For this slow-design pioneer, an inspired environment is about way more than decor: It's consciously sourced and crafted with intention.
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Natalie Chanin
Credit: Rinne Allen

At the quaintly named Lovelace Crossroads just outside Florence, Alabama sits an unassuming 1940s style ranch house whose proprietor is one of the foremost authorities on slow design and sustainable fashion.

As the founder and creative director of Alabama Chanin, Natalie Chanin has emphasized the importance of circularity in fashion and investing in local for over two decades (long before it was in vogue to do so). In the early 2000s, while fast fashion was on the rise, Chanin returned to her hometown after years of traveling abroad as a costume designer and stylist. She was working on a short documentary about the area's once-booming textile industry and its reputation for "living arts" handiwork, such as sewing and crafting. 

Natalie Chanin
Credit: Rinne Allen
Natalie Chanin
Credit: Rinne Allen

The Alabama Chanin brand was essentially born then. Chanin took out an ad in the paper to enlist local stitchers and soon went about making T-shirts using upcycled cotton jersey, a locally grown and developed fabric. The passion project took off, eventually becoming a full-blown collection.

Chanin arrived on the New York Fashion Week scene in February 2001 and staged a presentation at the famed Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Soon, Chanin's ornately embroidered handsewn coats, dresses, and corset tops were sold in Barneys and other high-end retailers. The line was covered in top fashion bibles, and Chanin went on to become a two-time finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. 

Natalie Chanin
Credit: Rinne Allen

By partnering with other local designers and makers, Chanin helped to revitalize her corner of the world. Her octopus-like outreach now includes a standalone factory (called The Factory), which serves as her studio and the machine-made division of her business. Prior to COVID, the Factory Café, housed in the same space, was open for farm-to-table lunches and brunches. Now the restaurant is available for special events, like a dinner in April to support Project Threadways — a nonprofit founded by Chanin dedicated to unpacking the complicated history of textilemaking in the region and beyond.

In addition, Chanin is opening her first Alabama Chanin store in Florence this summer, releasing Embroidery: Threads and Stories from Alabama Chanin and The School of Making this October, and is in the midst of planning The Factory Café cookbook. "I just love my people," says Chanin who is quick to dole out recommendations for everything ranging from artisanal flour and biscuit recipes to local recording studios.  

Alabama Chanin Finds

Vivian Maier Color Work Book Cover
Rattan Hamper
American Quilts Below the Radar Book Cover
Hand Painted Tea Towel
Two Level Serving Tray
Indigo Die Tea Towel
Right: All images courtesy of Alabama Chanin.

Shop these and more at alabamachanin.com.

Back to that house: Chanin recently remodeled her kitchen, a decade-long mission that required sourcing from American purveyors and suppliers. "The floor is from this quarry that is only 30 miles from here. It's the same quarry that the limestone for the Empire State Building came from," she says. "The cabinet hardware is from this place in Georgia. Almost everything is made in America which is kind of hard to do. It took a long time to figure it out and that was really fun."  

Natalie Chanin
Credit: Rinne Allen

The kitchen is where Chanin also displays her latest homeware collection with San Francisco-based Heath Ceramics. For the past 10 years or so Chanin has been taken her appliqué embroidery designs and applied them to the collection of sustainably glazed plates, mugs, and the like. "Each plate is etched by hand, just like we sew by hand," says Chanin. 

Over in the living room, a zero-waste quilt decorates the sofa, and too many books to count line the walls. Tchotchkes from her travels are sprinkled throughout. In discussing the scope and viability of her present and future impact, Chanin invokes the folky wisdom of her grandmother, "If the good lord's willing and the creek don't rise," says Chanin with a laugh. "She always loved to say that."