Friday, July 20, 2007
Long before I started Trust Your Style, I was a huge fan of Project Alabama. When I first saw small glimpses of the work that Natalie Chanin was doing back in 2001, using women versed in the dying art of American quilt-making to create a couture line while helping to keep this unique American cottage industry alive--it inspired me more than I can express. At the time I was designing and overseeing all aspects of my high end handmade handbag line, so I deeply understood the extra care that a made-by-hand in the USA line requires. I should also mention that my mother is from the south, and the one and only possession I have from her mother is a handmade quilt that means the world to me. When I heard about Natalie and how she coached her team of sewers to love their thread and think kind thoughts as they sewed, imbuing both the sewer and the wearer with love, I knew that this was someone I was going to have to meet.
About a month ago I couldn't believe my good fortune when I ran into Stacie Stukin, a journalist who happened to be working with Natalie Chanin, finishing up the forthcoming "Alabama Stitch Book". Stacie told me that Natalie had started a new line called Alabama Chanin and was still using her same artisan stitchers who live and work in Natalie's local community of Florence, Alabama.
Alabama Chanin employs a mixture of new, organic and recycled materials and has expanded to include gorgeous jewelery and home furnishings. I thought it would be a perfect tie-in today with the Friday TYS style question.
Thanks to fellow writer Julianne Gorman who sent in this great question to herstyle*hisstyle:
Is there a fashionable source for environmentally friendly clothing that doesn't look like you just hackey-sacked your way in from the drum circle? (Ie, something you can wear in the evening or to the office?)
mj: I'm loving this question on so many levels I almost don't where to start, but the answer of course, is yes! That said, making a beautiful upscale line of organic, sustainable clothing is not an easy task.
I decided to concentrate on Natalie's line today because I think more than almost anyone out there in fashion, she incorporates not just the latest organic fabric developments, but also focuses on sustainability, which according to the environmental experts I've interviewed, is the most important emerging element of "green" design. It also doesn't hurt that Natalie is just a great designer, who along with being a former CFDA Nominee, has garnered success at the highest levels of NY fashion.
While creating high end and couture fashion, Natalie also stays conscious of the need to keep the local population employed--she's not sending out to French lace and embellishment houses to do her work, it's all done in her own backyard so to speak. And finally Alabama Chanin gives back to worthwhile causes. I can't think of a more stellar company to exemplify a fashionable source of environmentally friendly clothing, jewelry, and home furnishings!
I spoke earlier today with Natalie, and she explained that the problem with doing an organic line is not so much the lack of organic cotton mills as it is the cotton fiber itself. "There is a higher demand for organic cotton than there is a capacity to grow it. When the larger corporations start making the switch and begin using let's say 5% organic cotton in their massive production, it causes a derth in the organic cotton supply." After many years this is the first time that Natalie has secured a steady supplier of organic cotton, "I've been trying to do this for years and I'm really excited and proud of this." Natalie was telling me that for fall she is doing pieces made from organic green and brown cotton (they are grown this color) knitted with natural organic cotton which makes an unbelievably beautiful pattern in the fabric. These pieces will be available at Saks in the "Green" section and I can't wait to see them! I'll have photos soon to show you as I'll be doing a more in depth feature on Natalie here at TYS as well as in my column at Affluent Magazine.
All of the profits from The Alabama Builds Shirt from this reverse applique piece go to benefit Architecture for Humanity in their work with the Gulf Coast Region projects. Natural Organic Cotton and Made in the USA.
Alabama Chanin is now available at Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey's in Atlanta, the Saks "Green" section, and there will be upcoming trunk shows at 4510 in Dallas as well as Susan of San Francisco. Spend some time on her website alabamachanin.com if you want to find great links to fantastic handmade reference books and get a lovely taste of the south.