Alabama Chanin's Super Sustainable Eco Fashion: "It's Time to Garden"

The model tableau in Alabama Chanin’s open, sunny show space

The Alabama Chanin show, titled “The Songbirds” last Friday was definitely a down-home version of a fashion-week event, and all of us in attendance couldn’t have been happier about it. It was relaxed, it was filled with music, it was, in these stressful times, a relief.

Following the anti-runway trend, the models at Alabama Chanin’s show donned different outfits, posed for photographers (I loved taking shots at my leisure and playing with the light), ate and drank and even mingled a bit. And why not? They are people too, and after all the stories of the catwalk coterie biting it in amped-up runway shows, I’ll bet these girls were happy to behave like (gorgeous) human beings rather than skinny-legged stompers.

Natalie Chanin, designer of Alabama Chanin

I also had time to speak with Natalie Chanin, the creative force behind her label of completely handmade clothes (there is NO machine-sewing in any of the pieces and in fact each one is made by hand in cottage-industry production made up of women working from their homes). She told me that she’s coming up on ten years of designing (first for Project Alabama and since 2006 for Alabama Chanin) and explains, “I’ve planted a lot of seeds, and now I’m letting them grow.”

ACmodel and muscians
A model with the folksy/country musicians who kept it light, mellow, and energized.

Besides branching out into home furnishings (a natural for her incredible overdyed, hand embroidered fabrics) Natalie is moving and expanding into accessories, including both hats and jewelry (The bijoux are unexpected combinations of metals, metals that incorporate fabric elements into their patterns, and actual fabrics). She has also been working with a small-batch indigo dyer (who dyes in a church in the Bronx) to create Alabama Denim, which was shown in several pieces.

The detail on each of these is just knock-your-socks-off amazing. Some pieces have been worked on by more than five women.

Natalie continued her garden metaphor, apt since cotton (the primary fabric used in her designs) and indigo, (used to dye them) both grow from the Earth. She explained her collection: “What we have right now is very round, and I need to be patient and it needs space to grow. This is the time to garden.”
And in case you were wondering, all the fabric used in the designs is 100% organic cotton and is “grown-to-sewn” in the southern USA.

Note the layered skirt on the left, which worked even on a slimmer design; this is an easy look to wear and versatile too (models sported cowboy boots or sky-high stilettos; all seemed to work with the designs).

The details on the designs are gorgeous and look handmade and hyper-organic, which I love in an age of white buttonless pods and glass everywhere.

A close-up of the pretty layering; a perfectly easy way to wear the pattern-on-pattern trend.

Love the 1920’s feel about this. Maybe a bit of recession-chic?

Check out the natural Indigo-dyed Alabama denim on the model at right.

The all-white collection inspired all sorts of cloud-and-snow fantasies in me- the texture of white embroidery on soft white cotton was just magical.

The new Alabama Chanin jewelry collection (here laid out for the models) was a study in texture and pattern – and color!

Button detail on one of the gorgeous long coats that are an Alabama Chanin signature.

Hats laid out for the models, with their handmade labels

Starre Vartan with an Alabama Chanin coat (I want one of these so much! Perfect with jeans and a tank, over a dress, with shorts and boots….eminently wearable!

Check out The Alabama Stitch Book: Projects and Stories Celebrating Hand-Sewing, Quilting and Embroidery for Contemporary Sustainable Style to learn some of the secrets behind Natalie Chanin’s designs (and use them as inspiration for you own!)

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.