13
Sep
10

Alabama Chanin and People Magazine by Robin Keyser.

It started with an article in People Magazine.  That is the response I would have to give if I am to go to my inspiration for what is now Project Artisan.  I am asked this question almost daily it seems, as Project Artisan takes root and grows.

I can easily talk about trying to introduce a fashion line handcrafted in Brazil: all the years of stops and starts trying to fit my vision into a world dominated by mass production.  I think about the 200 women who worked from their homes to produce this line and how they inspired me to keep trying.  I can explain how Project Artisan came into existence in order to allow a designer like Gisele Barbosa to make a living, while doing right by those who depended on her.  But, first I need to talk about People Magazine and Natalie: Natalie Chanin and the women of Florence, Alabama.

Natalie left her home in Florence, Alabama to work in the fashion industry in New York and later Europe before a simple t-shirt would change her life.  Natalie tells of stitching together t-shirts from her apartment in New York, t-shirts she couldn’t make fast enough to keep up with demand.  She realized that she was going to need some help– help from others who could stitch in the old-world style that she had started with that original t-shirt.  The stitching was familiar, a fine craftsmanship  learned at home in Florence; it was a simple quilting stitch.

The rest is history as Natalie moved back to Florence to reunite with the women she needed to help her, and who also needed her help.  She employed women who no longer had jobs in garment factories because their jobs were lost to cheaper labor; women, young and old, all stitching together in both a quilting bee and cottage industry style. Their clothing that would later adorn the most fashionable woman in the world.

What did I see in that People Magazine article almost 10 years ago that would become a source of inspiration for my life a decade later?  I saw a picture of Natalie Chanin surrounded by generations of women: girls, grandmothers and mothers. I saw the faces of women who worked in the garment factories of Alabama and who could have easily been my own grandmother or mother.  I saw women that might well be the last in a long line of quilters in their families, if not for the work of Natalie Chanin.  I saw women who had secure jobs where they were treated with love and respect.

In Natalie’s face, I saw a woman who followed her heart and her dream to make a difference in the lives of so many.  I saw a woman that lived and continues to live an authentic life.  I saw a woman who had the courage and vision that I still aspire to have.

Today I am proud to welcome Natalie and her line, Alabama Chanin, to Project Artisan.   Today, a dream comes true.

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