When Natalie Chanin, owner of the fashion company Alabama Chanin, came up with the idea to hand-sew 200 one-of-a-kind T-shirts on a whim, she never imagined it would become a means for her to give back to local artisans in Alabama.
Back then, Chanin was living in New York City, but she had trouble finding manufacturers to produce her hand-sewn T-shirts. One day it dawned on her that the hand-stitching on her pieces looked exactly like quilting. And, it prompted her to return to Alabama, where textile manufacturing was a booming industry back in the 1980s.
Once there, she put an ad in the paper for part-time hand-sewers and quilters. She immediately got responses from artisans who had just lost their jobs in the textile industry. "It's a really perfect symbiotic relationship. They perhaps would not have a place to sew the clothes were it not for me, but I would not have clothes to sell were it not for them."
Now, Chanin works with 30 local artisans who hand-sew dresses with elaborate stitching and floral patterns. "There's nothing like a hand-sewn piece," says Chanin. "You cannot replicate it on a machine; it's just not the same. And so, there's a kind of life that comes in sewing by hand."