I used to go sit at Tom Hendrix’ wall to think, particularly on days when I thought I couldn’t take running my business anymore. I would ask Mr. Hendrix over and over again, “Where do you find the passion and will to continue creating 25, 26, 27 years into your work?” He would patiently listen to me, laugh, and tell me to go sit in the prayer circle. It always worked. Eventually the wall came to change my entire life – but that is a story for later. Come back in a few weeks to read the rest. This is the story of “The Wall,” as I know it.
Most of you who follow this blog know that when I returned to Alabama over 11 years ago, I didn’t have a grand plan to build the company that is now Alabama Chanin. Any plans that I may have had seemed to fall away into something far larger than I ever anticipated. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in such a position and I readily admit that, at times, I was incredibly overwhelmed. However, as the initial “project” morphed into a business, I learned how to run it on the fly – one day at a time. I have often said that I am not a quick learner, but I finally realized that my community has such a wealth of knowledge as to the workings of cotton AND manufacturing. These two things had been part of the vernacular of this community for a century. So while, it took time for me to understand, I finally realized that I just needed to “go to the well” to draw upon that information. Here in Florence, Alabama, that “well” was Terry Wylie.
It seems unbelievable to me that 2011 is coming to a close. The Alabama Chanin journal has covered so many topics over the 2011 year and we have been so grateful for the opportunity to share our thoughts, travels, milestones and inspirations with you. As the year’s end approaches, we thought we would recap some of the favorite topics of the year.
The holidays have snuck up on us once again. It seems that so often we rush through the year and then into the holidays while forgetting to enjoy the beauty of the season. These days, as we all prepare for parties, enormous dinners, and the giving of gifts, I hope that we also find comfort in tradition, the simplicity of family, and in our own unique ways of celebrating. My wish is the same for our Alabama Chanin family. As we prepare to leave for the holidays (we will be closed on Monday), we leave you with a few stories, favorite memories, pictures, traditions, and things we cherish about this time of year.
If you have been able to read this blog without finding a comma splice and with only an occasional misspelled word, this is because of Sara Martin. Sara came to work with our company when she was a baby – not that she really was, it just felt that way back in 2003 when she started. She brought computer skills, writing skills, a sense of humor and a willingness to do anything; she also brought her own tools to cut plywood to grace my newly purchased shelves, inventoried and organized my reference library, made systems, and generally kept us straight.
I made a flight to Berlin this year with her book, Composed: A Memoir, and could not put it down. There was a moment in the Berlin airport I was streaming tears, book in hand, and oblivious to the other passengers looking my way. Butch leaned over and said, “You okay?” “Yes,” I replied, “it’s just SO beautiful.”
More on that coming soon…
Today, Nov 17, 2011 (4:30pm CT/5:30pm ET), Rosanne is In The Room with Krista Tippett (who I also adore and follow).
I arrived in Alabama from New York on December 23rd, 2000, to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin.
When I was writing the proposal for the project, I called my aunt Elaine to ask if she might help me find a house to rent near her, in the community where my grandparents had been raised. She had just moved back herself, after years of living and working abroad and I thought – who better to help?
My aunt was living in my maternal grandparents’ home. As a newborn baby, I was brought home to this house. It has been the only constant in my life since my birth. Growing up, I spend a LOT of time with my grandparents and knew their land like the back of my hand.
When introducing guests to our office staff, I always have to stop and take a breath at Diane Hall. Over the years, she has just become so much to me and to all of our staff. Like Steven, she has held just about every imaginable job and done or touched just about every task we have in the entire studio – except for accounting. Her current title is Studio Directress, a term that I love since her heart and soul are at the very center of our studio; however, her usual introduction goes like this: “Please meet Diane, our Studio Directress, master seamstress, patternmaker, friend, mother, sister, and company ethicist.” Diane is the person that I always consult when I have a question on ethics. Her kind heart and fair spirit can always see straight through a situation and can usually find an equitable solution for everyone involved. She is the sort of person that summons kindness in all of those around her.
About a year after beginning my work with what is now Alabama Chanin, I was managing the company operations in Alabama with one employee, Abbie (after whom our “Abbie’s Flower” stencil is named).
We were still working in the little three bedroom brick ranch house at Lovelace Crossroads. I was actually living in one side of the house and running the design and production out of the other side of the house. And when I say running, I really mean undertaking the whole production. I spent my days sorting and washing t-shirts, cutting garments for orders, stenciling them, packing them for sewing and sending them out to our sewers – all of this with a head-set permanently in place for the constantly ringing phone. At that moment, I could barely keep up with all of the artisans that wanted to sew, communicate with customers and still manage the production deliveries.
April, one of our very first sewers (and soon to be highlighted here), kept saying to me that she knew this man named Steven who would be perfect to help me. For whatever reason, it seems that I never found time to get him into the office. He finally arrived one gray December day wearing a suit and his University of North Alabama football ring. I was in my Alabama t-shirt, skirt and a work belt made from a pair of old jeans. He seemed like a gift from heaven and I asked him if he wanted to “go home, change clothes and come back to work.” I remember him smiling and answering that maybe he could “start tomorrow?” He reminded me recently that he was our “1st Male Employee.”