We have grown used to getting everything we want as fast as possible. Even in the fashion industry, fast fashion – otherwise known as inexpensive clothing made quickly and, typically, with lower quality – has become the norm. However, there is a burgeoning group of talented artisans who are fighting against bottom-barrel quality and prices through what has been tagged the Slow Fashion movement.
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Slow Fashion Explained
- Slow Fashion considers the quality of the clothing being produced, as well the processes and resources used to produce it.
- Slow Fashion designers strive to make garments from high-quality, sustainable materials that are locally sourced whenever possible.
- Slow Fashion clothing companies typically release fewer collections throughout the year than traditional clothing producers.
- Slow Fashion garments are usually sold in smaller, boutique-style stores rather than department or big box stores.
The American Sewing Guild loves the growing momentum of the Slow Fashion movement. Who knows better than our own members that sewing your own clothing is the best way to ditch fast fashion and bring sustainability back to your wardrobe? And, inevitably, when discussion turns to a specific Slow Fashion company, one always comes to mind for beautiful and sustainable garments…
“I became interested in the Alabama Chanin techniques about five years ago,” said Cathy, a member of the ASG St. Louis Chapter. “A local instructor was a skilled fashion designer who encouraged creativity and spoke of how the fashion process enriches our interests in sewing and the needlecraft process. She introduced us to the Alabama Chanin techniques and we were all immediately engaged.”
You’ve most likely already heard of Alabama Chanin but may not know the incredible back story of Natalie Chanin, the company’s founder. Natalie grew up in Florence, Alabama during a time when the cotton and textile industry was booming in the area. After finishing school in North Carolina, she moved to New York then onto Europe to pursue a fashion and design career. Unfortunately, during the years she was gone, the textile mills and production factories in her hometown closed and moved offshore.
Natalie’s first spark of inspiration for Alabama Chanin occurred when she was invited to a party in the late 90’s and created her own tee shirt to wear. She cut and embroidered the tee and arrived at the party to a wave of interest and requests for information about its source. She knew then that she had hit on the style of garment she was looking for; however, she still wanted her clothing brand to have more of an impact. Natalie wanted to bring jobs back to Florence. Alabama Chanin was officially launched in 2000 as a lifestyle brand with a focus on handmade clothing created from 100% organic cotton jersey and was created under the concept of Slow Fashion. As a Slow Fashion pioneer, Alabama Chanin also takes into consideration the working conditions and pay of factory employees.
In addition to pre-made garments, the brand provides open source information to creators interested in creating similar garments. Patterns and techniques are available for use through books, workshops and their School of Making which sells full projects kits via their website, as well as in stores around the world.
ASG Members Embrace Slow Fashion
Many ASG members have been motivated by the School of Making. Like Dian from the Nashville chapter:
“Creative, relaxed, rewarded—these three words describe the feelings I have when embroidering on my Alabama Chanin items. I love having a different concept of embroidery in my repertoire which I did not have previously. For me, doing something unusual is always a plus.”
Dian had been unable to join in when her chapter took a road trip to visit the Alabama Chanin factory and the School of Making. She was familiar with the brand but, at the time, didn’t believe it was her style. It wasn’t until she and Mary, the chapter’s President, connected with Cathy on the way to ASG conference that she finally understood the range of resources available under the brand. Cathy’s enthusiasm for Alabama Chanin projects changed Dian’s thinking and was further captured in a top Cathy created and wore to class. Dian instantly fell in love with the top and realized the open source style of education the brand encouraged meant that she could create the projects, then complete them in the style of embellishments that she favored herself. What a fantastic concept! Since then, Dian has been practicing her stitches and began work on a project that she fully expects to love.
Cathy shared her thoughts:
“I had never been interested in hand sewing before but found the process really charged my creative side,” said Cathy. “During the class, I started a long dress from one of Natalie Chanin’s books which I cut out, stenciled, and stitched. It took months to complete the dress but since then, I have been making hand-sewn garments continuously and always have an Alabama Chanin project waiting for my attention.
“I have made seven tops, three swing skirts, several pants, and two ponchos since that first dress. Although I have not mastered many stitches, I have done the running stitch, backstitch and cretan stitch (my favorite binding stitch, perhaps because it is one that I seem to do fairly well and love the results). Some tops are made using embroidery floss for the backstitch. Others have stenciled areas, some of which are cut and other areas are left uncut. The variety of looks you can achieve by changing the colors, stenciling, stitching method, and cutouts offers endless possibilities. It is always great to continue to learn new things.”
Dian is thankful not just for the resources and inspiration she’s received from Alabama Chanin, but for bringing business back to her area as well:
“I am fortunate to live only an hour from the studio where I can go to sew with other like-minded sewists. I extend my thanks to Natalie Chanin for bringing her talent home to Florence and for the opportunities and jobs her studio provides.”
My Personal Thoughts
Alabama Chanin is truly a unique company that puts as much focus on education and product quality as they do on selling their garments. I know I join many other sewists who are happy to have found the brand and learn from the resources they provide. Is is my hope that this blog post inspires you to jump into your own Alabama Chanin project!
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~ by Rita Johnson