We launched our first collaboration with Alabama Chanin just over a year ago. Back then, I wrote about the inspiration behind the silhouettes and styles in this collection, and how they are intended to seamlessly pair with our woven garments. I didn't plan on it taking me this long to write a follow-up story about the production process, but life happens, time slips, and here we are!
One of my favorite parts about this collection is the partnership that we've been able to develop with Building 14 at Alabama Chanin. Natalie Chanin has been a hero of mine for some time now, and the company she's built in Florence, Alabama is one that I admire and find so much inspiration in. Under the umbrella of Alabama Chanin, they do many things: hand-sew and embellish art-piece garments made by local artisans, offer workshops and classes at their School of Making, as well as host dinners and events at their Factory Store and Cafe. Their cut and sewn knits are produced by machine in a factory building that buzzed with manufacturing activity back in the 1980s (when Florence was known as the t-shirt capital of the world). This is where our partnership comes in.
The team at Alabama Chanin is aiming to revive a small part of the textile industry and expertise that used to thrive there, not just in Florence, but in the very building they occupy. They are creating jobs - and also creating beautifully sewn knits with the expertise they've acquired over the years - for their in-house line, as well as for other companies that want to produce knitwear responsibly.
As y'all know, we cut and sew all of our garments to-order, in-house, all under one roof here in Nashville. However, our expertise lies in wovens - non-stretch materials that can be sewn with a straight stitch machine and serger. Producing knitwear is a whole different ball game. We tried our hand at it a few times with stretch sweater knits and a few jersey experiments, but the specialized machinery and cutting techniques required weren't lining up with our production model. In order to produce sewn knit garments well, you need a line of various machines - each with a special stitch and function - and to move garments through each step of the process from machine to machine. Completing this process one piece at a time, in the same way that we make our woven garments to-order, simply didn’t make sense financially or logistically. Knits are sewn most efficiently and are the highest quality when produced through runs or batches. This way, you can complete a run of units of a certain color or fabric one step at a time, moving the entire batch through a progression of steps efficiently. Once a run of a certain color fabric is done, you simply change the thread color and move on. We've always wanted to have a knitwear component to our offering, but our chosen production process has never allowed us to quite make this work internally.
Enter Alabama Chanin. After taking a team trip to tour their facility just for fun, I met with Natalie, the founder, and she mentioned that she and her team were developing Building 14 and wanted to provide opportunities for other designers to have knitwear produced there. I knew it was a perfect fit for us - they were aligned with our ethics and philosophy, they're in our region, and they have the skill set and expertise to produce beautiful, organic cotton knits that have heart and soul.
I first designed the patterns and made a few rough prototypes. We then passed things off to the team in Florence and let them work their magic. They sourced fabric options, experimented with finishing techniques, determined what machines would need to be used for production, and how much it would cost to produce each piece. A few rounds of samples and day trips to Florence later, and things were rolling. They produce everything right there in Florence at their headquarters. It's a big space, but a small team - everything is cut and sewn in the space you see here in these images.
We couldn't be happier to continue on in this partnership with Alabama Chanin - their work allows us to bring such a dynamic element to our other garments. We're currently planning just one more pre-order of the current styles and colors, and soon we'll be phasing out a few things to make room for new additions this fall. Don't worry - the silhouettes that y'all love will make their way back in one form or another (we're already sourcing for lighter weight jersey options to make some spring/summer styles - and a lightweight Eva Tee is going to change my life). The aim has always been to keep this collaboration around; but like all our best work, we've also got to keep it evolving.
At any rate, I wanted to share this peek into our process and look back on the beginning of this collaboration, especially as we round the corner into year two! I hope you enjoy the images, and if you have the chance, I encourage you to poke around Alabama Chanin's website (or even better, give them a visit in person!).
Photographed by Lauren Taylor Watt.
Click through to see more photos!