Tag Archives: Heroes + Heroines

WEEKEND AWAY: MABEL DODGE LUHAN HOUSE

From what I’ve gathered, Taos is a Magical Place. Natalie made a trip there not so long ago and came home breathless with tales of beauty and enlightenment. She was especially enthralled with the story of Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

Her experience inspired a new series of workshops called Weekend Away.

Natalie wrote in the introduction to this series:

I had the opportunity to visit Taos not so very long ago and, as I much as I was looking forward to the trip, nothing could have prepared me for the experience. In a word: incredible. My stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, my time in Taos, the breath-taking mountain backdrop, all left me feeling rested, energized, inspired.

I have always felt that our workshops have a sort of healing property and, while we love hosting weekend workshops in our home @The Factory, we also feel that it is beneficial to visit the “homes” of others for an extended stay. We are beginning to seek destinations that nourish the soul and calm the mind. Taos seems the perfect place to begin.”

Continue reading

WE (HEART) ANNA SUI

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

THE HEART: STONE TALKER

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.

Continue reading

THE HEART: TERRY WYLIE – PART 1

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 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 I just needed to “go to the well” to draw upon that information. Here in Florence, Alabama, that “well” was Terry Wylie.

 

Continue reading

ROSANNE CASH + KRISTA TIPPETT, THANK YOU

Rosanne Cash has become one our favorite clients, friends, and points of inspiration over this last year. (Yes, thank you, it has been a very good year and we have lots of reasons to be thankful.)

It seems that everywhere I turn these days, Rosanne’s name is attached to another interesting project.  From America: Now and Here (read the NY Times Article about the project ) to Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit 2011, Rosanne seems to be singing, writing, and spreading poetry around the globe.

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).

Can’t wait to hear it all…

Watch it here or at In The Room:

*Photo above of Rosanne sporting her Alabama Chanin coat @ Fortune Magazine’s Summit.  Whoohooo…

CIVILITY, HISTORY, + SONG

Krista Tippett’s podcast, On Being, has spurred many conversations and thoughtful moments in my life. I listened to the episode, Civility, History & Hope – Vincent Harding in conversation with Krista Tippett – in August and I just can’t seem to get it out of my mind. On my recent trips, I listened to it at least four more times and each time it resonated with more clarity. I have since read the entire transcript and I continue to contemplate the message.

From the program:

“Vincent Harding is a wise voice of history — the history of civil rights. This hour, as part of our Civil Conversations Project, he helps us imagine how the lessons of that time might speak to contemporary American divisions. Martin Luther King’s vision, he reminds us, was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; he aspired in biblical words to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society. And Vincent Harding possesses an infectious hope for the continued unfolding of that possibility, even now. He’s spent recent decades bringing the elders and lessons of civil rights into creative contact with new generations. As we navigate rancor in our time, he says, we can look both to history and again to the margins of society, to young people of courage and creativity.”

I come back over and over again to the thought of the “beloved community,” the feeling of Dr. King and Vincent Harding that the term “civil rights” is not enough – that we as humanity are bigger than that.

Our voice is big, and beautiful and strong.

Continue reading

ERICA JONG – MOTHER MADNESS

I ran across this article by Erica Jong on the madness of modern motherhood through another favorite author: Elizabeth Wurtzel.

The article made me sit back in my chair and I have been thinking of it randomly for weeks.  Perhaps because I am raising two children across two very different decades, or perhaps because I am a working, single mother who is responsible (most of the time) for daily life or perhaps just because there is a small feminist (Charlotte Perkins Gilman are you listening?) ember somewhere inside of me,  I find relief in Jong’s words.

(Admittedly, I have read every book that Jong ever wrote and have always adored her humor.  Fanny, one of my favorite Jong books, was written in response to John Cleland’s Fanny Hill.)

Although I made the conscious decision this last year to take more time for family life, I am still the breadwinner AND the bread baker.  And I stand by my decision and will tell anyone who asks that it was the best decision I ever made.

When my son was young, 29 years ago, I didn’t have that option (which is a luxury).  Yet, I have shed many a tear and endured many moments of guilt and self-loathing in thinking about decisions I made. The last line of Jong’s article feels like an absolution to me:  “Do the best you can. There are no rules.”

Read the Wall Street Journal article and tell me what you think:  Mother Madness

And don’t miss the additional piece by Molly Jong-Fast:  Growing Up With Ma Jong

*Raphael. The Niccolini-Cowper Madonna. 1500. Oil on wood. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF ARTISANS

For a decade, my work at Alabama Chanin has been made possible by our artisans.  Without them and our amazing staff, there would be no Alabama Chanin.

Many of the artisans working with us today are the very same women who sewed those first deconstructed t-shirts.  I want to express my deep gratitude.  Wielding needle and thread for a decade, they have brought beauty, laughter, amazement and joy to my life and company (not to mention all the garments, home-furnishings and projects along the way).

Over the decade, they have ranged in age from 20 to 80; among them have been secretaries, students, former textile mill employees, retired school teachers, and single mothers. They are mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, husbands, wives and friends but above all, they have proven talented, committed and proud to do the work they do.

Thanks to each and every one of you who has passed through our door- it has been a wonderful (and still growing) adventure…

*Photos from Elizabeth DeRamus

JULIE GILHART + THE DALAI LAMA

Many of my regular readers know a bit about my history… but to sum it up for those of you that are new:

In the year 1999, I took (what I thought to be) a four month sabbatical from my life and loves in Vienna, Austria. Beginning on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela, my plan was to end my travels in New York City, spend one month, then go home to Vienna.  That never happened.

I went to New York City, one month became two, two months became three and – obviously – I never moved back to Vienna.  In the course of my extended sabbatical, I cut apart and reconstructed a t-shirt and a company called Project Alabama was born.  The history of Project Alabama and my subsequent move to Alabama Chanin has been well documented – no need to elaborate.  However, the simplified version above skips over so many, many people who are intricate to making Alabama Chanin the company that it is today.

Julie Gilhart from Barneys New York is one of these people.  She came to a make-shift “showroom” in the Hotel Chelsea and that first collection of recycled t-shirts came to life.  She consequently went out into the fashion industry and told everyone she met about the work.  Julie and the amazing buyers at Barneys have bought, sold and paid for every subsequent collection since the year 2001 – including the difficult time during the transition from Project Alabama to Alabama Chanin.

I luckily have had the opportunity to get to know Julie Gilhart over the last decade and the honor to call her “friend.”  And through this friendship, I heard the following story about a year ago:

It was the year 2000 and Julie had taken some time at the end of the year to hear a lecture from the Dalai Lama. After this amazing experience, she returned to her office at Barneys early in 2001 to be confronted with a pile of fashion week invitations and catalogs that covered the span of her desk and reached above eye-level.  The sheer amount of information was overwhelming.  She sat there looking at the pile, wondering where to start when a colleague from Barneys stopped by her office.  The visitor picked up a brochure from the Dalai Lama that Julie had lying on her desk, thumbed through and remarked, “This is everything we don’t do.”  Julie looked at the colleague, replied, “You are right.  We have to get out-of-here right now.”  She looked at the pile of invitations and catalogs on her desk, reached for a random item and pulled out a hand-made catalog from a new company:  Project Alabama.

Consequently, Julie called the number on the catalog, took a cab to the Hotel Chelsea, and Alabama Chanin came to life on that day.

Amazing to me that a decade of work can come from one simple moment of faith and belief…  stemming from a committed, brilliant, beautiful, rich, spiritual, whole, funny, light, surfing, friend of a woman.

Since those simple beginnings in 2000, I have had the opportunity to lecture and hold workshops around the globe on sustainability in design and to act as an expert in the fields of micro-economics and the use of local labor.  Alabama Chanin and me, Natalie Chanin, are what we are today because of the unfettered belief and support of Julie Gilhart. I am deeply indebted.

Julie’s recent departure from Barneys New York marks a new milestone in her own personal journey; a journey that I am sure will be filled with richness and beauty.

**T-shirt #90  “Sister Shirt” – shown above – was part of that very first collection and photographed by me.

CITIZEN ARCHITECT

Tune into PBS on MONDAY, AUGUST 23rd, 9PM CST

(AFTER HISTORY DETECTIVES)

for the National Broadcast of

CITIZEN ARCHITECT: SAMUEL MOCKBEE AND THE RURAL STUDIO

More Information Here:   http://video.pbs.org/program/1548466406/

If you can not tune in, check out the website / or facebook page for theatrical screening updates / or buy the DVD online:

http://www.citizenarchitectfilm.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/CITIZEN-ARCHITECT-FILM/285692586601?ref=ts

Bravo to our friends Sam and Jay… and, of course, to Samuel Mockbee – who inspired a generation.

Watch and then plan your road trip to Hale County, Alabama…