“Whatever direction Chanin takes, she’ll always come out in the lead. The truth is that the industry is just beginning to wake up to issues this designer, a pioneer of slow fashion, has been addressing for decades.”
– Laird Borrelli-Persson for Vogue
Our work began in 2000, when fashion designer Natalie Chanin conducted interviews for a short documentary film, titled Stitch, and created a collection of 200 one-of-a-kind T-shirts, hand-crafted by artisans in and around the Shoals community of northwest Alabama. This work, originally called “Alabama,” is today the foundation of three connected organizations:
A brand that designs and produces textiles and fashion through commitments to sustainable design, preservation of artisan craft, organic supply chains, and local manufacturing.
THE SCHOOL OF MAKING
Workshops, conversations, and experiences that explore creativity, craft, and design through the act of making, focusing on cultural preservation and education.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit created to document, study, and interpret history, community, and power through the lens of fashion and textiles.
Natalie’s return to the Shoals occurred six short years after the signing of NAFTA shuttered its century-old, thriving textile industry. Florence, Alabama, was once known as the “T-shirt Capital of the World.” Many of the women and men who came to work on that first collection of T-shirts, and the following collections, had worked in the factories that supported this community.
When Alabama Chanin began, the brand structure of a for-profit business with a social mission did not yet exist. And yet, from the beginning, Alabama Chanin incorporated a clear social and ecological mission into its business model. In its earliest form, the company worked with recycled T-shirts—later incorporating organic, American-grown cotton when imports were cheaper and faster. They paid skilled artisans to sew garments by hand, fostering local capital and highlighting techniques passed down between generations. They created jobs and facilitated gatherings for our community. They conducted research, held maker workshops, built supply chains, and dreamed of a cleaner, safer, more equitable industry that would honor the history of the place in both work and life—not only for economic development, but to imagine a more sustainable future for clothing and textiles, people, and planet.
That future has not arrived. Instead, the industry continues to be fueled by exploited overseas laborers, a proliferation of toxic chemicals, and artificial intelligence over craft. Still, Alabama Chanin has sustained its vision and kept imagining something better for the textile and fashion industries. The mission has come to transcend the business.
What happens to a community, state, or nation when we no longer know how to make? How do we preserve craft and industrial knowledge of making and producing?
How do we support the health of communities, and their people, through what, where, and how we produce?
What happens to a community, state, or nation when supply chains are broken? What happens to our communities when all of our goods and services are imported from somewhere else?
What are the roles of making and manufacturing in creating stronger communities, regions, and nations? How might that human geography be more sustainable?
How do we explore, honor, and document our histories of making and manufacturing? How do we restore dignity to that work and build craft that honors humanity?
These questions animated the consolidation of Alabama Chanin, The School of Making, and Project Threadways as a single not-for-profit entity. In 2023, Natalie made the decision to gift Alabama Chanin and The School of Making to Project Threadways, adopting a nonprofit structure for the whole organization.
This renegade approach aims to preserve the past, present, and future work of each branch and allows for a strengthened commitment to Natalie’s values of sustainability. The move marks a significant turning point, actively shaping the industry and charting a new path forward for mission-driven businesses committed to making in the U.S.
In 2021, we celebrated Natalie’s legacy as a pioneer of sustainable design through pieces from our archives, published articles, interviews, and essays from friends and colleagues. Explore The Archives for an in-depth look at the history of Natalie’s work.