Natalie “Alabama” Chanin is the founder and Creative Director of Alabama Chanin. She was born and raised in Florence, Alabama, where her company is based. She has a degree in Environmental Design from North Carolina State University. For over ten years, Natalie lived abroad, working as a stylist and costume designer. Natalie is a mother of two, grandmother of one, an avid gardener, and an enthusiastic cook.
Natalie returned to her southern hometown of Florence with the intention of producing a short documentary. That film, Stitch, focused on traditional quilt-making in the South, with stories told by those who stitched and were warmed by those quilts. Each “character” in the film had a unique story; each quilt told the tale of the joys and hardships, the friendships and family bonds of a specific time and place. While completing the film, Natalie learned of her hometown’s former title of “T-Shirt Capital of the World.” Many of the women interviewed for Stitch were former seamstresses or textile workers left unemployed when Alabama’s textile industry moved south of the border. This perfect storm of circumstances inspired Natalie to gather these former factory workers, creating 200 one-of-a-kind t-shirts.
The demand for these hand-crafted garments eventually launched Project Alabama, which led to the creation of Alabama Chanin. In 2001, Project Alabama shuttered production in Alabama and moved overseas. Natalie launched Alabama Chanin with the intention of preserving the American traditions and community-based culture that she originated with Project Alabama. She continues to learn and to teach craft traditions, or “living arts,” using them to bridge generational, economic, and cultural gaps.
“It has been more than 10 years since I started working on the company that Alabama Chanin has become today. 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 must 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. The first shirts were never intended to be the basis of a business; they were simply pieces of clothing I wanted to wear. 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.”