Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

PATAGONIA: AN EXAMINED LIFE

Alabama Chanin has long looked to Patagonia, and Yvon Chouinard, as the standard for sustainable design, manufacturing, and corporate culture. The recent film “Legacy Look Book” (shown above) is a beautiful reminder of why we love this company so very much.

When Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” he wasn’t implying that an unexamined life is boring or holds less meaning. He said the unexamined life is not worth living. As difficult as this process may be for an individual to understand and undertake, deciding that a company should live an “examined life” only adds to the challenge. It demands a carefully plotted and specific corporate mission, along with employing people who are willing to work openly, honestly, and for the right reasons.

PATAGONIA: AN EXAMINED LIFE

Continue reading

SUPPLY AND DEMAND: LIGHTWEIGHT FABRIC

SUPPLY AND DEMAND: LIGHTWEIGHT FABRIC

We all understand the basic principles of supply and demand. In a perfect world, the two work in balance, supply always meeting the demand, one never exceeding or disappointing the other. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and as with any product driven business, there are occasional supply issues. Unfortunately, we are presently experiencing one of those challenges with our lightweight cotton jersey.

Our lightweight cotton jersey is currently out-of-stock in Black. It has been our most popular color, particularly for our Alabama Chanin Basics. Some colors are still available in limited quantities. We wish we could say exactly when the situation will be remedied and simply apologize for the inconvenience. But, the supply chain is not so simple. It’s actually quite complicated, so we asked Phillip Glover, Vice President of Green Textile, from whom we buy all of our cotton jersey, to answer a couple questions and help us better understand the situation.

Continue reading

SIGN PAINTERS (THE MOVIE)

Sign Painters - Authors_Levine_Macon

Yesterday, I wrote about my appreciation of hand-painted signs, inspired by the book Sign Painters, authored by friend Faythe Levine with Sam Macon. Faythe and Sam have directed a documentary – also called Sign Painters, as a companion to the book.

In 2008, Faythe co-authored and directed a book and film, both named Handmade Nation: The Rise of Craft and DIY. We welcomed her to Alabama last April for our Visiting Artist Series, where she highlighted “craftivism” and brought her light-hearted stories to the Factory. This summer she has taken Sign Painters on the road for a series of screenings.

Faythe has an itinerant spirit. She states in the book’s preface, “Many of my earliest memories involve travel, much of which was by car. I’d stare out the window of the family station wagon and watch America transition from one place to the next.”

SIGN PAINTERS_COLOSSALMEDIA Continue reading

A. CHANIN

A. CHANIN

At Alabama Chanin, we practice Slow Design, which focuses on producing goods in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The intent is to design clothing and home goods that are made from sustainable raw materials using environmentally sound methods, resulting in beautiful, healthy, and long-lasting products. We want to create connections with our customers and for Alabama Chanin pieces to be used and worn for many years, to be incorporated into the life of a customer.

Our business model and method of production is based on sustainable practices. Rather than purchase low cost materials and manufacture products quickly and cheaply, we opt for a Made-in-the-USA approach, using local, artisanal labor sources. To-date, Alabama Chanin items have been made entirely by hand, without any machine work.

A. CHANIN

Continue reading

OVERDRESSED

OVERDRESSED

Last month we wrote about Slow Design, specifically in contrast to Fast Fashion, as the death toll from a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh rose by the hour, reaching 1,127. During the three weeks the tragedy made headlines, NPR’s “Fresh Air” broadcast an interview with Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, where Cline and Terry Gross discussed Overdressed and how the Dhaka tragedy has affected global consciousness of the Fast Fashion issue. The interview ushered us to (finally) read Cline’s book, and we’re glad we did.

Overdressed is often compared to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma for its social influence, and is a book we feel is a necessary read for anyone wanting to better understand the negative impact Fast Fashion has on our environment, our humanity, and our personal carbon footprint.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

NATURALLY COLORED COTTON AND SALLY FOX

NATURAL COTTON COLORS SALLY FOX

Here is a bit of information that may surprise you: not all cotton is white cotton. If you are like me, you may not have always known that natural cotton comes in plenty of hues. In fact, there were originally shades of cotton that ranged from many tones of brown, to dark green, to brown, black, red, and blue. These varieties of cotton were widely used by Native American peoples and, occasionally, slaves were allowed to grow small plots of colored cotton because plantation owners considered it worthless. Colored cotton became obscure because farmers and manufacturers believed it too difficult to work with due to its short staple length, which makes the cotton problematic to spin. As a result, the varieties of colored cotton have dwindled. The Central Institute for Cotton Research in India has cultivated 6,000 varieties of cotton, only 40 of which are colored.

The white cotton we primarily see now was created by planting mono-crop, or only one variety of cotton. This type of cotton requires more pesticides than other varieties and the dyeing of this cotton is a massive cause of land and water pollution (not to mention its human impact). According to the ECO360 Trust, nearly 20% of all industrial water pollution results from textile dyeing and production methods. They have discovered at least 72 toxic chemicals that are present in our water system purely due to textile dyeing.

NATURAL COTTON COLORS SALLY FOX

Continue reading

NEUTRA NUMBERS

NEUTRA NUMBERS

The practice of numbering houses supposedly began in Paris in the 1500’s. Having a house number is something we don’t give a second thought to these days, but they have not always been used and they certainly have not always been popular.

Some countries have numbered zones, requirements for the number of digits, double sets of numbers, and different color street numbers for different purposes, like upstairs and downstairs. Every country, state, city, or county seems to have their own numbering system. Early numbering systems were developed for the controversial purposes of census taking, drafting men into the military, taxation, creating borders, and other government functions. They were not created for their current purpose: ease of navigation. No matter the country, modern day houses are often required to be numbered for purposes of delivering mail or in case emergency services are needed.

Early identification methods didn’t involve numbers at all. If you wanted to identify or contact the residents of a home, you used the house’s name. But house names were not always displayed, there was no central directory, and sometimes there was more than one house with the same name. This meant that locals could find other locals, but outsiders had a difficult time finding their way around. When the idea of numbering houses was introduced, the idea was not incredibly popular, as it was seen by many as a form of government control.

Today, in modern day America, there is no set standard for how streets get numbered, but there are some practices that are used often. For instance, odd numbered houses are almost always on one side of the street, and even numbered houses are on the opposite side. Some cities are designed as grids with a center point; each block that moves farther from the center increases by 100 (2nd, 3rd, 4th Avenue, etc.) and directional modifiers are determined based upon this point (2nd Avenue North, for example).

My father has been hounding me for years about numbering my house. I’ve never been sure why it was important, since I get my mail and people seem to find the place pretty easily. But, when I saw these numbered tiles, part of a collaboration between House Industries and Heath Ceramics, I coveted house numbers. House Industries creates beautiful fonts and designs, often from unusual or inspired origins. Their typography can take inspiration from a number of sources, blending musical, cultural, and graphic elements. Their design aesthetic works perfectly with the Heath brand. Both companies focus on craftsmanship and forming partnerships and each of them use a hands-on approach when creating products. I purchased the Neutra numbers, but there is also an Eames-inspired collection that is just as beautiful.

I guess my house will not remain incognito anymore. I like that the house numbers add warmth to the entrance and my father is happy to know my house is now properly attired.

 

SINGLE LOCK RECORDS

SINGLE LOCK RECORDS - Photograph by Abraham Rowe Photography

The music industry as we once knew it has been forced to evolve rapidly in recent years, as technology has grown faster than established business models. Major record labels struggle to maintain control of the radio waves, music sales, artist development, and our ears; meanwhile, established artists like Radiohead and Beck have embraced the Internet, a one-time enemy to record sales, by offering their work at pay-what-you-want prices, or occasionally for free. Other artists, like Jack White with Third Man Records, have taken control of the entire creative process by starting their own indie record labels, effectively surpassing the gatekeepers of yesterday.

Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and The Bear, John Paul White of the Civil Wars (DIY band of 2012), and financial advisor, Shoals native, and friend Will Trapp, are bringing some of that anti-Old Guard attitude to our community with their indie label, Single Lock Records. The Shoals has a rich music history, thanks to Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals Sound, and many others who helped establish the recording industry here during the 1960’s and 70’s. Hall’s FAME Studios, with its talented roster of studio musicians, attracted diverse recording artists, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Paul Simon, and even the Osmonds. Some of these artists created their best work here. Later, Muscle Shoals Sound opened, recording the Rolling Stones, Traffic, and Bob Dylan, among many others. These days, the music flows OUT of the Shoals, not INTO it.

SINGLE LOCK RECORDS - Photograph by Abraham Rowe Photography

Continue reading

STUDIO WEEK

STUDIO WEEK

On the heels of MAKESHIFT 2013, we are inspired and invigorated by the conversations around design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY that took place last week during New York Design Week. We hope that you have followed our explorations throughout the events this year and have used our discussions to begin conversations of your own. We are even more convinced about the importance of making, sharing, and finding common ground, and look forward to expanding the conversations about design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY over the coming months.

One thing that resonates from those talks last week, are the concepts of collaboration and skill sharing.  As we continue to open source our ideas, our Alabama Chanin workshops will continue to grow. These events—like MAKESHIFT—have become an intimate, extraordinary way for us to connect with fellow makers, designers, and like-minded creators across the country (and the world).

STUDIO WEEK

Continue reading