SUSTAINABLE DESIGN TUESDAY: ALABAMA CHANIN FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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

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

OUR MISSION

Alabama Chanin was built around the concepts and values illustrated by traditions of craftsmanship and beauty, but also function and utility. Through contemporary design, we seek to lend modernity to age-old techniques while celebrating the beauty of everyday by creating one-of-a-kind garments and products for the individual and the home.

Our products are crafted by hand using new, organic, and recycled materials. Each piece is constructed by talented artisans who live and work in and around our community. We commit ourselves to producing quality designs – at this time, all made in the USA.

At Alabama Chanin, we strive towards sustainability at every stage of the manufacturing process – from materials and process to cultural sustainability in the form of preserving hand-sewing skills as a part of important Living Arts.

We define Living Arts as the important life skills – obtaining food, clothing and shelter – necessary to sustain life for human beings.  At the same time, these Living Arts have always been an integral part of elevated culture and humanity. Through education and open source design philosophy, Alabama Chanin seeks to support and nourish the development of these vital life-sustaining skills.  On a greater level, embracing these skills will, in turn, also restore economic security to local communities.  It is our mission at Alabama Chanin to be a part of that process.

We strive to engage both the hearts and minds of our employees, clients, customers, and fellow makers. Our strict guidelines for quality ensure luxury and comfort at every level. Every item produced is a celebration of both the people who make it and the heart of Alabama Chanin.

WHAT IS YOUR BUSINESS MODEL?

Please visit here to read about our ‘Round Business Model,’ which also explains other facets of the company.

WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE OR “SLOW” FASHION? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

The Alabama Chanin brand is at the core of the Slow Design Movement, as described by Penelope Green in the New York Times on January 31, 2008:

“Slow means that Alabama Chanin is run on the tenets of the Slow Food movement, which essentially challenges one to use local ingredients harvested and put together in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Above all it emphasizes slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st-century life. “Good, clean and fair” is the Slow Food credo, and it has — rather slowly — begun to make its way out of the kitchen and into the rest of the house.”

This commitment to “good, clean and fair” is central to every part of our brand and philosophy. It is apparent to us at Alabama Chanin that people today are looking to find connections to the products that they purchase. Consumers increasingly want to understand where something comes from, how it is made, and how that product can be incorporated into their life. We also 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.

Whether a dress calls for recycled t-shirts or locally grown, certified organic cotton, we strive to reduce environmental impact and make the “footprint” of a dress as minimal as humanly possible.

HOW ARE YOUR GARMENTS PRODUCED?

Contemporary cottage industry-style production allows our Artisans to work from their own homes, run their own businesses and be in charge of their own lives and families. It has always been a part of our mission as a company to bring as much work as possible into our community and to our Artisans.

All garments are produced by hand, from start to finish. Natalie and the design team refine all of Alabama Chanin’s designs. The pattern department then crafts patterns for each garment. All garments are cut in-house at Alabama Chanin. The materials are then packed, inspected, sold and distributed to independent contractors (referred to as “Stitchers”) who embroider and construct the garments. Completed garments are inspected, purchased from the Stitchers if they meet quality standards, packed, and shipped to stores or clients.

All of the Alabama Chanin garments pass through dozens of hands before they are completed. Stitchers are asked to “love” their threads as they sew. Alabama Chanin truly believes that the Stitchers are artisans, extremely skilled and enormously valuable. These Stitchers use techniques both new and old to create modern clothing with a traditional flavor. Because each garment is made by hand, no two items are identical. Each garment is signed by the primary Stitcher. In addition, Alabama Chanin recycles fabrics in their garments, as did quilters of old.

HOW DOES YOUR COTTAGE INDUSTRY-STYLE BUSINESS MODEL FUNCTION?

Alabama Chanin functions by contracting its work to independent contractors – our Artisans – who are licensed small business owners.  Alabama Chanin provides all products necessary for sewing, embroidery and/or construction of our garments. Our Artisans then bid on each piece by offering a purchase price for the pattern and materials and a selling price for the finished product. Alabama Chanin awards bids based on production needs and the competitiveness of the bids.

If the Stitchers complete the garments by an agreed upon deadline and the garments meet Alabama Chanin quality standards, the company will purchase the finished garments at the prearranged bid price. Alabama Chanin may, at their discretion, agree to purchase garments at a reduced rate if an Artisan does not complete a project by the deadline or if they fail to meet quality standards.

The business model that we have developed can be used for a variety of products and we hope that we will inspire others to use artisan-based production methods to improve economic development in their respective communities. We are currently working on several outreach projects in the state of Alabama and look forward to expanding our model into additional projects, mediums, and communities.

WHY ALABAMA?

Our offices are located in Florence, Alabama, inside of an old sewing facility that we call “The Factory.” Florence is part of a larger community called “The Shoals,” which includes the cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia.

When establishing Alabama Chanin, most major manufacturing companies told Natalie that her concept of hand made products was – in a word – unprofitable. Convinced that this was not so, she took the business to her hometown – once known as the “T-Shirt Capital of the World” – to the people who would instinctively know how to produce items by-hand.

WHERE CAN I BUY ALABAMA CHANIN GARMENTS?

Every Alabama Chanin garment is made to the specifications of our clients; we do not sew a garment until it is ordered. This helps us reduce waste and create a superior garment. You can visit our website at www.alabamachanin.com or contact us directly to inquire about availability or wholesale opportunities in your area: office@alabamachanin.com

WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WANTING TO START A SMALL BUSINESS?

The internet has really helped level the playing field for independent designers. We all have the same basic tools, the same avenues for exposure. A quality product that you are passionate about and some basic computer skills can get you very far. Maintain and nurture relationships, be kind to everyone you meet, and forget about sleep for at least a decade.

WHERE CAN I FIND INFORMATION ON ALABAMA CHANIN WORKSHOPS AND SEMINARS?

For a listing of the types of workshops that we offer and the times and locations currently scheduled, please visit the Workshops section of our website. You can also email us at office@alabamachanin.com or call us at +1.256.760.1090.

WHAT IS NATALIE CHANIN’S BACKGROUND AS A DESIGNER?

Natalie received her degree in Environmental Design in a Bauhaus-based program at the North Carolina State University School of Design. She studied in both the industrial and craft-based textile programs offered at the university – in what is today called the Anni Albers program.

After graduation, Natalie worked in the junior sportswear industry on New York’s Seventh Avenue, before moving abroad.

For ten years, Natalie lived in Vienna, Austria, working as a stylist and costume designer. She has made several short documentary films, is a mother of two, an avid gardener, and an enthusiastic cook.

HOW CAN I BOOK NATALIE CHANIN TO SPEAK AT MY EVENT?

Natalie has lectured and led workshops for over a decade in private, public, and the business sector. To inquire about pricing and her availability for workshops, special events, and seminars, please contact us via email at office@alabamachanin.com or by phone at +1.256.760.1090.

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5 thoughts on “SUSTAINABLE DESIGN TUESDAY: ALABAMA CHANIN FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  1. Laura M

    Okay. Here’s a question I didn’t see. Did you ever make a garment that was SO FINE that you hated to see it go out the door to its new home? I’ve made several of the garments in your books, and my friends all rave. I just can’t bring myself to make things to sell or give as gifts, because I WANT TO KEEP THEM ALL. Does that make me a bad person…..? ;)

    Reply
  2. Karen Guerra

    Laura, it doesn’t make you a bad person because you want to keep all the garments you make. This clothing takes time — lots of time. And, as you sew them by hand, you are putting some of what Hawaiians call ” ‘uhane” (spirit or soul) into each garment.

    Unless someone has done any hand sewing, much less sewing an entire garment by hand, they have no concept of what it takes to produce such a garment.

    Why not offer to teach your friends?

    Reply
    1. Amber

      I have another question as well. How do you gather inspiration for
      your collections? I’m always curious about the design process of artist I admire. Do you see an image or think up a word and a collection grows from there? Do you have different ideas coming from all over the place and you then choose to focus on one (or a combination)?

      Reply
  3. Alabama Post author

    Amber,

    Yes, all of the above-smile.

    After ten years of handmade collections, I’ve learned that inspiration can come from anywhere. My creative process is always evolving, and is often a reflection of larger forces at work.
    I do what feels right and hope that it translates into something beautiful. Its a method I apply to all aspects of my life.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Designing Women : Natalie Chanin - Vivian & June

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