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.”

To me, the most interesting part of the Made Collection site is the small map included with each product they carry. The map illustrates what they call “Boom Points.” From the site:

Boom™ Points

Boom Points represent the economic impact your purchase would have. Since every dollar spent on something made here sparks $1.40 from other parts of the economy*, the good you do goes well beyond your purchase. As you shop Made Collection, you’ll accrue Boom Points for future access to exclusive deals.

Map: The map shows where each company is located. If source material came from the US, and this information was provided, the location of both the company and its US vendors will appear.

Workers Supported: This indicates how many people work at that company. In cases where materials are sourced from US vendors, workers at those vendors will be included in the tally.

This small text is to me, very important.

When our dress went up on the Made site with Chris Brown’s curated collection last week, the map of Boom Points listed only the 9 employees we currently have at The Factory.  This was our oversight, but the oversight made me sit down and take stock. For over a decade, we have worked tirelessly to secure a supply chain that is AS MUCH AS IS HUMANLY POSSIBLE ‘Made in the USA.’ Part of our mission at Alabama Chanin includes making every effort to ensure that our products are produced sustainably and within the United States.

So, we sat got on the phone that morning to make some inquiries as to how many people our work truly touches.  Here we outline a bit of what we came to understand.

Our fabric:

The door to the US organic cotton farming world was opened to us by Kelly Pepper of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative (TOCMC) in Lubbock, Texas. This co-op has around 30 producer members, with about 150 employees, who plant 10-15,000 acres of organic and transitional cotton each year. These acres produce more than 6,000 bales of cotton – roughly one-third of all organic cotton grown in the US. Incredibly, each single bale of cotton produced within the co-op is tracked from the field to the customer. As a buyer, we have the ability to know our cotton producer’s name and the farm from which each bale was purchased. While it isn’t possible every year, we are constantly fighting to purchase our cotton domestically from Texas, with the assistance of TOCMC. Kelly has also helped us to source our own cottonseed and has advised us throughout our growing process.

Once our cotton is picked, it is ginned in about seven different cotton gins within the state of Texas. These gins employ about 70 people total. The ginning process cleans the cotton, removing dirt, burs, stems and leaves that adhere to the fiber. Then the cotton fibers are pulled from the seeds. After being ginned, our cotton is shipped to warehouses associated with TOCMC. These three warehouses, employing roughly 45 people, prepare our ginned cotton for shipping. Our fiber is then sent to Parkdale Mills in North Carolina, where it is spun. The company has 25 plants and 2,300 total employees and produces organic cotton according to the standards of the Global Organic Textile Standards.

From Parkdale Mills, our cotton moves to Green Textile in South Carolina, a fourth-generation, family-owned and operating company that employs 25 people. Here our fiber is knit into jersey fabric. When I first began looking for domestic, organic cotton in 2002, there was no real supply chain. John Simon, the owner of Green Textile led us in the direction of TOCMC in Texas. We also purchase wholesale organic fabric from Spiritex Fabric in North Carolina. Spiritex’ Daniel Sanders is a converter, who finishes the fabric to our specifications. He has worked with Lynda Grose, a textile consultant and educator, for over 25 years.

Once the cotton has become actual fabric it is sent to be dyed. The majority of our fabric is dyed by Tumbling Colors in Raleigh, North Carolina. Tumbling Colors employs six people total. We first came into contact with Tumbling Colors’ president, Chuck Stewart, in 2008, and have used them extensively for custom color development and dyeing since then. A portion of our fabric is dyed naturally by Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville, Tennessee.  For the past few years, Alabama Chanin has also worked with sisters Alesandra and Sarah at Artisan Natural Dyeworks to develop all-natural dyeing methods. We have also worked with Father Andrew O’Connor at Goods of Conscience for denim dyeing; Goods of Conscience has 2 employees at their Bronx, New York location.

Once the fabric is dyed, it is shipped to us, where we use it to create our Alabama Chanin products.

The process of moving organic cotton from seed to fabric is intricate. In our case, it touches so many hands before it reaches our Factory. In addition to the nine employees at our Factory, we work with 21 artisans in the surrounding communities in north Alabama and southern Tennessee. Each of these people and organizations play a part in the garments and goods that you buy from Alabama Chanin. Each company or person is a component that must work seamlessly with the next in order for our fabric to be cut and painted in our studio, then sewn by our artisans before it arrives to you. Many hands that handle our cotton and help us make sustainable products ‘Made in America’, part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.

Get started shopping.

*Graphics from Made Collection’s website.

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