Started by artist Natalie Chanin, clothing line Alabama Chanin has grown steadily for more than 10 years and her strong personal beliefs in employing local artisans, sustainability, and uncompromising hand-made quality still form the foundations for everything they produce. Read about how it all got started, not with a business plan, but a creative impulse to just recycle.
To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I live in a 1940s era brick house in my community of Florence, Alabama. It is filled with love, noise, laughter, and usually, biscuits, due mainly to my daughter, Maggie, and our rambunctious Standard Poodle, Pree (short for Prince). Since I grew up in a rural community with an appreciation for the land, gardening, and food, I find it relaxing to spend time tending my garden and bringing that (little) bounty to the table. (There is something therapeutic about cutting vegetables.) As a family, we try to eat dinner at our table every night. Try, being the key word.
Sustainable or “green fashion” is becoming more popular, but Alabama Chanin has been more than 10 years in the making. How did it all get started?
Some people may have heard the story of our history, but for those who have not: In 1999, I took what I intended to be a four month sabbatical from my work in Vienna, Austria. At the end of those four months, I went to New York City and stayed longer than I’d planned. While there, I cut apart and reconstructed a t-shirt that everyone seemed to compliment. Out of that t-shirt, this company was born. I had an idea to create 200 one-of-a-kind shirts to sell during Fashion Week. This idea brought me back home to my community and to the concepts of community-based fashion, of crafting by-hand, and of focusing on organic and recycled materials.
It seems like a blink of the eye since that first t-shirt and I am still here in Alabama cutting things apart and putting them back together again. In those years since I began Alabama Chanin, I often get asked what my plan was and, I must admit, initially I didn’t really have a long-term plan. I was doing something that I felt driven to do and never intended to start a sustainable design company. It’s amazing where life leads you when you follow your heart.
Each Alabama Chanin garment is sewn by hand by US artisans and the materials are either all organic or recycled. You’ve also talked often about paying real living wages and cottage industry employment. What would you say are the guiding principles of Alabama Chanin and why are they so important to you?
Alabama Chanin is based upon the idea of quality design of beautiful products made ethically. Our desire is to have a positive impact upon our community by employing talented artisans using a cottage industry-style of production. Each piece is made by-hand, by someone in our community and that person runs their own business and is in charge of the amount of work that she wants to do. It is important to us that we keep our production local and try to make an impact in our own community.
We also strive to keep all aspects of our production process in the United States. Most of our fabric starts as seed in Texas, and then travels to South Carolina for knitting, then moves on to Tennessee or North Carolina to be dyed. We try every day to make sure that our products are Made in the USA. This has also meant trying our own hand at growing organic cotton and soon an attempt at machine production. It is a constant process of learning, growing, learning, growing, learning…
Finally, organic cotton is really at the heart of what we do at Alabama Chanin. It embodies the aspects of sustainability and fashion. I grew up surrounded by cotton and my family picked cotton. In effect, my whole life has been surrounded by cotton. At Alabama Chanin we use only organic cotton because we firmly believe that it is healthier for the wearer and user because no chemical means are used to produce the product. We believe that it is healthier for the land when there are no harmful chemicals incorporated into the soil and, ultimately, our ground water. We want to provide sustainable and beautiful options for our customers.
In addition to Alabama Chanin, you’re also an artist and filmmaker. What are your biggest inspirations and interests?
I used to always joke that I was a filmmaker posing as a fashion designer. Some days, I feel that is still true. I worked in the film industry for a decade before I began Alabama Chanin and I really fell in love with documentary films and films that can tell a real story. My family is full of storytellers, so I guess telling stories through film was my way of expressing that aspect of my personality. My inspirations are – in life and in film – the characters. I produced a short documentary film, Stitch, focusing on traditional southern quilt-making. Each woman in the film was a “character” in my story, a person with something to say about life and struggle and friendships and living in a specific time and place. So, in film and in life, I’m inspired everyday by the nuances and characteristics of every person I meet. Everyone has a unique story.
How do you use Pinterest?
Pinterest has become more useful the more that we explore its depths. You really can spend hours going from one page to the next, looking for inspiration. We have used Pinterest to post our own designs, look for color and texture inspirations, post photos of our favorite designers’ work, even search for recipes for our weekly studio lunches. I now have a “secret” board—which I love. I’m sure that we will continue to find more uses for Pinterest – and spend more and more time exploring. I also see Pinterest becoming more and more a place where people can collaborate by sharing boards with one another. I love the growing conversation of the medium you’ve created.
You’ve led workshops and of course authored DIY books such as Alabama Stitch Book. Is there any advice you’d give to someone who’s interested in picking up a handicraft or learning a new skill?
It is easier than ever to learn a new skill. The world of online learning is expanding and making education of all kinds more accessible. Our goal at Alabama Chanin is to promote open sourcing, or making ideas available to everyone, so that we can form connections and begin conversations about making. So, look for books that pique your interest, or delve into the online world. Perhaps start with Alabama Chanin’s courses at Creativebug or Craftsy.
Like many other things he’s made, Chris Gardner built his own dream job as a full-time DIY, craft, and woodworking blogger by himself. Read about how he went from searching for projects online to writing them up as the creator of ManMadeDIY, editor-in-chief of Curbly, and contributor at BobVila.com.
Hi Chris! First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a full-time craft, design, and DIY blogger. I spend most of my time as the editor-in-chief of Curbly.com (our Pinterest account is: pinterest.com/curbly), a DIY home decor website. I also run ManMadeDIY.com, a craft site for men, and I’m a regular contributor to BobVila.com as well as other freelance work. I became involved in the craft and DIY blogosphere as a reader. I moved into my first apartment to go to graduate school, and it was late a 70s place - generic, atrocious, and I hated being there. So, I logged on to some early sites exploring DIY decor for ideas to improve it on the cheap. One of those sites was Curbly, where I eventually became a contributor, and now am the editor, managing all the content for the site.
The idea for ManMade came from being a reader, and just waiting for someone to begin applying the “handmade revolution” and indie craft scene to men, and share projects that weren’t, you know, girly. It never happened, so I figured if no one else was going to do it, I guess it had to be me. Six months after ManMade launched and taking an expanded role at Curbly, I was able to quit my full-time job working with college students and try blogging full-time. That was in the summer of 2010, so I just celebrated my two year anniversary. I love working from home, and being able to make stuff and write about it for a living. It’s my dream job, and I achieved it before I was 30.
What are some of your favorite DIY projects you’ve worked on?
I like to craft with power tools. My favorite projects are those that I use in my daily life: so I love the pieces that hang on my walls, the home accessories, and those that solve a particular need or serve a function. I really like to work with printmaking and type, as well as blend digital design tools with traditional craft and woodworking media and materials. One favorite example is the Valentine’s Day gift I made for my sweetheart last year: it’s a stylized blowup of our actual fingerprints. I took a few prints (no-questions-allowed), and then scanned them at a high resolution and edited them with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Then I created some hand-cut letters and added those.
So, that project has all my favorite elements: bold, graphic imagery with a contemporary but handmade feel, some typography, and mid-century colors. The actual piece is a high-resolution laser print, but if I’d wanted to make more I would have screen printed them, and perhaps even made my own frame from wood.
Where do you find inspirations and ideas for upcoming projects?
I love making things from scratch, but I prefer to use easily accessible materials from the hardware, craft, and art supply store. I spend hours wandering the home improvement center for little bits and fittings and pieces of hardware that I can hack into something else entirely. And I spend plenty of time on design blogs during my daily work, so I’m always surrounded by great images. I love to go to museums, art and otherwise, any chance I get, and I spend a lot of time at the public library. I’m pretty sure my design taste came from watching a lot of episodes of The Jetsons and reading lots of cool, vintage picture books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I don’t have any formal training in the arts or design, so I think a lot of my inspiration just comes from seeing something and asking, “How do they do that?” and then learning about processes. I like visiting handmade and craft shops when I visit a new city, and browsing Etsy to see what makers are producing. And Pinterest, of course! Pinterest is simply full of amazing ideas, for both techniques and aesthetics.
We’re fascinated by your “Modern Manliness” board. In your opinion, what makes a man “modern”?
That board is directly inspired from my ManMadeDIY.com site. In my work, I try to avoid making generalizations about what “being a man” is, so I’d say a modern man is one who’s defined by the specific interests and the things he gets excited about. There certainly are things that are the mind of every guy so I do use the “Modern Manliness” board to share ideas about simple truths about being a guy in 2013: dealing with shaving your face or having a beard, for example, or being a partner, husband, boyfriend, son, or father. Then there are some simple life skills - like being able to launder and iron your own clothes, keep track of your finances, things that relate to every guy, simply because he’s trying to make his way in our current era.
Without going into a treatise, I feel like a lot of men-focused content is too abstract. It appeals to generic virtues, as opposed to contextual ethics, and is almost always nostalgic, looking back to the men of yesteryear as the goal, rather than as a means to being a just and loving person. I think it’s fascinating and really powerful to be the inheritors of a tradition of great men and leaders, and I’m proud of that. But the world looks really, really different than it did for our grandfathers. Young men growing up now need to translate those principles into their specific contexts, and more importantly, relationships. Classic idioms like “men should provide for their family,” or “men are tough,” or “men build things with their hands,” are absolutely still true, but they’re not always as meaningful or motivating without exploring how that works in an individual’s life. These days, providing means so much more than just working and putting food on the table; you also have to seek to honor the emotional needs of your family and friends, and develop healthy and clear communication skills, and if you don’t, you’re not being the best husband or father or partner or friend you can be. Men who hide behind a lack of emotional awareness, or that they don’t know how cook or shop for gifts, for example, are just boring. It’s simply not true anymore. Those things don’t make you feminine, they make you a better person.
So, I feel like the current generation of men should be encouraged to follow their specific passions and embrace the things they’re excited about, and to find real ways to make meaning in their lives, whatever they are, as long as their not destructive or aggressive. The explosion of blogs and web content proves that men have passion and preferences, and in the era of obsession and curation, a modern man is someone who won’t just say, “I’m a man,” but “I’m a man who loves ______ or tries to do ______.” ManMade is a website for guys and girls who seek to do that through creativity, design, art, craft, and making the things they use everyday.
A lot of people use Pinterest to save products or inspiration they love for later. But what if you’re literally trying to save the things you love and preserve them by sharing your art? Enter Recapturist, the site run by Bill Rose: a guy who’s out to photograph, save (and pin) vintage neon signs in America before they disappear. We hope you’ll enjoy the pinterview about his mission, how he got started, and his lifelong love for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To kick things off, can you share a few facts about yourself?
Vitals: Male – 36 – Married – Minneapolis – Humane Omnivore – Digital Marketer by Day – Recapturist by Night
Western Motel (Santa Clara, CA)
And what is Recapturist?
Recapturist is the intersection of several things I’m passionate about: photography, road trips, preserving vintage signs, and the ‘micro-history’ of America.
Each year I drive thousands of miles along the nearly forgotten two-lane highways and back roads of America on a never-ending quest to photograph whatever vintage neon signs I can find. These relics of the American roadside have stood for decades but are now highly endangered as ‘progress’ continues to win the war against preservation in many parts of the country.
Frankly, we are close to losing these signs forever. I consider it my job to make sure that they will at least live on through pictures should traditional preservation efforts fail.
The result is a gallery of fine art photographs documenting these signs, which I accompany with whatever details about their history I can uncover. The money I generate by selling prints and canvas art of my work goes toward funding future trips, enabling me to document even more signs.
Apollo Superette (Austin, MN)
As you mentioned, all of your photos are accompanied with a story about that business or place. Why is preservation so important to you and how can others get involved?
I’ve noticed that many documentary photographers often neglect to communicate the story behind the image they worked so hard to produce. I feel that providing context is a critical step in helping the viewer connect more deeply with the artwork, especially when the goal is preservation. Think about it, why would anyone make an effort to preserve something they don’t know anything about? So, having some sort of story to tell about each image is critical to my process. Sometimes I am fortunate enough to have conversations with people directly connected to the sign while I am there shooting it (the business owner, a local historian, etc.) Other times I rely on information gathered from online sources or by reaching out other like-minded preservationists I’ve met through the years. On some occasions I’ve even been known to call the business owner for an interview after the fact. Whatever it takes to attach some significance to the image I am presenting. This is what I mean by the ‘micro-history’ of America.
The easiest way for someone to get involved is by supporting one of the many preservation-focused organizations that already exist. Here are two that I am very familiar with and highly recommend:
1) The Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) is devoted to the study and preservation of American roadside architecture. Membership prices are very reasonable and you’ll be instantly connected to hundreds of like-minded preservationists from across the country.
2) The American Sign Museum is a must see if you are anywhere near Cincinnati. The museum features an overwhelming collection of rescued & restored signs (mostly neon, but some as old as the sign industry itself) and is something you simply have to see to believe. Inexpensive memberships are offered and donations are also accepted if you can’t support them with a visit.
Abandoned Motel (Hecker, IL)
You describe your mission as Recapturist “is to capture, preserve and share the increasingly endangered beauty of vintage signs through photography.” What was your very first “recapture” and how did you stumble upon it or find it?
The seed for all of this was planted back in 2006. I was living in Seattle and had just purchased my first real digital camera. About that same time I started to notice all the old motel signs that dotted a notoriously sketchy strip of Aurora Ave sometimes referred to as “The Blade”. So one Saturday, I took my camera and walked up and down the street shooting every sign from a variety of angles. I quickly realized that the full personality and character of these neglected structures were much more obvious when viewed up close through my camera lens. I was hooked – and I’ve been doing it ever since.
It sounds like Recapturist was borne out of a love for many things: photography, craftsmanship, history, and road-tripping. Besides all those, what other interests do you have?
I have a strong appreciation for great aesthetics, especially vintage and vintage-inspired design. I’m really into logos, typography, hand-lettering, letter press, and many other random things that catch my eye. This is pretty well reflected in my Pinterest boards. Sometimes I get so inspired that I want to drop everything and enroll in design school just so I can start creating things like that myself.
I’ve also been known to occasionally spend an hour or two combing through Google’s newspaper archives. Did you know you can scan issues dating back to the 1800s? In a world that greatly overuses the adjective ‘amazing’, this is one resource that truly is. I’ll pick a newspaper like the St. Petersburg Times and study what the ads looked like in back in the 50s & 60s. The fonts, layouts, designs, phrases… It’s one of the most authentic ways I know for design-lovers to experience a piece of the past.
Cork ‘n Bottle (Yankton, SD)
How has pinning been useful for you?
I use Pinterest in a few different ways. As a photographer, it’s been a fantastic platform for getting my work in front of new audiences. The very fact that Pinterest is a picture-driven platform aligns perfectly with visual arts like photography. Every interaction a Pinner has with Recapturist leads to a greater awareness of my work and hopefully a greater appreciation for vintage signs in general. My customers tend to have a modern eye and nostalgic heart – so it also doesn’t hurt that this demographic is in ample supply on Pinterest.
Another way I use Pinterest is to tell stories that I otherwise couldn’t articulate. Example… I recently decided to rebrand Recapturist but didn’t exactly what I was looking for design-wise. So I started a board titled ‘New Identity Inspiration’ and began pinning every design that I though could help me define my vision there. After dozens and dozens of pins some distinct patterns started to emerge which allowed me to begin crafting a set of design guidelines with exceptional clarity. And as a bonus, there were a handful of designers whose work kept getting pinned to the board. Those were the designers I turned to first with the project. I eventually pared the board down to just the most relevant designs which was shared with the designer I ultimately hired. That board proved to be a critical guide throughout the development process. And now that it’s done I couldn’t be happier with the result – and it honestly might not have been possible without Pinterest.
Arrow Head Motel (Columbia, MO)
Finally, we have to ask: What’s the story behind your 70’s Steelers board?
My ‘70s Steelers’ board is a collection of images that are intertwined with my early childhood. In 1976, the Pittsburgh Steelers had just won back-to-back Super Bowls reversing 40+ tortuous years of futility. A city that was falling on hard economic times was suddenly whipped into a frenzy. Pittsburghers had hope again because the Steelers were finally winners. This is the backdrop I was born into. My dad wasted no time initiated me (his first born) as a Steelers fan. Before I could ride a bike I could name the entire starting roster. Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert… these guys became my childhood heroes. In fact, whenever I’d stay with my grandparents, the only way they could get me to sleep was to tell me their roll-out cot used to be Terry Bradshaw’s. Thinking back on it now I’m pretty sure they were lying.
The latest version of the Pinterest Android App is now available in Google Play.
We’ve made group boards better, so it’s easier to pin with other people on-the-go.
Now, you have the ability to:
See who else is pinning to a board with you.
Control what boards you contribute to
You can accept or ignore new board invitations. You can also leave group boards that you’re already part of.
To get the most out of your Pinterest experience, we recommend updating your Android app today.
As a note: This update isn’t available in the Kindle app store just yet, but it will be there in the next few days after their quick review process.
Thanks for using Pinterest and happy (mobile) pinning!
Valentine’s Day has been on many folks’ minds with gift ideas, school activities, outfits, and many, many sweets being pinned for weeks now.
If you’re in need of last-minute inspiration or a finishing touch, here are some of the top pinned things for February 14th: Valentine’s Day pretzels, red velvet Oreo truffle brownie bars, 14 downloadable Valentine’s Day fonts, strawberry cake cookies, and red velvet cookies with cream cheese filling.
Lifestyle and wedding photographer, designer, architecture graduate student, and foodie-experimenter: Gabe Li is a guy who has big goals for his future including opening a restaurant with his brother and self-designing a home. We definitely believe he can do it all; read on to learn more about this modern Toronto Renaissance man.
Hi Gabe! To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography and architecture?
I am a lifestyle and wedding photographer from Toronto, Canada. I am also a designer and will soon be finishing what has become an endless journey of completing a graduate degree in architecture. I love to eat, therefore I love to cook, and one day I will open up a restaurant with my brother. All my in between time is playing basketball, exploring events in the city and laughing at my cat.
I got my first film camera late in high school with no real reason or expectation. I treated it like a toy and brought it with me while riding the bus into the city or walking home from school; an enjoyment that I mostly kept to myself. It wasn’t until 2005, when I moved to Rome for university, where I started to take photography a little more seriously. I obsessively documented the historic buildings, food markets, my daily gelato and all the adventures our class went on. Keep in mind, this was before the mainstream social media, so it was pretty natural for a shy person like myself not to broadcast my photos. But for whatever reason people noticed what my eyes captured, and soon enough their interest had me create a CD for people to view my photos, and it was literally pinned to the bulletin board of our studio (ha!). All the talented people I worked beside gave me confidence in photography, in what otherwise would have just been a hobby.
After Rome, my buddy Matt convinced me that beyond capturing city life and culture, I also took great people photos. And so with his trust, I found myself photographing his wedding later that summer, and that is how it all began. Prior to Matt’s, every wedding I had attended I found myself feeling like a spectator stuck in a suit. But as a photographer, I am blessed with the opportunity to have a real intimate and collaborative relationships with my couples, capturing their love and emotions on their biggest day, and being able to celebrate directly with all their friends and family all day long.
My first degree in architecture is the reason I got to study in Rome. It all began with piles of Lego as a child, and continued into building table sized robotic cranes in high school. I’ve since been fortunate to work for incredible architecture firms, under great mentors in Toronto, Vancouver and Hawaii. The bulk of my experience is focused on performance theaters and academic buildings, but ultimately my goal like many architects is to build a home for myself, and I’ve still got a lot to learn.
You have an eclectic collection of boards. How do you use Pinterest and what inspires you?
Thank you! I find it interesting to see how my boards have evolved too, as it has become increasingly difficult to classify my interests into simple subjects. Before Pinterest, I also would save endless images into folders on my computer only to seldom revisit them once they exited my memory.
Being a very visual person, collecting ideas and building a database has become an effective tool in my creative process. For example I refer to poses from editorial magazines when I’m planning a photoshoot with a bridal party, or just consciously remind myself of thematics such as layering or abstraction to push my conventional habits. My design work is moved by all scales and manifestations: large monumental architecture, building skins, kitchen and dining spaces, furniture and small crafty precisions.
But let’s be real, as much as I like to justify the practical uses of Pinterest, I also recognize it is equally fun and addicting to just collect. It is also a great feeling to promote smaller and perhaps lesser known initiatives, products or stories I admire. Some of the unique and quirky boards include basketball culture, wild cityscapes, getting cozy, playscapes, stairporn, architectural drawings and my most recent addition where I share some of my heroes. I also have boards that celebrate my love for Toronto’s lifestyle culture and good eats; granted I have bias for the city I live in, but I am also proud.
Have you made any of the recipes you’ve discovered through Pinterest?
I’ve made a few quick snacks found on Pinterest: roasting almonds with fresh herbs and mixing beets into hummus. But to be honest, most of the images on my delicious-ness board are there perhaps mostly for superficial reasons. I pin them more in appreciation of the editorial styling, and/or exotic flavours.
I rarely follow recipes, partly because I don’t have the patience for instructions, but mostly because over time I’ve found that I really enjoy the creative process of cooking. So for example I might quickly look up baking techniques for a batch of granola, or search typical spices that make a traditional Moroccan bastilla and just add my own interpretation. Of course, I’ve definitely had my share of burnt food and bland salad dressings, but unlike my bigger day projects that keep me busy, my meals are small experiments I can take blind risks with a little courage. I have a lot of interests, but nothing compares to gathering around a table with your loved ones; cooking, eating and chatting all night long.
As a student or in your design work and photography, do you use Pinterest for any projects?
I am a collaborator at heart, and when possible I use Pinterest as a tool to share ideas in conversation. For example, I encourage my wedding couples to use Pinterest to collect ideas when planning their wedding; communicating their online scrapbook of thematics and stylistic approach with their bridal party and vendors. I also employ Pinterest boards between fellow designers, to help build precedence for projects we work on together. There is definitely an opportunity for design agencies to build idea boards together; or an architectural firm to collect furniture and product specs that suit their buildings/projects. It’s a great way to communicate and build a language for individuals and teams of creative endeavours.
Who are some of your favorite pinners you’ve discovered on Pinterest?
I don’t know Sayuri Maeda, but she/he has by far the wildest curated collection of art/architecture/design of all the people I follow. There are also photographers that set the bar and drive my photography, and beyond following their blogs/portfolios/Instagram it is refreshing to see what excites their world; some of those include Lou Mora, Alice Gao, Sarah Rhoads, Julie Harmsen, Nicole Franzen, Dan O’Day and Rick Poon. And of course, I need to send out some Toronto love, so some of my favourite local creatives are May Wu, Jonathan Enns, Melinda Josie, Chris Buchan, Heinrich Koller, Rosalyn Faustino, Nikole Herriott, and Celine Kim.