Vogue May 2017
Alabama Chanin Is Launching a New Collection of Seed-to-Shelf, Made-in-the-USA Basics
Natalie Chanin has made sustainability part of her clothing projects from the very beginning. One of her earliest creations, a circa 2001 Project Alabama T-shirt emblazoned with a reverse appliqué of a bald eagle, is tucked away in my bottom drawer, where I stash all my treasures. In those days she used locally sourced vintage tees, hiring at-home quilters to do elaborately crafty stitch work. Her brand of homespun chic caught the attention of the Cooper Hewitt museum; she was nominated for its 2005 National Design Awards. That year she was a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist and put on a runway show at the Bryant Park tents. With a home base in Florence, Alabama, she’s existed mostly on fashion’s fringes since then, but today she’s launching a project on her e-commerce site that puts her in trailblazing mode once again.
Though Chanin has long used seed-to-shelf, made-in-the-USA organic materials, the hand-sewing methods involved in her embroidered designs put them out of reach for all but a few—dresses can go as high as $6,000. Combining hand-sewing techniques with machine manufacturing (made possible by installing T-shirt-making machines in the company’s headquarters and training workers to run them, a project that was four years in the making) means the prices of her new eco-friendly collection are much more reasonable. “We’ve created these beautiful core essentials that are the building blocks of a wardrobe,” Chanin told Vogue. “We still have our artisans, but now we have a hybrid line.”
In a climate change–denying U.S. administration, issues like the toxicity of clothing manufacturing (fashion is one of the dirtiest businesses on the planet), supply chain transparency, and fair pay for workers are becoming ever more pressing. Chanin has witnessed her customers’ concerns. “We certainly see it with our business; the people who shop with us have a consciousness toward that,” she says. But this new endeavor goes beyond good intentions—it’s also about good design. The majority of the pieces are in a soft, buttery rib; there’s nothing stiff or scratchy about her organic cotton. “The pieces are simple and kind of perfect,” Chanin says. “We’ve been test-driving them around—we really believe in it.”
True to the sales pitch, the pieces are genuinely reasonably priced, with individual items starting at $70. The new collection will be sold separately and in a five-piece discounted Core Club package that goes for $448 and includes an easy T-shirt dress; a ribbed turtleneck; a ribbed tube skirt; a sleeveless ribbed dress; and a scoop-neck tee. Visit alabamachanin.com to shop the line.