Last fall, I attended a workshop at Alabama Chanin, an eco-couture house in – not New York – northern Alabama. Why did I go all the way down there? I read about this company and its founder, Natalie Chanin, in an issue of Ode magazine last summer. Something about their mission, their aesthetic, and their story just drew me; I simply could not resist!
Alabama Chanin is a welcoming, creative feast for the eyes. Everything in the place is sorted by color, neatly organized, even the scraps. They don’t really consider them “scraps” in the way someone else might. They think of ways to re-use every piece of fabric, to have a zero-waste operation. Not only does it save precious resources and money, it gives them opportunities to exercise their prodigious creativity. They even have a sofa made out of bales of cotton scraps! All their cotton is organically-grown, and their garments are stitched by hand.
This creativity extends to every aspect of the business. Every roadblock or challenge, big or small, has become an opportunity to revisit the mission and go at it another way. At the workshop, Natalie told us some stories of setbacks that would have brought most other businesses to their knees. These challenges were like a test of her resolve and faith. Each time, she kept at it, trying a slightly different angle, one that actually improved the business and took her closer to her vision of a truly sustainable enterprise. Her unwavering commitment to the dream is so powerful and inspiring.
Alabama Chanin has been profitable from the beginning. They work with independent stitchers from around the region, mostly women who are continuing long traditions of quilting and handwork. Interestingly, Alabama Chanin is headquartered in an old T-shirt factory, in the town that used to consider itself the T-shirt Capitol of the World. That is, until NAFTA took all those good jobs away.
Alabama Chanin is proof that when you are living your life purpose, unexpected things happen to nurture your success. Natalie had some great stories about ah-ha moments and serendipitous events that have helped her carry this vision forward. Buyers, groupies and fans have consistently shown up to support her, once she was out there doing her thing. These are high-quality, beautiful garments made with care that will last generations. What a perfect embodiment of sustainability.