Our exploration into organic cotton growing continues. As we brainstorm, discuss, research, and learn all there is to know about growing our own organic cotton, we decided that the best place to begin is with a study of the seeds themselves. So this week Erin–who is new to our studio – dug in deep to learn more about seed supply and just how to find those organic seeds. Here are some of her reflections and discoveries:
As Alabama Chanin has grown and evolved, we have built a business model that I strongly believe in. Many of you have been with us from the beginning, and many of you have found us along the way. On a daily basis, we receive a bounty of emails, phone calls, and letters. Here we have compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions. Included are the mission and some history of Alabama Chanin. We invite you to explore, share, and of course let us know if there is something that we missed.
We sincerely appreciate every email, query, and compliment that comes our way; we look forward to continuing the conversation. While our FAQs is not meant to replace old-fashioned interaction we hope it gives anyone interested the opportunity to learn more about our company, just as we hope for opportunities to learn more about all of you.
Thank you to our employees and artisans for their commitment to the extraordinary and thank you to everyone at Etsy for telling our story with this beautiful film. It makes us proud to share the stories that unfold each day in our growing community.
Please visit the Etsy blog to read a little more and leave a comment to enter to win a copy of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design plus a DIY kit that includes everything you’ll need to sew your own Alabama Chanin garment.
At the Factory, we play music to help set an inspiring tone for our work environment, and sometimes to just get us through the day. At any given time, you will hear a range of genres including folk, classical, rock, country, and independent artists. We don’t usually pick favorites, but The Civil Wars’ sounds are often heard floating through the shelves of organic fabric in the studio.
Joy Williams and John Paul White’s soothing and harmonic melodies have provided the soundtrack to many FULL workdays. The songs are sometimes bluesy, sometimes haunting, and always powerful. Their voices simply sound natural and right together. Perhaps we’re partial to them—not only because of their poetic music—but also because they are rooted in the Shoals; The Civil Wars are a vital part of our artistic community. But, we also feel connected to the band because of their approach to making, or “crafting” music.
As we posted last Tuesday, I highly recommend that you start a library to document your design work. As you create your samples, make them the same size so that your (master) pieces can be easily stored. And even if you don’t want to keep the samples for posterity, you can work towards making a Sampler Throw like the one shown above. As we develop our many fabrics, it often happens that a particular sample, as beautiful as it may be, just doesn’t fit neatly into one of our Fabric Swatch Books or collections. That was the case with the swatches that became the basis for this Sampler Throw. You may even find that you want to make the Sampler Throw not as a way of developing different fabric swatches, but just because it’s a beautiful and easy project. Either way, I urge you to explore our stencils, colors, techniques, and stitches to sustain rewarding design experiences.
Organic cotton is the heart of Alabama Chanin. It binds all aspects of the company: sustainability, fashion, DIY, and craft. All of our garments- couture or DIY- are made with these naturally grown fibers. We have examined the influence cotton has had on our community. We have thought about its global impact. We have voiced our concerns.
I have spent countless hours contemplating major business decisions because I feel it is vital to my own ethical truths and the philosophy of our company to buy and sell only organic cotton. But, we have our own supply chain issues that affect commitment to organic cotton (more to come on this very soon). Continue reading →
Fabric designs are the basis of all our collections at Alabama Chanin. Each design starts as a simple 10” x 16” rectangle of our organic cotton jersey that is embellished using a variety of techniques and manipulations that may include stenciling, embroidery, beading, and/or appliqué.
My decision to use a 10” x 16” rectangle was based on the mere fact that we can easily obtain 3-ring binders to store and display swatches this size. These binders also provide us a simple way to organize our designs by color, season, and/or pattern.
While working on some press and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages this last month, I came across some texts that date back across the decade of Alabama Chanin. In reading and going over some of these texts, I thought it would be a good series to share on our Sustainable Design Tuesdays. Here is one of those texts about building a round company:
My goal with building designs – as I have built my company – is to make a sphere. I strive to create a well-rounded, (w)holistic company that revolves around a central theme: sustainability of culture, environment, and community.
It has been over a decade since I started working on the company that Alabama Chanin has become today and I am often asked how I had the foresight to start a company based on the principles of sustainability and Slow Design. To this comment, I laughingly reply that I never intended to start a sustainable design company; I simply stumbled into it like the fool falling off the cliff. When I cut up those first t-shirts, I was doing something that I felt driven to do. I didn’t think of those garments as the basis of a business; they were simply pieces of clothing I wanted to wear and, perhaps more importantly, make. However, when I look back today, it all feels like a seamless and directed adventure into the realms of becoming a sustainable designer and manufacturer.
I am often invited to speak about this process and our resulting business model, as it has developed into an unusual one. However, truth be told, I have simply taken inspiration for our model from farmers and strive to build a zero waste company where the results of one production process become the fuel for another.
Our primary work is the business of designing and making clothing. And whether a dress calls for recycled t-shirts or locally grown, certified organic cotton, the designing and making of that product spurs our model. It was developed not by intention, but through process.
The Alabama Chanin collection is a luxury line. Hand-selected fabric is sourced, dyed, re-dyed, and sometimes dyed again to achieve the perfect shade. Our team has hand-mixed thousands of paint colors, looking for the perfect complement to a certain hue. Giant rolls of fabric have been returned, donated, or recycled because a run, tear, or other minor defect was spotted. Designs are sketched and often re-sketched. Then come the patterns, more patterns, and finally dozens of samples (all hand-sewn), alterations, editing, more patterns, more samples. Repeat.
Our embellishments are next. We add the glass beads, the intricate decorative stitching, the sturdy straight stitch, endless crocheted snaps, and once again, repeat. Southern couture is expensive, lovely, and nothing less than a passion for those artisans who initial the tags in each one-of-a-kind Alabama Chanin garment.
We all encounter bumps in the road, but with encouragement and tenacity, we persevere.
Back in 2001, I faced one in my life. I returned to New York to continue developing my life’s work into what is now Alabama Chanin. At the time, I was living in the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street while I was developing the line, working with partners, and sorting out production issues. One Sunday morning, I woke up feeling extremely frustrated. Continue reading →