By  on September 11, 2008

ATLANTA — Natalie Chanin, designer of high-end ready-to-wear label Alabama Chanin, has a new project: Alabama Denim.

The line marks Chanin’s first foray into denim and is in keeping with the grass-roots backstory that built Chanin’s reputation as a social and environmental activist.

The designer founded her previous label, Project Alabama, with partner Enrico Cinzano in 2001. The hand-sewn T-shirt line evolved into a high-end collection of embellished sportswear at prices ranging from $500 to $4,500. In 2006, the partners split, with Cinzano maintaining rights to the Project Alabama name. Project Alabama relaunched in April 2007 without Chanin’s involvement, but with secured financial backing, a new production process in India and new design direction. Chanin moved on with the launch of her Alabama Chanin line in fall 2007.

“I felt the company abandoned its original mission, so that’s why I started a new company called Alabama Chanin,” she told WWD in May 2007. “In my mind, manufacturing in India and using techniques and designs that originated here just didn’t make sense logistically, environmentally or creatively.”

Alabama Denim uses double-layered organic cotton, also employed in the Alabama Chanin line, which is carried at select retailers like Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman and Jeffrey. Alabama Chanin and Alabama Denim use Alabama-grown organic cotton, exclusively. The designer employs 35 to 40 local seamstresses and artisans, many with deep roots and family ties to the now defunct textile mills in and around the line’s Florence, Ala., headquarters.

The grown-and-sewn in Alabama collection is garment-dyed in the basement of a church in the Bronx by a company called Goods of Conscience. Started by Father Andrew O’Connor, Goods of Conscience uses traditional fabrics and natural treatment processes with a mission to help the poor in New York and Guatemala.

The natural plant dye used on the denim earned the line a disclaimer about the nature of indigo.
“The color blue will rub from the fabric and slightly color the skin of the wearer,” the company said. “In many cultures, this process of coloring was considered a blessing of the body.”

Chanin said the line is washed several times to prevent color transfer.

The 30-piece line will launch in New York at Barneys Co-op and Bergdorf’s. Pieces include skirts, T-shirts and a variety of casual to dressy jackets. Wholesale prices start at $85 for T-shirts and range up to $550 for a party dress that resembles a tank corset with 16 seams and a flared skirt.

“Both collections are intended to be versatile,” said the designer. “I can wear it to cut the grass or wear it out to a formal function.”

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