Yohji Yamamoto has been a hero of mine since I graduated from design school. I once saw him walking down the streets of Milan, Italy, not long after I started working in the New York garment district, and felt that I had made the big time. “Walking on the same street as Yohji Yamamoto?” I thought. It was a momentary highlight in my career that I remember like it was yesterday.
He is known as an avant garde Japanese designer and famous for his intricate designs and impeccable tailoring. He often experiments with different draping methods and varied fabric textures. Yamamoto is also known to integrate wabi sabi, an ever-changing state of beauty, simplicity, and asymmetry, combined with an appreciation for natural elements, into his design aesthetic.
The fashion website Showstudio launched Design Download – “a series demystifying the fashion process by offering prestigious designer garment patterns for download” – with a Yamamoto pattern for a jacket in classic Yamamoto style. He remained mysterious about the process, revealing very little, and challenging the maker to pay close attention to detail, shape, and technique. There is no “how-to,” like you would find with a traditional pattern. Design Download calls this piece a “mystery garment,” telling the reader that the “photographs of the piece hold the visual key to stitching together your own.”
Heather Wylie is the daughter of Alabama Chanin friend and mentor Terry Wylie, and a welcome creative force in our shared factory space on Lane Drive. Heather is recently graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York, where she earned an MFA in Design and Technology. She learned printmaking as an undergrad at the University of Alabama, and it is her love of printing and her ingrained knowledge of the t-shirt business (thanks to Dad) that led her to create Bohemian Bop, a line of hand-printed, silkscreen and lace embellished tee shirts. We visited Heather’s studio to learn a little more about Bohemian Bop, her love of print making, and the future for Heather Wylie.
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.
For those of you who sew often, you likely understand how something as simple as draping fabric can also be very complex. For those of you who don’t, or who are novice sewers, the technique of fabric draping can involve more than just hanging fabric in a lovely way. It is not likely that a Roman emperor casually tossed a bed sheet over his shoulder one day and called it a toga, just as it isn’t likely that a lovely red carpet gown accidentally folds so perfectly around the waist of a posing starlet.
Technically, draping is the ability of a fabric to fall under its own weight into wavy folds. There are different strategies based upon the weight and stiffness of the fabric, its flexibility and tendency to stretch, and the general effect of gravity upon the fabric. Some softer, more flexible fabrics will make drapes that ripple and are more form fitting; stiffer and thicker fabrics will have less flow. When designing patterns, adding draping to your design increases the pattern-making difficulty immensely.
In February, we launched our Basics line of Alabama Chanin garments in clean, unadorned silhouettes: garments for everyday life, to wear with everything. As temperatures climb into the 90’s here in North Alabama, the Basics have found their way into the wardrobe rotation more frequently, particularly the Halter Top.
Hand-stitched in 100% organic cotton medium-weight jersey, the Halter Top (shown here in our color, Denim) is a comfortable slip-on piece with an adjustable tie behind the neck, Cretan stitch finish on the rib, and a tapered, feminine fit through the chest and waist. Top hits at the hip, measuring approximately 23” from the center neckline and 17” from the back to bottom edge.
We love it with our Pleated Skirt or jeans or over a swimsuit on our way to the lake. The Halter Top comes in a variety of lightweight and medium-weight cotton jersey colors.
Wash gently + Hang to dry. Free shipping. Made in the USA.
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 isoften 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.
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.
This year, with MAKESHIFT 2013, we expand ideas that were born from MAKESHIFT 2012 to create a global conversation among artists, designers, and makers. The first part of the MAKESHIFT 2013 SERIES took place at the Standard, East Village where panelists and conversation guides Cathy Bailey – Heath Ceramics, Rosanne Cash – Singer/Songwriter, Natalie Chanin – Alabama Chanin, Jessamyn Hatcher – Professor of Global Studies, NYU, Nathalie Jordi – People’s Pops/Writer/Author, Tift Merritt – Singer/Songwriter, Andrew Wagner – Krrb, and Kristen Wentrcek – Wintercheck Factory, shared their stories and experiences involving collaborative projects and making within their industries. Throughout the evening, guests were invited to express their thoughts from the conversations, literally or conceptually, using an organic cotton tote bag from Alabama Chanin as a blank canvas. A variety of materials were also provided to design, decorate, and customize each bag.
“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. – MAKESHIFT 2012
The MAKESHIFT conversation began last year to discover where and how various creative industries can work together as one. The discussion continued last Thursday evening at The Standard, addressing the intersection of industries on the artisan level, where the interchanges occur, and how we can transform those intersections through innovation and collaboration for the greater good.
As this posts to our Journal this morning, part of our Alabama Chanin team will be in the air and on their way home from MAKESHIFT 2013. We hope that you have followed our explorations and conversations during New York Design Week via Instagram and have had conversations of your own. Leaving MAKESHIFT this year, we are even more convinced about the importance of making, sharing, and finding common ground. You can expect a full recap of our experiences from New York Design Week in the next days, plus expanding conversations about design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY over the coming months.
One thing we do know is that, as we continue to open source our ideas, our Alabama Chanin conversations series and 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). See more in the coming weeks about the bag project we started at MAKESHIFT 2013. In the meantime, here are some instructions for a different kind of bag (with an equally important message).
In the early spring of this year, Alabama Chanin designed and created a one-of-a-kind bag to support the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s “You Can’t Fake Fashion” campaign. We loved the finished product so much that I wanted my own version, adapting the OrganicTote Bag #3. This bag measures 17 1/2” x 13 3/4” x 4 3/4” and is large enough to use as a purse or laptop bag or to carry your sewing projects. The tote has been double-layer appliquéd all-over using our Paisley stencil in Alabama Indigo fabric.
The bag comes in Natural. We chose to customize this tote to match our CFDA bag by dyeing it indigo, but your design choices are endless.