Co-design Fashion Concept – Alabama Chanin

During tutorial with Mo, discussing my ideas around co-design and democratic and sustainable fashion, she bought up the design brand Alabama Channin as something to explore to inform my research process.  This is something I had never heard of and had not yet emerged through my research so I decided to do a bit of digging.

What is it?

Over the past decade, clothing line Alabama Chanin has grown into a multifaceted enterprise. Started by artist Natalie Chanin, the company has embraced a committment to cottage industry by employing local seamstresses, paid a living wage, in Alabama communities ravaged by unemployment. The company that has become what Alabama Chanin is today began in early 2000[4] with the creation of hand-sewn garments made from cotton jersey fabric. Alabama Chanin retains the same intention and integrity today. Pieces are made from 100% organic cotton, sewn by hand through a group of talented artisans who each run their own business, in their own time, and in their own way, using a cottage industry method of operation. Alabama Chanin is rooted in the tenets of the Slow design movement. Known for her “eco-chic” designs, Natalie launched the A. Chanin line in 2013. In 2015, she expanded the machine-made garments line to include a home goods collection.

How does it inform my research process? 

Alabama Chanin presented a really fascinating example of how sustainable/ethical fashion has the potential to manifest in a community-style movement; this ethos of inclusion and community benefit is something I am interested in highlighted by my research focus on graduate co-designers where my brand concept is designed to provide this incredibly talented cohort with the means to access the saturated, elitist fashion market.  However, Whilst much can be taken from Alabama Channin in the realm of sustainability, it does not really inform in regards to customisation and CONSUMER rather than employee empowerment.  It is my intention through my brand concept, to blend Alambama Chanin’s ethical/sustainable ethos with consumer empowerment, through enabling consumers to collaborate with young designers to craft a creative, quality product which directly aligns with their wants and needs as as individual

However, reflecting on this initial evaluation, further research into this brand led me to a publication produced by Alabama Chanin which provides sewing patterns to individuals to create their Alabama Chanin garment.

Alabama Studio Sewing + Design is a follow up to Alabama Stitch book and Alabama Studio Style by Natalie Chanin. In this invaluable reference, Chanin presents all of the stenciling and hand-stitching techniques her company uses to create an award-winning Alabama Chanin line of organic cotton clothing, plus variations that lead to infinite design possibilities. Crafters are provided with patterns and instructions for dresses, skirts, tops, a wrap, a poncho, a bolero, fingerless gloves and a hat. Each piece is featured in both its basic un-embellished form and with varying combinations of embellishments. By mixing and matching the pieces and embellishments, a stunning unique and versatile wardrobe can be built.

However, whilst potentially empowering and democratic, engagement with this type of resource means that the consumer has to have the sewing, tailoring and craftsmanship skills to successfully put these items together to create a credible piece of clothing.  In my brand concept, this problematic is addressed through the presence of young designers as co-designers aiding in the design and craft of an individualised product for a consumer.


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