LOCAMLAGIRL KES GOOD
COMES HOME AND
B Y ANNIE BUCKLE Y
Utilizing talent from her small-town community, Natalie Chanin
grows her line of fashion and homeware.
When Natalie Chanin left Florence, Ala.,
at the age of 18, she headed first to
New York, then to Europe, working as a
costume designer and stylist for the fashion and
entertainment industries. Twenty-two years later
she returned to Florence to make hand-stitched
T-shirts with the help of local seamstresses.
Her small line of shirts met with big success, and
eight years after her return, Chanin remains in
Florence as her expanded collection takes off. Her
clothing sells to high-end stores such as Barneys
in New York, but each garment is made — from
start to finish — right at home.
Chanin’s commitment to using local labor was
instigated by necessity. “I couldn’t find anyone in
New York who could do this kind of work!” she says
of the complex needlework necessary for pieces
like a handmade, painted corset with sculpted
flowers or a reverse-appliquéd dress.
Her line has expanded to include handmade
jewelry, 100% organic textiles, and home furnishings, such as barn chairs refurbished with woven
seats and quilts embellished with appliquéd flowers,
all with Chanin’s trademark blend of old and new.
While her handmade T-shirts were capturing the
attention of the fashion elite around the world, her
hometown was suffering the effects of multiple
factory closures and job losses.
“We are not solving the economic problems of
the region,” Chanin concedes. But her company,
Alabama Chanin, is based on a cottage industry
model in which local sewers essentially own their
own businesses and set their own hours.
“We do the designs and sales in-house ... and
then the sewers choose which designs they want to
make, purchase the raw materials from us, and turn
around and sell us the finished goods,” she explains.
“People ask me if I’m an activist, and I guess I have
become one on a grassroots level,” she says. Chanin’s
business model is not accidental. In 2006, she and
her former business partner parted ways. Chanin
experienced the pain of company closure so common
in her community, and came to the conclusion that
“a big part of design is the product, but another part
is the kind of company you have.”
Determined to create an environment where
“everybody in the company has to win,” Chanin is
as passionate about protecting the environment as
she is about local labor, heirloom sewing techniques,
and great design.
To make her designs accessible to a wider audience, Chanin co-wrote the Alabama Stitch Book
(Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2007) with journalist
Stacie Stukin. Chock-full of tips and advice, the
book includes instructions for 20 projects. “If you
can’t afford to buy a corset from us,” Chanin says,
“hopefully you can afford to buy the book and make
it yourself — or hire someone in your community
to make it for you.” ×
Annie Buckley is a writer and artist living in Los Angeles. Read
her stories on