Explore: Alabama Chanin | Florence, AL
A few months ago Aissa, Ginny of Sleepy Fox Photography and I ventured to one of the most amazing artisan spaces, Alabama Chanin. The Florence institution was our inaugural "Explore" and it sparked our love of traveling as a tribe. I've been holding onto these photos for a while and it's finally time to share! Below, if you're interested, is a style of writing I usually avoid here but love to experiment with.
Alabama Chanin knows a thing or two about sewing. Whether it's stitching together a tight-knit community of talented artisans with devoted costumers or combining the purest organic cotton (freshly harvested from a local field the company shares with fellow Shoals native, Billy Reid), the Florence fashion house can always be found mending in one way or another. With a business model built on weaving the principles of community, craftsmanship and sustainability, Alabama Chanin operates within a unique cottage industry. The design house prides itself on working with upwards of 30 local seamstresses who live within an hour or two of Natalie Chanin's brick and mortar warehouse, creating their unique and intentional cotton couture.
When 2000 rolled around, Natalie left the big city for a slower, simpler life in her hometown of Florence, Alabama and began working on an art project that would later captivate fashionistas (the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund took notice in 2009) and lifestyle lovers alike. What started as Chanin's passion project (reconstructing thrifted treasures in New York City) quickly quickly flourished into a fledgling textile industry of its own accord. To help with the unique stitching she envisioned for the line, the designer enlisted the skills of local makers, a community that injected the project with intention and purpose.
It's easy to recognize, even if you're only in the space for a short visit, that Alabama Chanin's brand identity and values radiate throughout the 5,000 square foot warehouse/storefront tucked away in the business district of a small Alabama town known for it's involvement in the South's textile economy. Upon setting foot in the storefront you can expect to be greeted by one-of-a-kind artwork, down home charm and a lot of pillowy cotton. With a single touch it's evident why the line has been met with so much praise… the fabric is comfortingly gentle and cool on the skin (a trait that is held in high esteem in the sticky Alabama climate); perfect for life's sweetest moments. It's almost impossible not to get lost in the swirls of intricate embroidery and incredibly complicated yet beautiful stitches (crafted exclusively by hand). After taking in all of the oddities (interesting home goods, all three of Natalie's instructional books and cotton creations abound) you're free to wander into The Factory Cafe. Here love is baked, sautéed and fried into Southern classics rich with freshly-harvested, straight from the earth flavors.
What makes Chanin's space & line special, the fabric that ties it all together, is the company's respect for local tradition, knowledge of the South's rich textile history and cognizance that there is still a market craving the meticulous attention to detail that is sorely lacking in the mass-produced fast fashion of the now. Perhaps more difficult than the alternative, the pain staking process is worth every dropped stitch and sore thumb.