Author Archives: Alabama

REAL WOMEN AS SEEN BY MEN

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Last year, we began a series called “Real Women,” an exploration of the real women in our lives (and throughout history) that have made a difference—one way or another—in our world. Today, we are finishing a chapter of that series: real women as seen by men.

Here you find a tribute from son to mother, written by Nashville singer/songwriter (and former English professor) Jon Byrd. Jon grew up just outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and is a dear friend of our editor, Sara. Please welcome Jon and enjoy his beautifully candid account of his mother, Margaret Tidwell Byrd.

From Jon:

The most important woman in my life, past or present, is my mother. I’m adopted; that’s probably why I feel this way. I don’t remember our first meeting, at the Alabama state orphanage in 1955, but it was obviously a life-changing moment for me.

My mother was sweet, but tough. She was not a pushover and didn’t have to win an argument or always be (perceived as) right. She had an amazing way of speaking her mind, calling someone out, and standing up for herself that made the other person in the conversation question why they were resisting her. Her strongest quality was, without question, her determination. She encouraged with empathy, compassion, integrity, and consistency.
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BASICS IN COLOR

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Our line of Alabama Chanin Basics, including some pieces from our A. Chanin line, is now available in a range of colors, including those featured in our most recent Alabama Chanin collection. Each of these garments make great layering pieces, which is especially helpful as temperatures continue to fluctuate.

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Our Alabama Vest adds a layer of interest (and pockets) to any ensemble. It features a halter neckline and can drape loosely or be wrapped around the body. It is available in dozens of colors, in both lightweight and medium-weight organic cotton jersey.

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The A. Chanin Long Sleeve Raglan top is part of our growing machine-made line. It is light and loose fitting, with a wide neckline and raglan-style sleeves. This can be layered over Tank or Tunic Tops, adds a casual flair to any sleeveless dress, and is a great cover-up for chilly spring evenings. Available in our medium-weight organic cotton jersey.
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THE HEART: CARRA-ELLEN RUSSELL

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If you have purchased an Alabama Chanin garment or DIY kit in the last year or so, there is a chance that the fabric in your hands was also touched by Carra-ellen Russell. Carra-ellen is our Production Manager and is present at the beginning of most of the things that we make; she starts each garment and kit on its journey by cutting them and passing them along to the next phase. Pieces come back to her once they have been painted, where she helps package them with the proper notions and supplies to be given to one of our stitchers or to be shipped as a DIY kit.

Carra-ellen came to us about a year-and-a-half ago, through the suggestion of our Director of Design and Special Services, Olivia. As we were growing and looking for well-organized team members, Olivia reached out to her friend, asking her to apply to be part of our production staff. Her transition into our staff happened quite naturally after that; she says that working at The Factory was meant to be.

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MAKESHIFT + JACK SANDERS

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Long-time friend and artist Jack Sanders is also an architect, filmmaker, and baseball enthusiast. He is the founder of Design Build Adventure, a full-service “design, build, and adventure company” that focuses on collaboration.

I first met Jack when he was a student of Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee of the Rural Studio.  I sent him a box of t-shirts (which he never returned) in the hopes that I could convince Rural Studio to come up to Florence and build us a production facility. (It turns out that work outside of the Black Belt wasn’t possible.) But Jack (then known as “Jay”) and I remained friends.  Years later, he co-produced a feature-length documentary on Sambo, called Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio which won many accolades.

As you may remember, our MAKESHIFT initiative asks the questions: How do we define and transform the intersection of fashion, food, design, craft + DIY through innovation and collaboration for the better good? How can varied disciplines work together as one?
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CO-WORKERS

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Each morning, when the rising sun (or my daughter) wakes me and I open my eyes, I begin to go over my plan for the day. This is a treasured time. Some days, I can’t wait to get going and the day’s tasks are joyous and fruitful; other days, work just feels like…work. Last summer, as I was writing a vision plan for Alabama Chanin, it became evident that having a solid team in place – a team that had the talent and the desire to carry out that vision – would be essential. Now, when I look around, I see that our team members are creating strong relationships that are enhancing our work environment and also enriching their personal lives.

History shows that workplace teams spark one another’s creativity and create long-lasting work. Colleagues Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind the fashion label Rodarte, create some of the most original pieces each season. The New Yorker wrote that, though they have their differences, the sisters “act like a single organism,” which speaks to their specific communication skills. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, known by music lovers as “The Swampers”, created such a successful working relationship that they became business partners and founded a storied recording studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important American designers of the last century. He studied architecture; she studied painting and sculpting; together they not only influenced the rise of modernism, but developed innovative ways of using materials and were champions of computer technology in design.

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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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