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"Chanin is out to challenge the idea that 'fashion' is about the designer, and 'sewing' and 'craft' is about the home-made. As she puts it, making things needn't be viewed as a competition between the 'auteurs' and the 'amateurs.' (This view also has a gendered dimension that is itself inherently problematic — 'fashion' connoting that which is hierarchical and male, 'craft' that which is humble and female.) When she started selling her patterns, she says, others in the industry told her, 'You just killed your business.' But sales of her collection remain robust, she says — probably because the many hours of work that go into most pieces make them difficult to truly replicate — and the DIY side of Alabama Chanin has meanwhile grown to nearly match the fashion side.
Natalie Chanin lives in Florence, Alabama, where her design workshop is located (and where her clothing is made, by local seamstresses who earn a living wage in an area of the South that has been ravaged by unemployment and industry flight). But this week, when Chanin came to New York for the Makeshift conference on sustainability and DIY culture in fashion, I jumped at the chance to meet her. We drank chamomile tea and talked DIY and did DIY. I learned things.
If you're like me, you believe that making things can be powerful. It's an exercise in autonomy, and it's a demonstration of thrift. I find sewing a purse, even if it takes me a week's worth of evenings (maybe because it takes me a week's worth of evenings) much more empowering, and certainly more satisfying, than I do buying one."