Made in Alabama

2 minute read
TIME

Designer Natalie Chanin has transformed the appeal of handmade clothes into an economic-redevelopment model with her Project Alabama line. Chanin is a former film stylist (she handled costumes) who while on hiatus in New York City needed an outfit for a party. That’s when she deconstructed and refashioned a T shirt using the quilting stitching techniques that she learned growing up in the Appalachian foothills of northern Alabama. Individual style soon turned into a high-demand fashion business. She eventually created a line of dresses, skirts, jackets and T shirts, but she couldn’t find anyone in New York to hand render her designs. So she went home to Florence, Ala., a small town that was struggling because of the exodus of textile-industry jobs. There she found a generation that had grown up learning to quilt and sew.

Since taking her business home, Chanin has helped boost the local economy. About 200 contract employees now hand make each piece. “One dress took 16 women three weeks to make,” says Chanin, 43. “We might make one coat only 20 times. That means there are only 20 in the world, and each garment is handmade by someone different.” That rarefied notion has splashed Project Alabama across the pages of Vogue, Elle and the New York Times and onto the racks of high-end retailers like Barneys and Jeffrey in New York. “We haven’t invented anything new,” explains Chanin about pieces that retail from $400 to $15,000. “We’re just taking old techniques and using them in new ways.” –S.S.

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