a cotton field, picking our organic cotton. The work is difficult, repetitive, and, at the same time beautiful in that it brings out a meditative state. Though I was hot and tired in the field, I felt a stillness much like what I’ve experienced at The Wall.  While cotton is much lighter than stone, I think I understand Tom’s mission in a way I never did before. Slowing down and being conscious of your actions can be a way to honor the past. So often we are swept up in modern convenience that it is almost impossible to appreciate the struggles our ancestors endured.

Tom, his vision, and his actions constantly inspire me. I hope that, like each stone that he places on The Wall, our work is part of something larger. I hope that our efforts create beautiful and sustainable things, while honoring those that came before us.

Many years ago, a Yuchi woman inspired Mr. Hendrix to begin this wall, saying, “One step at a time, one stone at a time. Lay a stone for every step she made…We shall pass this earth. Only the stones will remain.”

Like our ancestors, we, too, shall pass this earth. What will we leave behind?

May we each spend some time today pondering what we are thankful for and what we want to leave behind.

Giving thanks for all of you…
From all of us @ Alabama Chanin

COTTON PICKING PARTY + FIELD DAY

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

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

Trinity, Alabama 35673


ORGANIC COTTON + BARBEQUE PICKING

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

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

Continue reading

ALABAMA CHANIN AND BILLY REID COTTON PICKING PARTY + FIELD DAY

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

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

THE HEART: MADE IN AMERICA

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

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

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

Continue reading

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

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

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

xoNatalie

Continue reading

THE HEART: AUTUMN EQUINOX

When you are raised in a community with a large farming population, the seasons take on a deeper meaning than a simple change in temperature. It is true that for agriculture, to everything there is a season –every vegetable has a growing season, every time of the year has beautiful moments and challenges to overcome. For most families tied to the land – much like the earliest humans – the sky is a clock and a calendar; the sun’s path across the sky, the length of each day, the location of sunrise and sunset – these things are actual signs of things to come and preparations that must be made. So, the upcoming Autumn Equinox will be a time of reflection upon the year’s successes and failures and a moment of celebration of the harvest cycle.

There are two equinoxes each year – one in March and the second in September. Technically, these are the days when the sun shines directly upon the Earth’s equator and the length of the day and the night is roughly equal. The Autumn equinox symbolically marks the beginning of autumn and the end of summer. From this moment, temperatures typically drop and the days begin to get shorter than the evenings. The sun begins its shift toward the south and the birds and butterflies follow it in their migrations. For us, September and October mean that it’s time for broccoli, greens, root vegetables, and apples. It also means that summer crops should have been stored and put up for the coming winter.

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Lisa

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

Hello,

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

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

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

Thank you. Continue reading

THE HEART: THE CHRONOLOGY OF OUR COTTON FIELD

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

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

Continue reading

STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/4/12

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

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

Continue reading

STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/3/12

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

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

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

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

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

Love always,
Lisa
(Poet Laureate of Cotton)

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

Continue reading

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

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

Love you guys,
Lisa

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

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

 

Continue reading

THE HEART: COTTON UPDATE + JIMMY AND LISA

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

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

Continue reading

THE HEART: ARTISAN NATURAL DYEWORKS

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.

Continue reading

THE SEWING TABLE

Alabama Chanin is a celebration of deep Southern roots merged with contemporary style. As a company, we strive to connect to those roots by integrating age-old skills and techniques into our current work. Along the way, we have made new connections, created relationships with friends and pieces  that play a role in our story. There are those that have been with us from the beginning and others that have come and gone, but one thing remains constant, they stay with us through memories.

We have the ability to link objects and feelings to those memories; a lifetime of emotion can be evoked from a single touch or sighting. Maybe your grandmother’s wood-handled kitchen knife brings back memories of your education in chopping vegetables without losing a finger. Or perhaps your mother’s overflowing recipe book holds all of the secrets needed to prepare for your very first dinner party. The rocking chair you built with your grandfather holds a feeling of accomplishment within its structure.

Continue reading

THE HEART: ERIN STEPHENSON

If you’ve called or stopped by the studio lately, perhaps you’ve met one of our newest team members, Erin Stephenson. Erin has her hand in many pots here these days, doing everything from writing, to graphic design, to closely monitoring our organic cotton crops. Her ability to seamlessly handle multiple projects makes her an excellent fit here at Alabama Chanin – since all of us have to pitch in to keep the place running, frocks sewn, and fabrics shipped.

I met Erin at a lecture at nearby Athens State University.  She’d recently returned to Athens, Alabama, from New York, where she was working after studying Architecture at Cooper Union. Erin says that, while she was living in New York, a friend attending school at the Fashion Institute of Technology showed her one of our books – and she was shocked and proud to find that the author was from her own community.

The lecture in Athens was on a rainy day, and while I believe many people stayed home because of the rain, at the last minute Erin decided to attend. Something about her story and personality urged me to invite her to an upcoming Weekend Workshop at The Factory. She took the workshop, was very quiet, watched, listened, learned, and we went our separate ways.

About the same time, without my knowing, Erin started a blog, just to keep a journal of things that she was interested in, things that she made and cooked, and general “life in the south.” She wanted to find a way to explore, rediscover, and document this place where she grew up. She took up sewing as a hobby, making many of our projects. She says it was very therapeutic and calming to stitch and make.

Continue reading

REPORT FROM PENLAND: THURSDAY 7/12/12 (PORTRAITS)

I was about 22 years old when I entered my first design studio. I felt like a baby. I had rarely taken an art class in school.  When I say rarely, I mean there had been a few special days of art in grade school – nothing particularly formal, and certainly nothing recent. At that time, I didn’t think that I KNEW how to make. In that moment, those grade school classes and the lessons of my grandmothers in living arts didn’t seem to matter; I was scared of the entire process and frozen. The freedom that seemed to stretch before me was too much for my young mind to handle.  As a young adult, my best friend was a budding artist. I remember her beautiful drawings so clearly and I began to think that that art was fascinating, but something that OTHER people did. Prints of Pinkie and The Blue Boy in gold foil frames, purchased at the local furniture store, were the only “art” that hung in our home.

Continue reading

OUR COTTON FIELD + AN ALABAMA DROUGHT

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

Continue reading

THE HEART: TNT FIREWORKS

Once home to Tee Jays Manufacturing Co., the industrial park where our studio – which we call ‘The Factory’- is located, is also home to many other manufacturers and distributors. Often it has been written that our community collapsed under the weight of NAFTA and the departing textile industry; however, that simply isn’t true. There are many strong companies that still find their homes here in this park on the edge of Florence and one, especially relevant to the upcoming 4th of July celebrations, is TNT Fireworks.

As Independence Day approaches, TNT’s Tommy Glasco took time from his busy schedule to talk about the company and their work. Founded in the late 1950s by Charles Anderson, TNT evolved from a former company called Alabama Sparkler. Anderson, founder of a successful book and magazine business, was seeking to sell seasonal products as a way of expanding his business. Fireworks were a successful fit. Over the years, TNT has become the largest distributor of consumer fireworks in the nation, possibly the world; however, they continue to maintain strong local roots.

Continue reading

BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY

I’ve always been a little obsessed with parades. I scoured the internet trying to find out where parades originated, or why. What I’ve found is this: nobody knows. There are cave drawings from over ten thousand years ago that depict prehistoric men marching wild game home to cook in a wild and celebratory manner. Perhaps it is human nature – a group of people with a common cause just tend to rally around one another and rejoice.

When you think about the concept of people, musicians, floats, horses, waving pageant queens – it seems as though one would be overwhelmed at having every sense stimulated all at once. But, I’m not.

Continue reading

THE HEART: UPDATES FROM THE FIELD

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

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

Continue reading

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

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

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

Continue reading

THE HEART: 12 FOR LIFE

Thanks to Ari Weinzweig at Zingerman’s, I have been working on a “Vision of Greatness” for Alabama Chanin over the last few months (well, closer to a year to be more exact).  However, over the last few weeks, I feel that I made real progress and worked out a growth chart and mission statement that is a good fit for both me and for our staff (more on that soon).  Part of our Alabama Chanin growth mission includes committing ourselves to education on all levels and to finding even more ways to give back to our community.

Last month, we found a company – just around the corner from our own factory – who is doing just that.

Continue reading

THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON Q&A WITH LYNDA GROSE

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

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

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

THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON SEEDS

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

Continue reading

THE HEART: RICK BRAGG AND “THE CHOICE”

When I returned to Alabama over a decade ago to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin, I had NO IDEA that this simple project would surround me with stories of cotton, mill work, and, quite honestly, the history of the small community where I grew up. This blog is proof to the fact that I am STILL learning – each and every day.

While researching the post about Sweetwater Mills and reading William McDonald’s books a few weeks back, I came across Rick Bragg’s book, The Most They Ever Had. As an avid reader and, quite honestly, a Rick Bragg fan, I was surprised that I’d never read this book before. I have followed his work for years: from Anniston, Alabama, to The New York Times, through all the novels, the Pulitzer, to the controversy surrounding his departure from the Times. (Full disclosure, I know some of the parties attached to The New York Times scandal and have a few thoughts on that myself – we will save that for a later day or a face-to-face conversation.)

Continue reading

THE HEART: BETTER JOYS

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

THE HEART: ORGANIC COTTON

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

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

THE HEART: A HISTORY OF TEXTILES (+ COMMUNITY)

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

THE HEART: OLIVIA SHERIF

Sometimes, the hectic nature of running Alabama Chanin makes me feel that we are all running at a frantic pace. I’ll be answering a ringing phone, hurriedly returning emails, picking up Maggie from school – then, I’ll glance up and notice that our Production Department is completely calm. They are moving fluidly along, peacefully and happily making, sewing, cutting, doing. This serene productivity comes to us through our Studio Directress, Diane Hall, and now, Olivia Sherif, who is following in Diane’s footsteps.

Olivia came to Alabama Chanin at just the right time and set about making herself indispensable almost immediately. You see, when Diane turned in her five-year notice, I experienced a not-so-slight panic (along with a few tears). Continue reading

THE HEART: JUNE FLOWERS-STEADMAN

Those of you who have visited The Factory, attended a workshop, or simply called the Alabama Chanin office have likely had the opportunity to meet or speak with our Project and Event Coordinator, June Flowers-Stedman. June is an incredibly memorable individual – she has lightning-fast wit, a sultry, knowing voice, and a unique way of making everyone feel special. If you’ve encountered June – or read one of her posts – you remember her.

I first met June in 2010 through my son, Zach. I remember hearing about his friend, Brandy June, and listening to him laugh when recalling stories of her. June was a student at the local university, studying in the Fashion Merchandising department. I didn’t know this at the time, but she attended a lecture that I gave there, which set in motion our inevitable course collision. June had in mind to attend one of our local weekend workshops; her approach was unique and memorable:

Continue reading

SARA’S LIVING ARTS

When I began work at Alabama Chanin almost 10 years ago, I had no concept of what the company did or what it would eventually mean to me. I walked into my interview in my only suit, having answered an advertisement in the paper. As soon as I found out what the company did, I broke into a cold sweat.

Luckily for me, they hired me. As I worked each day at my computer, I would glance over at the beautiful garments being produced with a jealous eye. I wanted to know how to make things as amazing as these. But I didn’t know how.

Natalie has often talked about the importance of preserving the “living arts,” those things that are essential to our survival – things that we as a society have forgotten or simply chosen not to learn. I was a perfect example of the person who never learned these skills.

My mother cooked family dinners, but she worked hard all day and it sometimes seemed a joyless task for her. She could make delicious meals, but after a day’s work it was often a chore. I was always fascinated to watch my paternal grandmother – a former cafeteria cook – craft large, luscious meals. I would watch pots bubble on the stove all day, their contents creating amazing smells. She was happy as she stirred those sauces or rolled out her biscuits; there was real joy and pride there. I wanted to understand it.

Continue reading

THE HEART: STONE TALKER

I used to go sit at Tom Hendrix’ wall to think, particularly on days when I thought I couldn’t take running my business anymore. I would ask Mr. Hendrix over and over again, “Where do you find the passion and will to continue creating 25, 26, 27 years into your work?” He would patiently listen to me, laugh, and tell me to go sit in the prayer circle.  It always worked.  Eventually the wall came to change my entire life – but that is a story for later. Come back in a few weeks to read the rest. This is the story of “The Wall,” as I know it.

Continue reading

THE HEART: TERRY WYLIE

Most of you who follow this blog know that when I returned to Alabama in 2000, I didn’t have a grand plan to build the company that is now Alabama Chanin. Any plans I may have had seemed to fall away into something far larger than I ever anticipated. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in such a position and I readily admit that, at times, I was incredibly overwhelmed. However, as the initial “project” morphed into a business, I learned how to run it on the fly – one day at a time. I have often said that I am not a quick learner, but I finally realized that my community has such a wealth of knowledge as to the workings of cotton AND manufacturing. These two things had been part of the vernacular of this community for a century. So while it took time for me to understand, I finally realized I just needed to “go to the well” to draw upon that information. Here in Florence, Alabama, that “well” was Terry Wylie.

 

Continue reading

2011 – A REVIEW

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

Continue reading

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ALL OF US @ ALABAMA CHANIN

The holidays have snuck up on us once again. It seems that so often we rush through the year and then into the holidays while forgetting to enjoy the beauty of the season. These days, as we all prepare for parties, enormous dinners, and the giving of gifts, I hope that we also find comfort in tradition, the simplicity of family, and in our own unique ways of celebrating. My wish is the same for our Alabama Chanin family. As we prepare to leave for the holidays (we will be closed on Monday), we leave you with a few stories, favorite memories, pictures, traditions, and things we cherish about this time of year.

Continue reading

THE HEART: SARA MARTIN

If you have been able to read this blog without finding a comma splice and with only an occasional misspelled word, this is because of Sara Martin. Sara came to work with our company when she was a baby – not that she really was, it just felt that way back in 2003 when she started. She brought computer skills, writing skills, a sense of humor and a willingness to do anything; she also brought her own tools to cut plywood to grace my newly purchased shelves, inventoried and organized my reference library, made systems, and generally kept us straight.

Continue reading

THE HEART: APRIL MORGAN

I arrived in Alabama from New York on December 23rd, 2000, to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin.

When I was writing the proposal for the project, I called my aunt Elaine to ask if she might help me find a house to rent near her, in the community where my grandparents had been raised. She had just moved back herself, after years of living and working abroad and I thought – who better to help?

My aunt was living in my maternal grandparents’ home. As a newborn baby, I was brought home to this house. It has been the only constant in my life since my birth. Growing up, I spend a LOT of time with my grandparents and knew their land like the back of my hand.

Continue reading

THE HEART: DIANE HALL

When introducing guests to our office staff, I always have to stop and take a breath at Diane Hall.  Over the years, she has just become so much to me and to all of our staff.  Like Steven, she has held just about every imaginable job and done or touched just about every task we have in the entire studio – except for accounting. Her current title is Studio Directress, a term that I love since her heart and soul are at the very center of our studio; however, her usual introduction goes like this: “Please meet Diane, our Studio Directress, master seamstress, patternmaker, friend, mother, sister, and company ethicist.” Diane is the person that I always consult when I have a question on ethics. Her kind heart and fair spirit can always see straight through a situation and can usually find an equitable solution for everyone involved.  She is the sort of person that summons kindness in all of those around her.

Continue reading

THE HEART: STEVEN SMITH

About a year after beginning my work with what is now Alabama Chanin, I was managing the company operations in Alabama with one employee, Abbie (after whom our “Abbie’s Flower” stencil is named).

We were still working in the little three bedroom brick ranch house at Lovelace Crossroads.  I was actually living in one side of the house and running the design and production out of the other side of the house.  And when I say running, I really mean undertaking the whole production. I spent my days sorting and washing t-shirts, cutting garments for orders, stenciling them, packing them for sewing and sending them out to our sewers – all of this with a head-set permanently in place for the constantly ringing phone.  At that moment, I could barely keep up with all of the artisans that wanted to sew, communicate with customers and still manage the production deliveries.

April, one of our very first sewers (and soon to be highlighted here), kept saying to me that she knew this man named Steven who would be perfect to help me. For whatever reason, it seems that I never found time to get him into the office.  He finally arrived one gray December day wearing a suit and his University of North Alabama football ring. I was in my Alabama t-shirt, skirt and a work belt made from a pair of old jeans.  He seemed like a gift from heaven and I asked him if he wanted to “go home, change clothes and come back to work.” I remember him smiling and answering that maybe he could “start tomorrow?” He reminded me recently that he was our “1st Male Employee.”

(The photos above are from an older catalog where Steven was also our model.)

Almost a decade later, Steven has attended to just about every task necessary to the running of Alabama Chanin, save for designing the collection and creating patterns (but who knows what the future holds). Approximately 97% of all in-house calls will end up transferred to his office or placed on hold while someone asks him a question. Today, Steven works primarily as our production manager, artisan coordinator, and in-house accountant – although he is still seen in the painting room, packing boxes, and occasionally sweeping the floor. He got his accounting degree (with almost perfect grades) from the local university during our transition from Project Alabama to Alabama Chanin and has never looked back.

A family man with a wife and two sons aged 15 and 4, Steven began working in the textile industry in 1995, just a year before marrying his college sweetheart. Although he’s usually one of the first to arrive at our studio, he occasionally slips out a little early to attend his son’s high school golf tournaments or sporting events with his family (we’re certain his oldest is headed for stardom and that his younger son will follow suit). Steven was a high-school football player, worked with his college team, and is still enamored with the game.  He is rarely spotted without a University of Alabama baseball cap. In fact, we wouldn’t find a single photo of Steven that didn’t picture him sporting one of these hats. We know that he has at least two versions: one for every day and one for special occasions. I recommend a little football-themed small talk for those seeking his good side.

Our artisans love him, the people who come to our weekend workshops adore him, and our customers value his problem-solving skills. Steven might be the hardest working person I know: production manager, accountant, family man, and father. In fact, for a short time each summer, Steven and his son run a lawn maintenance business so that his son can also learn the value of a good day’s work.  An invaluable asset to Alabama Chanin  and to all that know him: Steven Smith – a part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.

 

 

THE HEART

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.


HOME + FAMILY


Thank you to Jamie, David and Luke for coming to Alabama to shoot this short film featuring a story from Alabama Chanin.

And to everyone at Starbucks who felt that our story deserved to be shared…

Happy holidays from our family to yours,
Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF ARTISANS

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

GOODBYE, LOVELACE CROSSROADS

After seven years of living, working, laughing, sewing and growing in this house at Lovelace Crossroads, we are moving past “The Crossroads” and on to “The Factory.”

Our new building, originally built in 1982 for Tennessee River Mills, sits in the heart of the industrial community that was a hub of textile production from 1976 to 1994, when NAFTA was signed. That textile community hung on through the year 2002, when the last vestiges of production were sold, closed down or moved overseas.

Steven, our production manager, once worked in the very room we will be occupying.

So, it is like a sweet homecoming to move up, move beyond and to finally have room to work on fabric yardages, new collections and other upcoming projects. A flagship store will be opening in The Factory very soon.

All of our contact information remains the same, only the location has been changed to incorporate our growing family:

Alabama Chanin @ The Factory
462 Lane Drive
Florence, Alabama 35630

Tel: 256.760.1090
office@alabamachanin.com

http://www.alabamachanin.com/