Alabama Chanin – Quilted Swatch – Organic Cotton Fabric Swatch – Anna_s Garden – Backstitched Quilted – Photo by Abraham Rowe January 2018
How much do you love your home town? Life might take you anywhere, but you should never forget the way back home.
Natalie “Alabama” Chanin was born and raised in Florence, Alabama. At the age of ten, she and her mom moved to Chattanooga. She has a degree in Environmental Design with a focus on industrial and craft-based textiles from North Carolina State University. After graduation, Natalie worked in the junior sportswear industry on New York’s Seventh Avenue, before moving abroad.
For the next decade, she worked as a stylist, costume designer, and filmmaker, all while traveling the globe.
She came back to her hometown of Florence, Alabama in 2000 and developed an idea to create a small line of two-hundred unique t-shirts. She decided her hometown was the only place able to envision her idea of reconstructing vintage shirts with detailed stitches, like that of a quilting stitch from the depression era. This started the development of Project Alabama, which consisted of the two-hundred limited hand-sewn and hand-mended t-shirts, and a hand-made catalogue. After taking the collection to New York City to showcase at the Hotel Chelsea, Alabama Chanin was immediately recognized by the public from department stores including Barneys New York.
Natalie documented the beginning of her journey in the short film, Stitch, which recalls the beginning mind of my documentary, Seeing Beauty Beyond Eyes published in 2017.
When I asked Natalie why she thinks that it’s so important to preserve the traditional handcrafts and support localism, she said, “For many years, my hometown and the entire northwest Alabama region was a hub for textile manufacturing. When it became cheaper to outsource this work, many in my community lost their jobs. Economically, I want to help reverse that trend by creating jobs and supporting educational programming that fosters local growth. With this, we can move forward together. In addition to traditional sustainability, there is a cultural sustainability that feels so important to me as a designer. The retention of stories and techniques that were passed down through generations of families in rural America is vital. I want to be a part of keeping those stories alive and a living part of our growing community.
Alabama Chanin was built around the concepts and values illustrated by the quilting tradition- those of craftsmanship and beauty, but also function and utility. We seek to lend modernity to age-old techniques that I and so many others learned at the hands of our mothers and grandmothers, a skill passed down from generation to generation. Florence is my hometown– where I grew up. I came back to Alabama for a simple reason: because they have the workforce that understands how to make the things that I want to make– and to make them well. Those skills and the idea of building a strong community are central to Alabama Chanin at its core. Our community has embraced us and I believe them to be one of our strongest resources.”
這裡是Alabama Chanin主店The Factory的入口以及從前廠房的境況。 This is the entrance to The Factory, Alabama Chanin’s flagship store. You can also see from here the conditions of the old factory.
T: Toby Crispy N: Natalie Chanin, founder of Alabama Chanin
N：Tee Jays Manufacturing Co. was a worldwide, vertical cotton t-shirt production facility and one of the largest employers in our community. The Wylie family founded Tee Jays in 1976 and has devoted many decades and lifelong careers to cotton manufacturing. Terry Wylie, our beloved friend and knowledgeable business mentor, still owns the building and continues to serve our community with his support and passion for seed-to-shelf manufacturing.
Alabama Cotton Project – Photo by Rinne Allen, November 2012
All the garments from Alabama Chanin are made with either organic or recycled materials by the hand of local artisans. The company employs local women aged twenty to seventy, to help sew one-of-a-kind, handmade garments, preserving the region’s dwindling tradition of quilting. Certified organic cotton jersey is sourced from select Texas farmers, then sent to North Carolina to be spun into thread, and then knitted in South Carolina before either returning to North Carolina to be dyed.
Every garment is numbered and signed by the artisan who constructs it.
The Factory Store – Fabric Library – Photo by Rinne Allen December 2017
T：What triggered you to start doing a business for slow design at the time that people didn’t really pay much attention to sustainability?
N：I began my work as a sustainable designer somewhat accidentally and long before it was called “sustainable fashion”. In my earliest days on this project, my intention was to simply make things that I wanted to wear, and this shaped my views on design. The company that has become what Alabama Chanin is today began early in 2000 with the creation of hand-sewn garments made from cotton jersey t-shirts. After I made those garments, I was shocked to remember how satisfying it felt to create something with my own two hands, and the pride that came from wearing a garment that had traceable components. I wanted to share that spirit of making with others.
For me, this has been a long process of learning how my work impacts my community and the planet as a whole. I was once involved in the fast fashion community and saw first-hand the damage it is doing to our planet and humanity. We are all only a few generations away from people who lived off and with the land. I think that moving back home to Alabama to start my business in a rural community made that connection to the community deeper, more immediate, and inspired in me the desire to become a responsible designer and maker.
We believe that designers and producers of goods have a responsibility to their consumers to provide conscientious, healthy products that will enrich, rather than detract from their lives. We strive to reduce environmental impact and make the “footprint” of a garment as minimal as humanly possible.
Studio叢書系列是有關The School of Making的DIY工具包、圖案定制、手工縫製和點綴技術、Natalie的故事等內容的資源。 The Studio Book Series is a resource with instructions for The School of Making’s DIY Kits, pattern customization, hand-sewing and embellishment techniques, stories from Natalie, and more.
自NAFTA（北美自由貿易協定） 改變了這社區的紡織工業，亦因為機器縫製的應用，反而令Alabama Chanin重新投入她們的教育，創立The School of Making，為被遺忘了的針法和機械零件研究出一套新的語言。
The School of Making正是意念交流和建構可持續性衣櫥的靈感之處。
Natalie continues to learn and to teach craft traditions, or “living arts,” using them to bridge generational, economic, and cultural gaps.
Since the signing of NAFTA changed the textile industry in the community. Because of the machine-sewn manufacturing, they’ve re-dedicated themselves to their own education, which has brought about their partnership with The School of Making Project. They have developed a new language for stitches and machine parts that have been forgotten.
The School of Making is the place to exchange ideas and the inspiration to craft a sustainable wardrobe.
來自The School of Making的模板印刷設計 Stencils from The School of Making, showcasing each stencil design
因為「零廢棄」的使命和對可持續性的承諾，廢料都會被保存起來並重新用於未來用途。這些有機棉帶可作為未來的飾物，或用來包裹The Factory的禮物。 As part of the zero-waste mission and commitment to sustainability, fabric scraps are saved and repurposed for future use. The organic cotton jersey pulls serve as trim for future projects and are used to wrap gifts at The Factory.
The Factory Cafe – Friends of the Cafe Dinner
The Factory Cafe – Photo by Abraham Rowe
T：關於Friends of The Cafe dinner series，我心中充滿幻想！為什麼會想到將精緻美食與慢時尚融合在一起？
這兩個行業都是建基於供應商、工匠、客人和社區之間的關係，我很幸運能和許多很棒的廚師、農夫和手工製作者成為朋友，尤其是Southern Foodways Alliance（南方美食聯盟） 的活躍成員，並一直珍惜機會宣揚他們的過程和工藝。在The Factory舉辦Friends of The Cafe的晚宴，使我們可以與社區以及世界分享這些社區體驗，甚或反而亦然。
T：It’s full of fantasy in my mind about the dinners featuring award-winning chefs and elevated cuisine! Where did this idea come from? And why have you chosen to blend fine-dining with slow fashion for Alabama Chanin?
N：Alabama Chanin is built on the slow philosophy, an approach that the culinary world embraced and popularized early on. I’ve always felt close ties to slow food and slow fashion, and believe that the slow food movement helped pave the way in showing others outside their industry how beneficial and productive this approach can be. The credo of “Good, Clean and Fair” comes from Slow Food International.
Both industries are built up by the relationships upon which they are founded– suppliers, artisans, guests, and community. I’m fortunate to have befriended many incredible chefs, farmers, and artisanal makers, especially as an active member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and have always treasured the opportunity to celebrate their process and craft. Hosting the Friends of the Cafe Dinners at The Factory allows us to share this experience with our community and, vice versa, our community with the world.
Florence Face Mask – Photo by Robert Rausch August 2020
Alabama Chanin welcomed their 20th anniversary amidst the pandemic. Even during this chaotic time, their business sees a surge in sales. This is possibly due to their care and devotion to the community — Their manufacturing division, Bldg. 14, has teamed up with the local family businesses to produce high-quality organic face masks with fabric remnants for healthcare providers.
N：When you talk and think about things like sustainability, you have to begin that thought process on a local, most basic level. What do these things mean to me and to my family and community?