DIY MACHINE MANUFACTURING (IN ALABAMA)

DIY 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

At Alabama Chanin, we are constantly learning, growing, and gathering the understanding to expand our range of knowledge and operations. In 2012, we made our first attempts at farming organic cotton, and we hope to move forward, taking into account all that we’ve learned. We have also been learning as much as we can about what it means to manufacture on a larger scale, with machines. For Alabama Chanin, part of growing a healthy, sustainable company means growing a healthy community.

I have to admit, the idea of machine manufacturing was always in the back of our minds—even as we built Alabama Chanin with hand-sewn garments over the last decade. There have been many conversations with Terry Wiley, and other businessmen in our community, about what it might take to begin to rebuild the textile industry close to home. It was our thought that by expanding our staple of goods to include a sustainable machine-made line, some of those production jobs might return.

DIY MANUFACTURING IN ALABAMA

Today, that dream is coming true. We are taking what we have learned from the MAKESHIFT conversations about intersecting design, manufacturing, craft, and DIY. We have relationships that join designers and manufacturers and DIY. We are involved in our supply chain from seed to finished product. Our next challenge will be creating new intersections of these industries all within one company, under one roof. Adding a machine-made component to our skill set will show, to a degree, how these industries and these ways of working with diverse groups of people can embrace one another and thrive.

To do this, we want to create a manufacturing facility that will not only create an additional range of Alabama Chanin goods, but provide opportunity, knowledge, and space for other companies interested in organic, Made in the USA production. There is a dearth in the market for affordable, organic garments made in our own country. For years we have cultivated relationships with organic suppliers and, to the best of our ability, built an organic supply chain from start to finish.

Our goal is to revitalize the once-thriving garment manufacturing industry within our community while joining elements of design, manufacturing, craft, cottage industry, and DIY as a model for other manufacturers. Some may say that it is a lofty goal, but we have experienced advisors, makers, and designers at our side. The machines are here and we are in the process of getting them running. The silence of the room (see below) is now bustling with the sound of progress. It’s  just a matter of days before the machines will be humming too. Look for more information on the Alabama Chanin machine-made line in the coming weeks, and stay tuned for updates on our progress.

DIY MANUFACTURING IN ALABAMA

 

 

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26 thoughts on “DIY MACHINE MANUFACTURING (IN ALABAMA)

  1. Meegan

    So fantastic! As a seamstress, I congratulate you all and look forward to what comes off those lovely long tables.

    Reply
  2. ann

    I am so happy to hear this! My husband and I try to buy made in the USA/organic as much as possible, if that is not possible then we at least buy the foreign non-organic stuff in small local shops.
    There isn’t a lot out there, and we are willing to spend a little more on these items in order to support the return of industry to this country and an increase in the use of organic materials.
    Our experience is you get what you pay for – quality lasts. As does the peace of mind that comes with knowing that in buying something made in this country/organic you are also supporting local communities – both in terms of providing work and in helping move toward cleaner environmental processes.
    I am very excited to see what comes out of this latest venture!

    Reply
  3. Erin

    I am very excited to see how this new venture of yours develops. I have always used my machine to do the initial sewing on my Alabama Chanin garments because I find it easier to adjust the fit when it is machine sewn, then I go back and hand sew the seams (sometimes) and topstitching.

    Reply
  4. Kate

    What a wonderful, inspired idea to bring jobs back to your community!! I am in love with your designs but find I don’t have the time or patience to sew much myself; will definitely support this endeavor!

    Reply
  5. Angela

    Marvelous! I have been thinking more and more about where my clothing comes from, who made it, and under what conditions. I admit to some rampant consumerism, on occasion, but I am trying to make more of my own wardrobe and source the rest, well, better. I am excited to see what comes of this new venture!

    Reply
  6. Grace

    This is fantastic news. It’s a bit of a dream coming true. I also look forward to hearing more and supporting this endeavor.

    Like Erin, I also test out my Alabama Chanin Style garments by sewing them by machine for the first plain garment.

    Reply
  7. Kaz

    Very encouraging news. I also live in a small town in Australia and see the value of building and sustaining communities with the intersections you are developing. So inspiring and hopeful.

    Reply
  8. Brenda

    Your vision, enthusiasm, persistence and creativity are truly amazing! I’m looking forward to what this new venture holds.

    Reply
  9. Julie B

    This is the most exciting news to come out of Alabama Chanin since you announced your third book. Can’t wait to see what you birth this time around.

    Reply
  10. Kate

    Congratulations, Natalie. I certainly wish you well.

    Will the hand-made and machine-made lines be two separate entities and will the hand-sewn part continue as it has been? I have to admit, this new venture made me pause, considering that Alabama Chanin has consistently stood for slow fashion and the value of making things by hand. I sew both on the machine (primarily for things such as curtains that need to be sewn quickly for utility) and by hand (thanks to you, your books and workshops) and I definitely notice a difference between the two.

    Reply
    1. Judy

      Having just been to your amazing workshop a few months ago, I can’t believe the progress you have made since then! Send more pictures and updates!!!

      Reply
  11. jamie

    This sounds like a dream come true. My Grandfather and Mother was involved in the textile business. Although the “end use” product of women’s wear, My Mother flew many times to the South to the Textile Mills from NYC when I was a child. It was very exciting at the time for my Mother to get a first hand look at the materials manufactured especially in the South. It brought people together in the USA from all walks of life. Something that my Mother had missed and loved at the time. Unfortunate she was forced into retirement cause the Mills shut down and no longer the standard. Her career and life cut short of which she never imagined retirement during her life since she had loved the business so much. We need to employ America and buy American to keep our spirit and support alive. In memory of my dear Mother, I will only buy American Made even if it’s more expensive. “Less is More”.
    Rock On Alabama and I look forward to purchases!!!
    By the way… I would love to work for your company!
    Peace!

    Reply
  12. Moushka

    This is fantastic news for America. Thoughtful, sustainable, local production is the wave of the future if we want our world to thrive. I’m very happy to hear about this new endeavor and wish you all the best as you proceed. I love your products and can’t wait to see what new items you’ll be offering.

    Reply

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