Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING



During New York Design Week, Heath Ceramics is celebrating their 10th anniversary at The Future Perfect, one of our favorite design stores. Friends Cathy Bailey, Robin Petravic, and Adam Silverman chose to celebrate with The Future Perfect for their like-minded dedication to good design, community, and collaboration. The display features ten Heath Ceramics designs, including an Alabama Chanin collaboration, a limited edition New York bowl (also for sale at The Future Perfect), and a wall of post cards representing 10 moments in 10 years that you can take with you.

We are super proud for our Heath collaboration to be represented in the exhibition. Drop by The Future Perfect from 10am to 7pm daily; 11am to 7pm Sunday, at 55 Great Jones Street (between Bowery & Lafayette) through Monday, May 20th.

More on  MAKESHIFT 2013 coming soon…




In 1982, Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw opened Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The deli quickly became Ann Arbor’s premiere specialty foods store.  As the business grew to include mail order customers across the country, Paul and Ari were presented with an opportunity to open stores nationwide and follow a traditional franchise business model. What they did instead is a great representation of the philosophies that Alabama Chanin tries to embody. Community, sustainability, and education are at the heart of the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, which is made up of eight different, semi-autonomous businesses that operate as one organization. Zingerman’s has remained firmly in Ann Arbor, building successful commerce from within the community, by the community, for the community. This year the organization will have annual sales of about $46,000,000 and employs nearly 600 people.

The Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (aka, the ZCoB) includes a bakery, a coffee roaster, a creamery that makes both fresh cheese and gelato, a candy manufactory, and a James Beard award-winning restaurant. ZingTrain, Zingerman’s business training service, offers seminars that share the organization’s approach to leadership, service, open book management, visioning, etc. They offer baking classes at BAKE, their nationally recognized baking school for the home baker. Zingerman’s also runs a publishing house, which publishes several books by Ari, focused on guiding the small business owner. You can find the titles Building a Great Business and Being a Better Leader in our online store. In the spirit of Alabama Chanin, the books were beautifully designed and illustrated by the Zingerman’s team, printed in Ann Arbor on recycled paper and are not available through mass market distribution.

We sat down with Ari Weinzweig to find out more about this unusual and innovative prototype for a new kind of business model.


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Two weekends ago, we participated in the inaugural Southern Makers event in Montgomery, Alabama. The one-day affair, curated and created over the last year by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Matter, and E.A.T. South, celebrated Alabama-based makers and designers who focus on producing and transforming modern sustainable products derived from local traditions in architecture, food, fashion, and design. The afternoon included workshops, panel discussions, a maker bazaar, chef tasting booths, live bands, and a wealth of conversations that grew over coffee, delicious food, and locally brewed beer.

The Union Station Train Shed on the Alabama River offered the perfect venue for the 90+ artisans, artists, chefs, musicians, designers, and makers who convened for the day. The set, designed by Bell + Bragg and Southern Accents Architectural Antiques, had a distinctly Southern aesthetic, and was organized by region: Points North; Points Central; Points South. We shared a section of the train shed with friends Butch Anthony, Billy Reid, and artist Audwin McGee. Live bands, including Florence natives, The Pollies, occupied the stage that anchored the north end of the depot, set before the backdrop of windows, a wall of doors, and a constantly occupied swing that hung from the enormous roof.


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There may be no more relevant time than now to talk about Slow Design, specifically Slow Fashion, as the body count in a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh – a factory that churned out Fast Fashion for American consumers – surpasses 900.

As we prepare to travel to New York for MAKESHIFT 2013 to discuss WHERE FASHION, FOOD, DESIGN, CRAFT + DIY INTERSECT and HOW WE define and TRANSFORM THE INTERSECTION OF FASHION, FOOD, DESIGN, CRAFT + DIY THROUGH INNOVATION AND COLLABORATION FOR THE BETTER GOOD, we find ourselves asking why MAKESHIFT might be relevant in the wake of the Dhaka, Bangladesh tragedy.

The Slow Design movement’s roots are based on the same premise as the Slow Food movement, both historically intellectual factions often viewed as exclusive clubs. (Penelope Green wrote a great article in the New York Times on Slow Design that brings the concept to a relatable level). Slow Food has become more democratic in recent years, thanks to the many chefs who dedicate their kitchens and menus to locally, sustainably grown produce and humanely raised meat (the fashion industry has a lot to learn from these guys). Planting home gardens and buying from local farmers markets has become a trend and good habit for many of us. We can feel and taste the personal benefits even when we can’t tangibly appreciate the long term benefits on our local economy and farm land.

Ironically, Fast Fashion was established with the “democratic” moniker, where the latest trends and styles on the runway are not just available to everyone, but sold with a bill of entitlement to own them. We buy clothes, wear them once, or until they wear out (too soon), and throw them in the landfill. Not only do we further the demise of our environment and negatively affect climate change, but now we see how our Fast Fashion habits affect innocent workers abroad. According to Elizabeth Cline in her book Overdressed, only 2% of clothing is made in the U.S. today, down from 50% in 1990. Roughly 41% of our clothing is made in China. Many of those garment factories are unregulated and built illegally, posing grave danger to those reporting for work every day, and for very low wages.

Alabama Chanin is built on the Slow philosophy. Everything we produce is slow. Our fabric is custom dyed, then cut by hand in the studio, stenciled by hand, packaged and distributed to local artisans who hand-stitch every garment from seam to appliqué to beaded embellishment. It takes roughly eight to ten weeks to produce a garment. The very nature of our process is in direct conflict with the predominant practice for delivering clothing to the masses.

When we hear chefs dedicated to using locally grown products talk about where their produce comes from, they always talk about relationships, about knowing their farmers. Transparency and collaboration appear to be at the heart of the Slow Food movement and it seems natural to expect the same of Slow Design and Slow Fashion. MAKESHIFT was born from the idea of shifting the way we make. In essence, it’s a shift in the way we consume as well. Small, sustainable and environmentally minded businesses can’t compete with mass-produced, low-cost goods, but through collaboration, great things are possible.

We talked to pirate Richard McCarthy last year about cultural assets and Slow movements, and the subject of sustaining local commodities, like food, came up. In the same way locally grown food is distributed through supermarket alternatives, like farmer’s markets, Slow Fashion may also need distribution alternatives. The opportunities for collaboration and innovation appear to be ripe, and necessary.

Our hope is to see the possibilities for collaborative growth and conversations around Slow Design and Slow Fashion become as common as our predilections for locally, sustainably grown food.

Follow us next week as we ask these important questions during MAKESHIFT 2013, and please share with us your ideas here on our journal.





Chair PileAs MAKESHIFT 2013 takes shape, we continue the conversation that began last year about the intersection of art, craft, making, producing, designing, and manufacturing.  One of last year’s most popular events, Crafting Design: Chair Workshop with Partners and Spade, found resonance with a league of artists, designers, crafters, and makers. And due its popularity, we are excited to be curating the workshop again, this year hosted by Build It Green!NYC, on the 19th of May, in their Gowanus, Brooklyn location, and in collaboration with Krrb. This year’s event includes a Chair Exhibition, followed by a party—both open to the public. Expect some local brew, a food truck (or two), and some surprises along the way.

Build It Green!NYC (BIG!NYC) is New York City’s only non-profit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building supplies and materials. Co-sponsored by Community Environmental Center (CEC), which assists New York buildings with energy efficiency, BIG!NYC works to keep building materials out of landfills, using all materials where possible (much like Alabama Chanin). You can find most anything at BIG!NYC, whether it’s shutters, panel doors or refrigerators. Construction and demolition waste is a massive portion of landfill content (over 19,000 tons of building material are thrown out each day in NYC) and that waste contains pollutants, GHG emissions, and contributes to climate change and global warming. All proceeds from sales through BIG!NYC go back into supporting CEC’s environmental programs throughout the city: BIG!Compost, BIG!Blooms, BIG!NYC Gives Back, along with a variety of other projects that continue to emerge.

Our friends (and Southern Foodways Alliance cohorts) Kerry Diamond (of Cherry Bombe Magazine) and her chef/partner Robert Newton (of Seersucker and  Smith Canteen) built their newest endeavor, Nightingale 9, from materials found at Build It Green!NYC.


Last October, Hurricane Sandy nearly destroyed one of BIG!NYC’s reuse centers, flooding their 21,000 square foot warehouse with five feet of water. Two days later, volunteers from across the state amassed on the site to help remove the unsalvageable and clean what could be saved. With the help of those volunteers, Build It Green!NYC was back in business within days, aiding those hit hard by the storm and providing needed building materials. BIG!NYC suffered major losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which only reinforced their mission to extend the usability of construction materials by keeping them out of landfills.

Like last year’s chair workshop, participants in this year’s event will  repurpose cast-off, found chairs into objects of beauty. And like last year, friends, makers,  and designers, like Natalie, A.J. Mason, Andrew Wagner, Tanya Aguiniga, Amy Devers, and more, will be on-hand to help and participate. While space for this workshop is limited, a Chair Exhibit and party will take place directly after the workshop and are open to all. Build It Green!NYC will also be open for business during the workshop with a portion of all sales benefiting Build It Green!NYC Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Come join us…

P.S.: The workshop is currently wait listed, but spots may open so go ahead and send us an email. We want to hear from you: rsvp (at)




Everything we, as humans, touch, has a global impact, which is only magnified by the Internet and ease of information exchange. At Alabama Chanin we see evidence of this every day through our Journal, which allows us to easily and quickly share and exchange ideas with our readers. One idea we discuss and implement regularly is cross-collaboration, whether it is a project with another designer, like Anna Maria Horner, or a friendly game of baseball with the designers and artists of  The Texas Playboys. At MAKESHIFT 2013, continuing the conversation from last year, we’ll be asking this question:



We look forward to sitting with a group of artists, makers, designers, fashion designers, chefs, writers and musicians to exchange thoughts and brainstorm ideas surrounding this question.

MAKESHIFT CONVERSATION @ The Standard is presently Wait Listed.

The conversation will be facilitated visually through decorating, embellishing, and crafting Alabama Chanin tote bags, which we will share on a Tumblr page post-MAKESHIFT (more on that to come…)


In addition to panel discussions and brainstorming, we are co-hosting a Chair Workshop with Build It Green!NYC and Krrb focused on implementing the concepts of craft and design.

Look for up-to-date posts this week and next as we share our plans and experiences. Read about last year’s events here. Start your own conversation with fellow makers and artists and share your thoughts with us here.




We often hear the mantra, “Live for today.” Most of us need to slow down, curb our expectations and anxieties, and embrace the present.  And for the most part, I try to approach life that way. But we can’t always live completely in the present. Sometimes we have to plan ahead, we have to think of our future generations and give them the tools they need to make this world a better place.

It’s not always easy to be a mom (single or otherwise) and live constantly in the present. Duties call. Spilled milk may not be something to cry over, but someone still has to clean it up. I was having one of those spilled milk days – dog chaos, bills to pay, groceries to put away – when Maggie came to me with this drawing and said, “I want you to make this dress for me.” It’s a miracle I even heard her.

As you can see, the dress was made, Maggie was ecstatic, and somehow, in the midst of chaos, I was able to inspire her to believe she can make anything. The best Mother’s Day gift of all is just to have that moment when you think, “I do make a difference.”

Happy Mother/Daughter Day (coming soon) to Maggie and me… and to you and yours.


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Last January, we had several conversations in our studio about punks and pirates spurred by Richard McCarthy’s analogy about pirates and “big food.” Just last week, the conversation continued in our studio about how the underground punk movement changed the way music was produced and delivered to the listening public. (More on this coming in the next weeks…)

I was surprised to see this title on the cover of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times yesterday:  “Anarchy in the Met: Punks and DIY looks they inspired, captured in a show.

The story highlights a new exhibit at The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Punk: Chaos to Couture, focusing on DIY Punk fashion.

Certainly music and fashion have been two of the more obvious arenas where the gatekeepers (music executives, producers, designers, magazine editors) have decided for us what we listen to and what we wear. The general anarchy that drove the punk era may have been debaucherous and even, violently, against mainstream culture, but the intellectual elements of DIY are lasting and poignant.

As we approach MAKESHIFT 2013, we anticipate continuing the conversation from MAKESHIFT 2012, when we asked and discussed where the intersection of Fashion, Food, Design, Craft, Music, and DIY intersect and how that intersection ultimately leads to collaboration. Pit stained, ripped t-shirts, and safety pin adornments aside, we have something to learn from the DIY Punk revolution.


THE CRAFT OF MIDWIFERY - Image from "The Family of Woman"

I think it is pretty safe to say that midwifery is one of the first DIY skills in human existence. Certainly, the human body knows instinctively what to do when the time comes to birth a child. Still, I can’t imagine that we would have gotten very far as a species without someone learning how to assist in childbirth, give guidance to a mother, provide assistance to a newborn, and generally know how to take care of business.

It appears that learning the art of midwifery is flourishing both in the US and abroad. A recent story on public radio discussed how clinically trained midwives in rural Mexico might be a real healthcare solution for mothers living in rural areas, far from hospital care. Officials are hoping that by training professional midwives in basic nursing, gynecology, and obstetrics, they can not only help mothers without access to healthcare, but ease the burden placed upon the country’s overwhelmed hospitals. Worldwide health organizations have the same hope for other countries where physicians are scarce or far from rural communities.


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We celebrate Earth Day every day at Alabama Chanin through our philosophy of slow design and sustainable production methods, and have been celebrating sustainable design for over a decade. We use only U.S. grown organic cotton fabric in our designs and maintain a zero-waste approach to production. Still, the annual calendar event is always a good reminder to reflect on how we treat our environment, both at work and in our home lives.

It’s also a chance to start a new habit that might be practiced all year. This year, as part of their All Hands on Earth Campaign, the Nature Conservancy is celebrating Earth Day with a picnic. We love this idea (and the excuse to take staff lunch outside this week).

The All Hands on Earth Campaign has declared the month of April to be Earth Month, with a focus on sustainable food production. They’re asking people across the planet to consider where their food comes from and the carbon footprint that food production leaves. I try to support local farmers whenever possible, be it a trip across the river to visit Jack-O-Lantern Farms or a Saturday morning walk through the Farmers Market (which will be re-opening next month). Not only does buying local put money back into my community’s economy, but the food I buy is fresher, has traveled far fewer miles with far less negative impact on the environment, and it tastes better.

Learn more about how to host your own Earth Month picnic here. Document and share your picnic photos by tagging them with #AllHandsPicnic on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube or picnic-TNC13 on Flickr.

Learn more about food and conservation here.

Read about how the CFDA is celebrating Earth Day by promoting sustainable production in the fashion industry and follow their members (including Alabama Chanin) to learn how American fashion designers across the globe are celebrating Earth Day by searching #CFDAEarthDay on Instagram.

And if you want to keep yourself honest, take a quick calculation of your personal carbon footprint with the Earth Day Network’s Ecological Footprint Calculator.

Members of our Alabama Chanin staff will be pitching in to help keep our Florence community clean by joining a city-wide effort on Saturday, April 27th. Find out if your community has a city-wide clean-up effort you can join, or organize your own.