Natalie “Alabama” Chanin is the owner and designer of Alabama Chanin. She was born and raised in Florence, Alabama, where her company is based.
Chanin has a degree in Environmental Design with a focus on industrial and craft-based textiles from North Carolina State University. After graduation, Natalie worked in the junior sportswear industry on New York’s Seventh Avenue, before moving abroad. For over a decade, Natalie worked as a stylist and costume designer, traveling the globe.
Chanin eventually returned to her Southern home with the intention of producing a line of hand-sewn t-shirts. In the process of creating that project, she also produced a short documentary. That film, Stitch, focused on traditional quilt-making in the South, with stories told by those who stitched and were warmed by those quilts. Each “character” in the film had a unique story. Each quilt told the tale of the joys and hardships, and the friendships and family bonds of a specific time and place.
While producing the film and collection of t-shirts, Natalie met many women who were former seamstresses or textile workers from the 1980s, when her hometown’s former title was “T-Shirt Capital of the World.” The signing of NAFTA left many women and men unemployed as Alabama’s textile industry moved south of the border. This perfect storm of circumstances inspired Alabama Chanin and the newest educational arm of the company called ‘The School of Making’.
Chanin strives to achieve complete sustainability at every stage of the manufacturing process - from materials and processes, to cultural sustainability in the form of preserving hand-sewing skills. Over the years, Alabama Chanin has organically expanded, establishing a family of businesses that includes the Alabama Chanin collection, Studio Style DIY sewing kits, The Factory Store + Café, the A. Chanin machine-made line, and Building 14 Design + Manufacturing Services. All facets work together to create a collaborative community and idea exchange, healthy growth, and a love of quality goods that last. In 2013, Chanin won the CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge, an award competition that identifies and celebrates the greatest American designers working in the realm of sustainable fashion. Chanin continues to learn and to teach craft traditions, or “living arts,” using them to bridge generational, economic, and cultural gaps.
When she’s not hand-stitching garments or schooling folks on sustainable design, Chanin is a mother of two, an avid gardener, and an enthusiastic cook.
“It has been more than 10 years since I started working on the company that Alabama Chanin has become today. I am often asked how I had the foresight to start a company based on the principles of sustainability and Slow Design. To this comment, I must laughingly reply that I never intended to start a sustainable design company; I simply stumbled into it like the fool falling off the cliff. When I cut up those first t-shirts, I was doing something that I felt driven to do. The first shirts were never intended to be the basis of a business; they were simply pieces of clothing I wanted to wear. However, when I look back today, it all feels like a seamless and directed adventure into the realms of becoming a sustainable designer and manufacturer.”—Natalie Chanin, 2010