Chanin is the founding designer of Project Alabama, which launched in 2001 and closed last year despite critical acclaim from retailers and press. Last month, Project Alabama relaunched without Chanin's involvement, but with secured financial backing, a new production process in India and new design direction.
Explaining her new venture in an interview while visiting New York this week, Chanin remained cautious about revealing her reasons for leaving Project Alabama behind, but said simply, "I felt the company abandoned its original mission, so that's why I started a new company called Alabama Chanin," she explained. "In my mind, manufacturing in India and using techniques and designs that originated here just didn't make sense logistically, environmentally or creatively."
Alabama Chanin is set for a fall launch and encompasses apparel, jewelry, quilts, sculptures and even furniture. The brand, she said, is run the same way she ran Project Alabama — as an homage to quilters and stitchers in her hometown of Florence, Ala.
"I felt it was necessary to preserve these uniquely American traditions because so often what we wear comes from places very far away, made by people who have no connection to our culture or our communities," she explained. "It was my goal with Project Alabama — and the cottage industry-style business that we built near my home in Alabama — to preserve these traditions, to create jobs in America and revive my region's once-thriving textile industry."
Today, Chanin is in New York showcasing her new products, which are being housed at the new l8f gallery at 213 Park Avenue South. The gallery is the first space to introduce the full Alabama Chanin collection and will be open, mostly by appointment, through May 25.
"I really wanted to introduce our products in a cozy, homey-like atmosphere," she explained. "People can come in here, see the product and have a glass of sweet tea and maybe even some Southern home cooking. It makes them feel like they are in the South, where we came from."
The products have been handmade by 20 Alabama-based artisans, all of whom Chanin worked with during her time at Project Alabama. Each item a store orders will be one-of-a-kind and specially made for that store. Chanin's array of apparel samples, for example, are made in a cream color to show the silhouette. When a buyer places an order, he or she can then choose for the garment to be produced in a series of signature organic cotton textile patterns — all of which are made by the Alabama artisans. The apparel collection wholesales from $90 for a T-shirt to $200 for a dress. The jewelry, which is a collection of gold and sterling silver bracelets, rings, necklaces, pins and even belt buckles, starts at $200. The line of quilts, which are all reworked from vintage pieces, ranges from $350 to $600 and the furniture starts at $200 for a chair and goes up to $3,000 for an armoire, made from recycled wood.The idea of Alabama Chanin is to produce an array of products, which not only support using recycled and sustainable materials, but keep manufacturing and jobs in the community. Chanin said she is "proving that locally produced, quality products are viable, desirable and help connect us to our traditions."
"I realize that our pieces are expensive for some stores," she said. "But that's what makes them so special and unique."
While she has yet to meet with buyers, Chanin said she is targeting high-end specialty stores like Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman.
After her New York visit, Chanin will head back home to Florence, where she will start work on more products as well as finish her how-to book, called "The Alabama Stitch Book" (Stewart Tabori Chang), which will hit stores next spring. The book shows how the artisans she uses work in a step-by-step process.
"Since many people cannot afford our products, this book will give people the opportunity to learn how they can do it themselves," she said. "The book shares with readers our techniques, sewing tricks and actually provides 21 different patterns and designs for some of our most popular garments."
In addition, Chanin has created a DIY section on the Web site, alabamachanin.com, which allows visitors to download projects and instructions at no charge.
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