Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

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

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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

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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

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MAKESHIFT

MAKESHIFT

Last night we kicked off our Makeshift 2013 conversations with an intimate dinner hosted by friends Lisa Fox and Rosanne Cash.

MAKESHIFT

It was wonderful to hear all of the conversations running through the night, from the study of 50 pages of Proust, to the intellectual property rights on patterns.

MAKESHIFT

Come back tomorrow for more New York Design Week, our conversation at The Standard, East Village, and make your plans for Sunday at Build It Green!NYC in Brooklyn.

MAKESHIFT

Use #makeshift2013 to join the conversation.

Make v. Tr. 

To cause to exist or happen; bring about; create.
To bring into existence by shaping, modifying, or putting together material; construct.
To compel.
To form in the mind.
To compose.
To prepare; fix.
To engage in.
To carry out; perform.
To achieve, produce, or attain.
To institute or establish; enact.
To draw up and execute in a suitable form.
To assure the success of.
To develop into.
To draw a conclusion as to the significance or nature of.
To cause to be especially enjoyable or rewarding.
To appear to begin (an action).
(Among others…)

Shiftv. Tr. 

To alter (position or place).
To change (gears), as in an automobile.
To exchange (one thing) for another. 

10 YEARS HEATH (AND THE FUTURE PERFECT)

HEATH 10 YEARS

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…

 

ZINGERMAN’S AND THE LAPSED ANARCHIST

ZINGERMAN's BUILDING A GREAT BUSINESS

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.

ZINGERMAN's BUILDING A GREAT BUSINESS

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SOUTHERN MAKERS

SOUTHERN MAKERS

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.

SOUTHERN MAKERS

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SLOW DESIGN

SLOW DESIGN

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.

 

 

 

BUILD IT GREEN!NYC (AND A PARTY)

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.

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) alabamachanin.com