Blog Tour/Giveaway: Natalie Chanin on Sourcing Sustainably

{ photograph by Robert Rausch }

Natalie Chanin is the chief designer and owner of Alabama Chanin, a fashion and lifestyle company focused on sustainable materials and practices. I’m very pleased to host her today as part of her blog tour to promote her new book, Alabama Studio Style: More Projects, Recipes, & Stories Celebrating Sustainable Fashion & Living, the followup from STC Craft to her fiercely beloved 2008 debut, the Alabama Stitch Book. Alabama Chanin’s practices typify the principles of the Slow Cloth movement, elevating humble cotton jersey with couture hand-sewing and embellishment. If this is your first introduction to Ms. Chanin, I hope you’ll follow the tour and learn more about her and her multifaceted work. Today, she answers my questions about sourcing sustainable materials.

How do you balance sourcing sustainable materials with economic realities — i.e. helping more people have access to organic/sustainable textiles and other goods?

You know this is a question that is still difficult to answer after so many years! There are definitely more options today than there were five years ago -– even a year ago -– but navigating the plethora of products out there is really difficult. What I do try to do is to inform myself as deeply as possible about an issue and then make my decisions.

For example, everyone talked about bamboo. From my research, I understand that bamboo is not really that much more sustainable than cotton. Yes, it is a renewable resource, but to make fiber from bamboo takes very harsh chemicals. It is this sort of detail-oriented information that makes decisions difficult.

Here are the questions that I try to follow in everything that I do – whether it is for my business, my home, or my daughter:

1) Can what I am looking for be sourced locally or regionally?
2) What materials and methods are used to produce an item?
3) Does what I am purchasing support some higher mission?
4) What is the cost economically?
5) What is the cost to the environment when I purchase that product?

Because I have experienced such difficulty in finding materials myself, we have tried to offer a range of resources in our online store. Hopefully, web resources will continue to help make these products available.

{ image credit: The Alabama Chanin Store }

What kind of materials do you source for your work? Can you source mostly via the internet these days or is attending trade shows still the best way for the fashion & textiles industries?

Right now we are working with 100% organic cotton jersey as our fabric base. Notions and trims have not really begun to address the concept of organic or sustainable –- so we make our decisions based on the least possible harm. Does that make sense? You just have to look, think, compare and make the best decision based on what is available. We have done all of our sourcing over the internet and simply by asking questions. Call a supplier and talk to them about what they are doing. You will find that knowledge begets knowledge and each little step leads you closer to a good solution.

Do you make a distinction between “organic” and “sustainable”? If so, when it comes to sourcing fabrics, which is more important?

Again, there is not one answer to satisfy all the questions – and I do think that we sometimes look for easy answers today. I wrote this once and think that it still holds true, “Our job as designers (and consumers) is to research with diligence and apply the results of our diligence to our products (and purchases), thereby creating the most highly sustainable and durable product available on the market today.”

{ photograph by Robert Rausch }

How can consumers cut through all the “greenwashing” that is out there? How can they know that know that they are making the best choice for the environment and economy (are there certain certifications to look for when buying textiles)?

Again, diligence is the only option at the moment to wade through the massive amounts of greenwashing going on today. However, I am an optimist at heart and I believe that things are changing for the better and our decisions will become clearer each day. For the moment, you make the best decision that you can at each crossroad.

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{ photograph by Robert Rausch }

You’re featured in Kate Fletcher‘s Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys — a wonderful resource for those looking to be educated in the relative sustainability of different fibers and production processes — are there any other books/resources you recommend to this end (other than your own books of course)?

There are so many good books out there today about ways to run a business. I have a reading list that I continually update which includes some of my favorites here.

Thank you so much, Natalie!

I have one copy of Alabama Studio Style to give away. Just share your thoughts on this interview in the comments and I’ll draw a winner next Wednesday, March 3, around 3pm Central U.S. time. A few copies of Alabama Studio Style will also be available for random giveaway throughout the blog tour on the STC Craft / A Melanie Falick Books blog, so be sure to enter over there too!

71 Comments

  1. Susan says:

    Many thanks for the opportunity. I’d look forward to learning more about this.

  2. Jodi says:

    I have had my eye on this book. We all can benefit from this advice and work hard towards using more sustainable fabrics. Thanks for the great interview.

  3. Sherri S. says:

    A thoughtful interview! I’m always amazed at how toxic some fabric smells when you unroll it from a bolt…would be nice to be able to sew with “greener” materials. Thanks for the interview (and the giveaway!).

  4. mo says:

    I loved the interview. Thoughtful questions, and thoughtful, responsible answers. Bravo.

  5. Heather says:

    I really liked this interview. I’m so inspired by people taking steps forward to create clothing and textiles in a sustainable way. I’ve also recently become very interested in not only the methods of growing and production, but the people behind them. I think we forget why we are able to purchase “throw away fashion” at such a “great” price is that someone down the line is barely making enough to live to produce it. In the long run the money that we “save” by purchasing cheap clothing and products is being saved at the cost of destroying our environment and taking advantage of the impoverished. Thank you for the giveaway opportunity.

  6. Ellen says:

    Another comment for a great interview. I like seeing her thought process and that she doesn’t just jump on the bandwagon that looks good on the surface, for example her explanation of bamboo. Thanks!

  7. angie says:

    Very interesting interview. As consumers we struggle with how to get the best bang for our buck and how our consuming impacts the environment. I guess each person has to make some hard decisions for themselves.

  8. Toña says:

    Such thoughtful answers . . . and questions too. I didn’t know about the chemicals used to turn bamboo in fibers. Hmmm… My turn to be thoughtful.

  9. carmel says:

    i would loooove to win that book
    it sounds very intresting
    thanks!

  10. Jeanette says:

    Thanks for the interview. I was interested to read about the bamboo issue – I guess we would all want to use materials that have not been through such chemical processes.

  11. Lovely Blog. Lovely Interview.

  12. Ravenhill says:

    I so admire this eco-conscious designer. Thank you so very much for this wonderful interview. I have been so wanting this book and would absolutely love to win. Thank you for the opportunity!

  13. Lena Nozizwe says:

    I’m crazy about using sustainable materials for beautiful designs.I use everything from t-shirts to rice and plastic bags.
    My Mom grew up an orphan in Africa where it was not called sustainable, it was survival. She’s a vibrant, chic woman who can make anything.
    She inspires me. So do the designs of Alabama Chanin. I’ve seen her work in person at Barney’s and it stopped me in my tracks because of its beauty.

  14. Lindsay Ramon says:

    Thanks for this opportunity. I am really interested in sewing with cotton jersey, but hadn’t had much luck finding quality fabric. It’s good to know that, not only quality, but organic jersey is available on Natalie’s website.

  15. Tabitha O. says:

    Great interview…I have the color sample of her fabrics on my inspiration wall….love hearing more from her!

  16. Cornelia says:

    It’s always great to find a THINKING green person, and not just someone in it because it’s popular. Plus, I love that she called out bamboo….

  17. Cristy says:

    I bought Natalie’s first book about reading about her in Sewing Green and I was so glad I did. It is just beautiful and so inspiring. I love seeing people make such conscious and careful decisions about their consumption, and I think that it is so important to be honest about the complexity of doing so – like the bamboo v cotton issue. Thank you!

  18. Lizzie says:

    I love the term “greenwashing.” Perfect.

    I also love an interview that makes one think about one’s own habits and practices. Great interview!

  19. meg says:

    I had no idea that she sold fabric in her shop! It is quite difficult to find sustainable fabrics, not to mention all the other notions you need to complete a project. I try to stick with recycled fabric, which is why I adore all of the project from the first book. I’ve been itching to get my hands on this one!

  20. Karen Klein says:

    I have been a huge fan of Natalie’s since first learning of her book. She has such a relaxed style that is at once both old-fashioned and very modern. It is great she devotes such energy to enlightened sourcing and sustainability.

  21. Rachel T says:

    I love that she doesn’t have pat or easy answers to hard questions. Her books are so beautiful and inspiring. The sustainability aspect is awesome as well.