Author Archives: Alabama

CHICKEN STEW

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As a Southerner and a cook, I often find myself included in lively debates about regional cuisine, long-winded discussions of the dozens of types of barbecue preparations, cornbread recipe swaps, or conversations on the perfect biscuit dough. Those of us who love food treasure the dishes we were raised eating and love to swap recipes and tips.

In my travels, I have done my fair share of boasting about my hometown’s specialties. One dish that I speak of frequently, that is such a big component of The Shoals’ local food culture, is chicken stew. And almost every time I mention it (outside of my home region), no one else in the room seems to know quite what I’m describing.

“Is it like a vegetable soup?” Not exactly. “A Brunswick stew?” Hmm. Not really.

So, I gradually came to understand that this dish—that was as ubiquitous to every neighborhood kitchen as cornbread or tea—wasn’t a staple meal for the rest of the world. In fact, it really doesn’t exist much outside of our small region of the Tennessee Valley.

Truthfully, the origins of chicken stew cannot be traced. And, no one can explain exactly why it is so specific to this region. I remember being told by an aunt that, once upon a time, chickens were kept for the eggs they produced. By the time a family killed a chicken for its meat, it was a “tough old bird,” only suitable for stews and other slow-cooked dishes. As with many rural households, you made the most of what you had and, logically, a stew fed more mouths than one fried chicken. Most likely, as with most regional foods, the recipe was created when poverty crossed paths with farmers, native people, and West African-style dishes. The result, in this case, is a dish that’s similar to existing recipes but that remains explicitly exclusive to one place.
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A MANUFACTURING COLLABORATION: LITTLE RIVER SOCK MILL

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Alabama Chanin recently partnered with our friend Gina Locklear of Little River Sock Mill (and Zkano) to create a line of Made in the USA, organic cotton socks as part of our new collection.

We’ve written before about the textile and manufacturing history of the Shoals, and our current strides towards revitalizing manufacturing within our community (and beyond). Florence was once known as the T-shirt Capital of The World, and another northern Alabama town—Fort Payne (home to Little River Sock Mill)—held the title of Sock Capital of The World. We are proud to launch this line of Alabama-manufactured organic cotton socks, alongside the machine-manufactured line A. Chanin.

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THE HEART: JENNIFER RAUSCH

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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.

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FEBRUARY PLAYLIST: ST. PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES

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In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a band packed full of make-you-feel-good soul. Their recent single, “Call Me”, is on constant rotation here at the studio. Although based in Birmingham, Alabama, the group has ties to the Shoals – lead guitarist Browan Lollar is a Shoals native, and the band’s upcoming debut album, Half the City, was produced by Ben Tanner and is being released by Single Lock Records on February 18. The playlist below, curated by “St. Paul” himself, displays a playful knowledge and enjoyment of soul-rooted music.

Name: Paul Janeway
Band: St. Paul and The Broken Bones
Instrument(s) you play: Holler in a microphone
Hometown: Chelsea, AL
Presently residing: Birmingham, AL

AC: When did you start playing music?

PJ: When I was 4 years old, I started singing in church. I think my first song was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. I started playing guitar as a freshman in high school. I am a pretty lousy guitar player though.

AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?

PJ: The first time we sold out a show at Bottletree Café here in Birmingham was a great moment. Also, the time I sang at the Muscle Shoals documentary premiere up in Muscle Shoals. I got to sing “When A Man Loves a Woman” and Spooner Oldham was playing keys to my right. It doesn’t get much bigger than that in my book.

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LAUNCHING A. CHANIN

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Last year, we announced with great excitement that Alabama Chanin would be launching a machine-made line called A. Chanin. After months of hard work from our team (and the receipt of the CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge award), the inaugural A. Chanin pieces are here.

Until now, all Alabama Chanin products have been made by hand, using sustainable practices. We have worked hard to develop machine-made garments that stay true to our ideals of high quality, slow fashion, sustainable design, and Made in the USA production. The A. Chanin line maintains the same commitment to these ideals that our products have always demonstrated, but at a lower price.

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THE LIBRARY (PART 2)

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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.

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NEW FABRIC COLORS + COLOR CARD UPDATE

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Over the past six months, we have been developing a selection of new colors to add to our fabric library. Each time we add to our color library, we begin the color development process by browsing through Pantone Solid Chips. In the studio, these books are used for reference as we select new fabric dyes. Once potential color options are chosen, color swatches—in the form of paper, fabric swatches, and/or Pantone chips—are sent to the dye house in Raleigh, North Carolina, so that they can create dyes to match the samples. We have worked with our dye house extensively for custom color development and dyeing since 2008. They perform lab dips—developing a color recipe—and test dyes on our organic cotton jersey; the fabric samples are then sent to us for comparison, inspection, and approval. Sometimes the hue comes out right on the first try; other times there is a back-and-forth process until the perfect shade and hue is achieved.

We are excited to announce the addition of seven new medium-weight organic cotton jersey fabric colors: Dusk, Gold, Persimmon, Autumn, Wine, Teal, and (an updated) Peach. They are vibrantly saturated and fit perfectly alongside our existing shades.

While the first six are additions to our existing color palette, Peach is an improved-upon color. Dye lots can change over time, with variations in the ingredients and methods. Our Peach had begun to resemble Light Pink, and therefore it was due an update to a fresher, brighter look.

These new colors will be replacing Popcorn, Green Tea, Green Organic, Brown Tea, and Brown Organic fabrics, as these naturally grown colored cottons are no longer available.  At the same time, Indigo—originally included on Color Card 2—is also grouped with our more robust selection of nine Natural Dye fabrics, and is offered in both Light and Medium-weight.

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MAXINE PAYNE: THREE FOR A DIME

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Lance and Evelyn Massengill

In 2008, Maxine Payne, an Arkansas-based artist, self-published a book of photographs titled Making Pictures: Three For A Dime. She catalogued the work of the Massengill family who worked from 1937 to 1941 as itinerant photographers in rural Arkansas documenting farmers, young couples, babies, and anyone else who had a few minutes and an extra dime to spend. The Massengills’ photos provided candid snapshots of the rural South just before the Second World War. Through her efforts, Maxine Payne has given new life to these old photographs by coordinating exhibitions and projects, including a forthcoming book by the Atlanta-based publisher Dust-to-Digital and a collaboration with Alabama Chanin on our new collection. We asked Maxine to describe her connection to the Massengill family and her involvement with Three For A Dime:6UP-GRID

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SONGS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT: A PLAYLIST

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The Civil Rights Movement gained national attention in the early 1960s. The many protests, marches, and stands for equality were sustained by freedom songs and music from musicians-turned-activists. The setbacks, hardships, failures, and successes of the movement for racial equality can be told through song.

We curated a playlist highlighting some of the songs that delivered powerful messages during that time period, namely “We Shall Overcome,” an old African American hymn that gained popularity in the 1950s. The song became the unofficial anthem of the movement, bringing strength, support, and hope to activists—during protest marches, in the face of violence, and in jail cells.

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