Category Archives: SUSTAINABLE LIFE + DESIGN

9/11/2001

We left the Hotel Chelsea in New York City that morning on my 1970’s era Schwinn “Stardust” bike – white with the beautiful banana seat. Our plan was to head down to Pastis in the Meat Packing District to meet a dear friend for his birthday breakfast.  Another dear friend from Vienna was visiting, without her daughter for the first time in 6 years (and after surviving both breast cancer and her daughter’s Leukemia). This day was meant to be a celebration of life.  I was doubling her on my bike.  We were happy.  It was New York Fashion Week. We felt beautiful. We were living the dream.

We arrived at Pastis and had just received our coffee when the first plane struck the first tower.

By the time we rode my small bike back up to The Hotel Chelsea, the second tower had been hit.

It happened as we were riding my bicycle back up 8th Avenue.  I was navigating morning traffic and our backs were turned as the world changed. The first tower fell moments after we arrived back to the hotel and turned on the TV.  Our day of joy became a nightmare.

It was strange, but the morning went on – business as usual; we just didn’t know what else to do.  A bike messenger arrived to pick up samples for Vogue magazine. Should have been exciting right?  It just felt wrong. He collapsed into a chair at our table and sighed.  Friends of his, other bike messengers, had been delivering packages in the tower.  There was no word from them.  He stared at his cell phone. Silence.My girlfriend visited the towers the previous morning at 9:00 . You can see her photos above from the observation deck of the South Tower – looking down – on 9/10.  The photos below are taken from the Meat Packing District looking up on 9/11.  You can see the smoke rising just above the white truck on the left.  We all know the rest of the horror.

A decade has now passed and our country continues to struggle with the aftermath from that fateful day. I am still wondering what has changed for our country since September 11, 2001. I am still coming to terms with my feelings about that day and everything that has happened in its wake.

When Osama Bin Laden fell, I felt nothing. College students marred by 9/11 cheered his death, but I felt no healing.  Shouldn’t I be happy?  Why shouldn’t this act of vengeance make something better?  It hasn’t erased the images of human beings leaping to their deaths. It hasn’t stopped the civilians – many of them children – being killed in the name of something today and every day. I felt no healing. I only felt sadness.

So, what to do this weekend as we look back in memorial to a decade ago? I have only one answer: In a situation where I know that there is nothing I can do to make a difference, I know that I have to change myself.

From page 15 of An Open Heart by the Dalai Lama – edited by Nicholas Vreeland:

“In India there exists a caste system; members of the lowest caste are sometimes referred to as untouchables…. Economically, they are extremely poor. I often tell them, ‘You yourselves must make effort; you must take the initiative, with self-confidence, to bring about changes.  You cannot simply blame the members of higher castes for your situation.’”

What can I do to make a difference?

There is just so much in the world to change and do that it overwhelms me.  So, I choose to do what I can in a personal way. I have made my own “grassroots” 9/11 project.  I commit over the next month (perhaps the rest of my life) to this manifesto:

1) I will not complain.  (In this big beautiful life, I should have so little to complain about. And yet…) When I find myself in a situation where I have the urge to complain, I will, instead, react positively – however small my actions, I will do something to improve each situation.

2) I pledge to be a PeaceBuilder. My daughter’s kindergarten class (and entire school) says the PeaceBuilder’s Pledge each morning directly after the Pledge of Allegiance. This seems like a pretty good place to start as we begin to reflect on the last decade:

The PeaceBuilders Pledge:

I am a peace builder.

I pledge to praise people, to give up put downs, to seek wise people, to notice and speak up about hurts I have caused, to right wrongs and to help others.

I will build peace at home, at school, (my work place), and in my community each day.

Who’s with me?  If you are, print out the PeaceBuilder Pledge and post it in your place of business, community, kitchen, office, local bar, post office, coffee shop, hair salon, and place of worship.  Print it as a post card, send it out, and make it your social media status for the upcoming weekend.

For me, I commit a month – 4 short weeks – of practicing non-complaining and peace-building in my life as a way to honor and acknowledge the anniversary of 9/11 and other atrocities of war that are still taking place each and every day.

I am excited to discover where this will take me.

I will be a PeaceBuilder. Indeed.

(If you are interested in adding PeaceBuilder’s to your child’s school curriculum, you can contact them here.)

SKIRT (AND TOP) + SKIRTS


Our most popular a-line skirt is a versatile piece that can pull double duty as an elegant swing top.  It is, as always, sewn and adorned by hand using our Anna’s Garden pattern in contrasting applique and glass bugle and chop beads.  You see it here styled with two long skirts for our collection photos:

Pleated Stripe Skirt in silt with white and sand colored applique (available for custom order),
and the Long Embroidered Skirt with negative reverse Anna’s Garden applique in white on white.

Of course, this is only one way to style the pieces. You will see members of our Alabama Chanin team mixing it up all the time, combining colors, patterns and styles. We encourage you to use your own sense of style. Don’t be afraid to show your creativity.


THE HEART

I once had a close friend who was the most incredible painter, yet never sold a single piece of art. I (and everyone who saw her work) was certain she was destined for artistic greatness and critical acclaim, if only she could get people to see her work. She thought it unfair and ridiculous to allow a gallery to take a commission on her sales when she did all of the work. As her collection grew, her apartment shrank, and I decided to play hero – or at least middle man.   That was free of charge.

Unfortunately, my efforts met with failure after failure; despite interested buyers, the deal always fell through. Mostly she claimed the piece was in need of some minor finishing then failed to follow up, refused to return calls. How could someone struggling with bills be so unmotivated that they couldn’t even schedule a time to collect some cash? Finally I realized (and after a couple of cocktails she admitted) that she had no intention of selling those paintings- they simply meant to much to her.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist who hasn’t experienced this sort of attachment to their art. Investing so much of your time and energy into a piece shapes the way you view and how much you appreciate it. When I begin a project that I know is destined for someone-somewhere else, I take a moment to focus on that fact; I take a moment to hope it will bring happiness to the wearer. Then, I let it go.

It’s hard to see a piece of our clothing in-person and not touch it – strangers have been known to sacrifice their understanding of personal boundaries on more than one occasion. The beauty of hand-stitching is almost shocking in its simplicity, and even the most perfect looking stitches are not- that’s the point. It is impossible to conceal the artistry and expression in a garment that has been made by human hands. Diane, our head seamstress (who you will meet later),  can tell you which one of our stitchers is responsible for a garment with a quick glance… we wonder if she can tell their mood as well.

Alabama Fur (in the picture above) is one of the most time-intensive treatments in the collection; it can take several weeks to complete an all-over application. Every time I run my hands across a sample of it I can’t help but think of how much time it spent with the artist who made it.  Was it put aside at the same time every day in the name of homework assistance? Did it suffer through the new season of True Blood, or help with any important decisions?

The Alabama Chanin collection (in the best case scenario) is made from cotton that is grown in Texas, spun in North Carolina, knit in South Carolina,  dyed in Tennessee and North Carolina, and sewn by our incredible Artists here in Alabama. I’d like to introduce you to the people that take part in the making of your Alabama Chanin pieces, those that cut your fabric, pack the boxes that are mailed to you, and those that hand-stitch our collection on their own terms and time.  Each garment is hand-numbered and signed by the artisan who assembled it. Who made your favorite piece? Check the tag, and if you’re inclined, say hello when he or she is featured. We love learning more about our friends, fans, and clients. We hope you enjoy getting to know us a little better during the upcoming months.


A (PRE) LABOR DAY CELEBRATION

Please watch this beautiful film about the labor of making linen.

Thank you to our farmers in Texas, our spinners, and Green Textiles in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for laboring to spread cotton love.

Join the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative for their annual Fall Field Day on Thursday, October 20, 2011, in the heart of the South Plains of Texas.

And thank you to Eric and Beth at Etsy for sharing the  Be Linen Movie by Benoit Millot with us!

I want to make a film about the production of our organic cotton.

EVERY GIRL NEEDS A GOOD TOOL.

So, how is it that I made it for half-a-century without owning my own tire gauge? Until last year, there was a full-service gas station that would graciously check my tires after a fill-up. Now, it is sadly closed. My Prius has a little sensor that tells me when my tires are not just right. I dread when that little light pops on.   It seems like a major ordeal to find a shop or mechanic that will check them for me.  Last week, I drove around the entire week with the tire light shining – nervous each time I glanced down.

I know it’s silly; but, it’s times like these I yearn for a man around the house.

Now, I am the proud owner of my very own tire gauge.  I can’t tell you how empowered I felt when I pulled up to the free air dispenser at my local gas station, whipped out my tool, and filled up my own tires.  You should have seen the looks (and heard the calls) from the cowboys in pick-up trucks.

Yes indeed, a girl needs a good tool.

P.S.: Did you know that you get approximately 4% better gas mileage with properly inflated tires?

WABI-SABI

Biographies, philosophy, design, recipes, and all the subjects in-between are the stuff of my dreams. I would venture to say that I’ve found a treasure beginning with most library call numbers, and, of course, do my best not to judge any book by its cover. To say my love affair with reading is an important part of my life would be an understatement.

Our library at The Factory and the stacks of books throughout my home are growing at alarming (and satisfying) rates. I wish that time allowed me to discuss in detail all of the fabulous books that my friends, supporters, and my publisher have chosen to share with me. Robyn Griggs Lawrence’s Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House recently landed on my desk. The simple, unassuming (wabi-sabi) cover almost went unnoticed in the big stack of books I’ve been eager to conquer.

Continue reading

DETOX UPDATE

I felt reluctant to continue writing about my detox after the first post as I thought that it could be, frankly, a bit boring. Each of us has visited a site where the writer has a fondness to overshare about their eating habits and diet: each morsel eaten, photos of unmentionable detox attributes, things that we really don’t want to know – way too much information. I don’t want to be that person.

However, I was surprised over the last week to receive emails, phone calls and questions from friends, and friends of friends asking about my progress. What I found was that there are people who genuinely want to know how it is going, how I feel, and if I have made progress.

If you are one of those people who really does NOT want to know, please look the other way, skip this post and forgive me. I won’t be offended.

I think that the crux of the matter is this:  we all have things about ourselves that we want to change.  And however difficult those changes might prove, they are harder in the “thinking about them” than they are in the doing. So we get inspiration for making our own changes where we can and sometimes look to others for inspiration on our own path. Hopefully, this update inspires courage to change and not just a bit of eye-rolling!

My uncle George used to say that the hardest part of running each morning was “tying his shoes.” On detox day seventeen, I have to agree. I put off a detox for years (literally).  There are myriad excuses:  can’t live without my morning coffee, my evening beer, wine, cocktail, my bread and olive oil, my _____ (fill in the blank).  Today, I am strangely elated to report that I don’t really miss any of those things.  The hardest part was actually starting and the withdrawal from those luscious, delicious, beautiful things.

I did continue to document my progress in short snippets – which you find below.  I want to say upfront that I would urge anyone attempting a similar cleanse to taper off and go slowly into the process rather that taking my lead to go cold turkey.

All the books present it, doctors sternly recommend it, and everyone you talk to is in agreement: phase out toxins, phase in the detox.  Why I chose to approach it this way, I cannot say – perhaps I threw caution to the wind?  I am stubborn?  I didn’t have time? (I chose a time when my daughter would be out-of-town.) Perhaps it was the only way I could have done it? Whatever the excuse, I don’t recommend it! Don’t do it… employ moderation.  (A theme I have spent my life trying to learn.)

All this being said, I am happy to report that I did survive (regardless of the pain of Day 6).  I am still here and I am still at it.

We left off at Day 5:

Day 6 – If I hit the wall on day three, the wall fell today.  More like the dam broke.  Sick. Sick. Sick.  I see myself as a healthy person, I grow our food, I cook at home, I eat organic. How could my body be so sick? Complete breakdown after the dam broke, I go to bed and start to feel better. I am alive. I sit very still.  I meditate.

Day 7 – Feeling better this morning.  And I mean better than before I started the detox. I write lunch on my calendar and pledge to take the time to prepare, sit and eat each day (well, at least three days a week). I breathe. Pilates feels good.

Day 8 – I tell my friend Angie that I am actually beginning to enjoy cooking in this new way.  Trying new combinations of smoothies. Meals without wheat.  A week ago I thought I could never live without coffee, wine, bread and cheese – today a quinoa salad with baked chicken for lunch is delicious. (These recipes helped so much.)

Day 9 – High energy.  First day since I started detox that I am not hungry. I feel energized and want to smile at the whole world. No one really notices the new me – except me. Sigh.

Day 10 – Ditto.

Day 11 – Ditto – High energy seems to be becoming a way of life…

Day 12 – I break down, break out and have a “wild” day:  A few pita chips with my salad, and a frozen yoghurt at night. I feel great and I am not ashamed. My girlfriend laughs that my “wild day” has certainly evolved (can’t imagine what she might be referring to).

Day 13 – I wake up and feel like I want to make a plan for life. I have lost 8 more pounds.

Day 14 – Finally, friends start to notice that I am standing up straighter, feeling better, and have more energy.  They ask what I have been doing and I explain my detox/acupuncture/Pilates combo.  I haven’t had a headache since the third day and three girlfriends commit to joining me in detox.  I urge them to taper off and ease in. We make a plan to go “hard core” in two weeks.

Day 15 – I ease off the detox “program” and feel like a whole new world and way to look at food is beginning. I have a plan.  I will continue to ease off the detox for the next two weeks but, I want do the full three-week detox with friends – partners.  So, I am easing off but starting again – from the beginning.  However, this time without the withdrawal symptoms – at least they will not be as severe.

I have a good day that includes a visit to my favorite Mexican restaurant in celebration of my daughter’s first day at kindergarten – it includes a salad and a margarita. Two weeks ahead to learn what feels good to my body and what doesn’t. I make the “Natalie Plan” which is a mixture of eating from my garden, the farmers market, Clean, Fat Flush and “The Maggie” (my daughter’s plan).

Day 16 – I wake up each morning energized – without my morning latte (or 3).  I head to the farmers market and buy a load of fruit to freeze for my morning smoothies – seems to make it easier for me and the smoothies become like ice cream.  I will work in the studio for a while and then head home for my planned, healthy and relaxing lunch. There will always be a few “treats” included in my day, but they feel like just that – “treats.”  I will savor each and every one.

I purchase Canyon Ranch: Nourish which my friend Kay recommends.

I vow to cook more. I will celebrate.

Thank you for all the well-wishes, emails, phone calls, recipes, ideas, and support along the way,
xoNatalie

ONE WOMAN’S TESTAMENT TO THREAD AND NEEDLE

This is my first installment of a new bi-weekly fashion column for EcoSalon. Material Witness will offers my perspective on the fashion industry, textile history and what happens when love for community trumps all.

From EcoSalon – August 12, 2011

ONE WOMAN’S TESTAMENT TO THREAD AND NEEDLE

As a designer and entrepreneur in the fashion industry, it is a bit uncommon that I am also an author. A few weeks ago I turned in the very last edits to my third book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Truth be told, in my younger, bolder, high school days, I fancied myself an aspiring writer. I imagined traveling the globe with pen in hand, creating change at every turn. I fantasized leisurely lunches at Paris cafés. I subscribed to magazines; I was an avid reader. My only hindrance in achieving my dreams was that I was a rather lazy student and proper usage of English grammar and punctuation escaped me. Even today, the comma splice can present problems. So, it is a bit exciting, humbling, and, frankly, scary that I have been so graciously asked to contribute as a bi-weekly columnist at EcoSalon.

While I have had the opportunity to lunch in places like Paris over the years, I haven’t quite traveled the globe with pen in hand yet, though circumstances always change. These books I have written aren’t the next great American novel, they’re craft books. They’re books that teach the time-honored, hand-sewing techniques that are the basis of my fashion company, Alabama Chanin. The books are simply guides that speak to a sustainable lifestyle that is at the core of my work. I want to make that lifestyle available to all.

The decision to open-source Alabama Chanin for individuals through our books is not common in the fashion world, in an industry that is more accustomed to secrecy. However, you have to look at the whole of the picture to understand why sustainable designers do what we do.

My personal work is expensive because it is organic, custom-dyed cotton jersey that is cut, painted, sewn, and embellished completely by hand in America with skilled artisans who set a fair price for their work. Over the years, I heard rumblings in the media of my work being “elitist,” and “inaccessible” because of its price. And while our collections have been deemed “couture,” we run our business in the most down-to-earth way from a small community in North Alabama. Sustainability – both ecological and cultural – has defined our growth from the very beginning and “elitist” would actually be the antithesis of who we are.

When the thought of sharing our techniques and patterns to individual users arose, I understood that this could both sustain the needlework traditions that our company celebrates while making our work available to many more people. The concept of open-sourcing seemed a way to make our products more accessible.

Timing is everything and to understand my decision it’s important to understand the period in which I was working. As all of this was unfolding in 2003, open-sourcing was a new idea. Wired Magazine wrote about and provided music tracks for sampling that were free reign for anyone who had the desire to use them. The internet was spreading like fire and for the first time, vast amounts of information was, almost literally, at our fingertips. Books like The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson (on my required reading list), about the concept of selling less of more were being heatedly discussed. The world of business was changing and it seemed to me that sharing traditions that I did not invent was not only the right thing to do but the modern way to approach my business.

Of course, there were naysayers who firmly believed that, by openly sharing, I was putting the nails in my own coffin. They thought that once our “trade secrets” were common knowledge, no one would purchase our couture garments. Honestly, I was fearful when Alabama Stitch Book landed on the shelves around February 2008. However, the book sold well and, more importantly, interest in our couture collections continued to grow. My fears proved groundless. But then, isn’t that the way it usually goes?

Readers who work with the techniques described in the books now tell us that they understand not only why our garments cost so much but why they are worth so much. At the same time, a completely new part of our business has burgeoned. We now sell the supplies needed to make our designs (organic cotton jersey, thread, stencils, fabric paint, beads, and project kits) via the internet and host hands-on workshops both in our studio in Florence, Alabama, and around the country.

So, all of this information is the story of how a feeling to do what is right – not perhaps what was right for my industry – changed my business and my life. I am not sitting in too many Paris cafes these days. But then, I have a five year old daughter and I imagine that she and I will have plenty of time for that together. I do write a lot these days – revisiting my younger, bolder, high school dreams – and, it seems that I am traveling the world, pen (or computer and camera) in hand and trying to make a difference. On this journey, I find it inspiring to start conversations about life, living and, of course, fashion.

The thing about fashion is this: I want to OWN my clothing on all levels – just like I want to own my life. I want to cut it up, sew it back, and make it MINE. I want a skirt I buy to make it through the first wash and a hundred more.  I want to take the time to make decisions about what I choose to put on my body with the same care that I decide what I put in my body.  I’m hopeful that you feel the same way. In fact, I want to know more about you and hope to start a conversation next time by answering ten reader inspired questions – fashion industry or otherwise.