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Alabama Chanin

American Made Since 2001
2014 Style Finalist

Natalie Chanin

Florence, Alabama
Alabama Chanin is a lifestyle company producing handmade goods with 100% organic, sustainable cotton in Florence, Alabama.
Style, Fashion
Finalist

Tell us about your business.

I launched Alabama Chanin with the intention of preserving American traditions and community-based culture—we’re dedicated to keeping design and production local to my hometown, Florence, AL. We’re inspired by our surroundings, the soil, light, and colors of our community. Our techniques are passed from hand to hand over generations. These traditional methods are refined and modernized to create contemporary pieces with a homespun feel. Each stitch on every garment has a purpose. Each product was constructed by loving hands and signed by the artisan who completed it. Our family of businesses—which includes the Alabama Chanin collection, Studio Style DIY kits, The Factory Store + Café, the A. Chanin machine-made line, and Building 14 Design + Manufacturing Services—works to create a collaborative community and idea exchange, healthy growth, and a love of goods that last. We look forward to nurturing each branch of our family tree, potentially adding new branches as opportunities arise.

Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.

In 2008, we relocated operations from a three-bedroom house at Lovelace Crossroads on the outskirts of Florence to a former textile manufacturing facility in the local industrial park. Redubbed “The Factory”, the space was built in 1982 and houses our design and production studio with enough space to host workshops, events, and dinners. In 2013, we further expanded The Factory’s footprint to include a new 5,000-square foot event space to include our full-service café, workshop headquarters, and flagship store. The space is filled with books, music, the hum of making goods. And, most recently, we added machines for the newly launched A. Chanin machine-made line and equipment for the company’s Building 14 Design + Manufacturing Services (a branch that facilitates production for other companies who wish to produce responsibly, using organic cotton, in the USA).

What inspires you?

My inspiration comes from my community—sometimes home is the best place for great ideas to thrive. My fellow artists also challenge me to succeed, and the love of and for my family moves me. I find great inspiration in books and photographs, as well. Our most recent collection was inspired by Maxine Payne’s upcoming book, Making Pictures: Three for a Dime. It catalogues the work of the Massengill family, who worked in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s as photographers in rural Arkansas. The photos of farmers, young couples, babies, and the Massengills themselves really capture a specific time and spirit. I wanted to translate that into our work.

What makes your business stand out?

I believe it’s our innovative business operation that sets us apart. We employ only 31 people at The Factory, but 42 seamstresses work as independent contractors. Over the years, more than 500 seamstresses in the Florence area have contributed to our design business, characterizing our corporate structure as a cottage industry. This system allows our workers to have steady employment as well as flexibility. The women who work with us are the primary caregivers at home, whether it’s for a sick child or an elderly parent. We give them the opportunity to work when they want, where they want, and empower them to set their own schedule. We don’t make anything in the Alabama Chanin collection until a customer places an order for it. At that point, a bidding sheet is sent to the seamstresses and is also available at the warehouse. Seamstresses bid on projects and quote me a price that they think is fair, depending on the project’s complexity.

What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?

First and foremost, always follow your heart. Even if things don’t turn out exactly as you had planned, you will have far less regret if you stay true to yourself. And sometimes, you’ll find that the result is much better than your original plan. Tackle your fears. Take on things that intimidate you. Confronting challenges is essential and beneficial. And I promise it becomes easier with practice. No matter the situation, do what’s right – not just what’s easy. Our commitment to organic materials and environmentally sound practices often results in painstaking searches and higher overhead. But our values are important and well worth the time, energy, and money. We've found that our clients feel the same way.

What does American Made mean to you?

I believe goods should be “Made in America” as often as possible. At this point in our nation’s history, I’m concerned about the rampant departure of manufacturing jobs and consider it almost as a matter of national security. The fact that there are no steel mills in the South anymore is disturbing. That’s why we adhere to producing our goods using only domestically sourced materials. We use only 100 percent organic cotton grown in Texas. It is spun into yarn in North Carolina, knitted into fabric in South Carolina, and dyed in Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina.

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