By Sarah West
It isn’t located on a picturesque town square, nor along a quintessential old town promenade. This abstract take on locating the ideal has had an enduring appeal for me. For those who live in nearby Tennessee, a drive to Florence may seem convenient. But for me on a particular occasion, it was quite the contrast. I’d made my trek to the far corner of the state intrigued by countless articles spotlighting sustainability. Some stops along the way were charming while others evoked disappointing remorse, which left me questioning should I have come at all. A day such as that, in retrospect, now seems the kind of setting that prompts the voyager to explore more, thus proving what extraordinary things are in store for one willing to go the extra mile.
I’m an advocate for sustainability, an artist, writer, mentor and Alabama small business entrepreneur.
I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve grown to think of my state in both critical and affectionate context, equating my love for my home-state to my love for my family. Travel any backroad through the southland, and in the matter of a day you form a romantic attachment to it, as well as established understanding of it flaws.
I missed my exit, traveling north. I took the next one, and chose a rural route over to Muscle Shoals.
Signs call it a highway. Perhaps long ago, before the four-lane, it was. A flat road winds its way through farmland. Signs along farm fence-posts profess “repent,” The remnants of abandon old filling stations succumb to kudzu and sumac. I pass primitive polling venues. It’s an election year; the campaign signs are scattered everywhere. Around noon, I arrived in Muscle Shoals, crossed the Tennesee river and later made my way to the outskirts of town.
The Factory, as it is known, welcomes the pilgrim with open arms. Building 14 stands at the center of what was once the “T-Shirt Manufacturing Capital of the World.” A person must know what they are looking for to find Alabama Chanin. A relic of the modern factory age has become a romantic ode to heritage; resurrecting favored traditions and pastimes of Alabama life and transposing them to meet the sustainable needs of current society. Here I found exceedingly more than I was looking for.
Seldom do I happen upon a place and people that seem to parallel my path. My discovery of Alabama Chanin was uniquely that. My visit was unannounced. I hadn’t called ahead. I wasn’t sure before arriving that I would have the time to dedicate to a proper visit. I knew little of the fashion house, it’s heritage and history.
Upon arrival, the Factory shop consultants provided a heartwarming welcome and swept away guests into a tour of the factory store, café, workshop- known and the School of Making and more…
Remarkably, each person renders exemplary representation for the fashion house, the designer/founder, philosophy and ethical mission with a transparency that is deeply rooted in Alabama soil. Without one thread of pretension, consultants explain the origin of garments, the process of their making and the source of every fiber. This experience strikes a chord with a person of conviction, as it is evident that Natalie Chanin and her team of makers -practice what they preach. Cotton from our region, processed in the southland and hand-stitched by local makers preserves a provenance and carries forth a heritage that sets the bare high, empowering kindred spirits go the extra mile.
So often quoted is the phrase, “it’s the journey not the destination.” In my life this takes on reinforced meaning, when confluence of contrasting events evoke both second thoughts and validating overture.
The currents we travail along the journey oft reroute us and guide us towards experiences that reaffirm the core of our chosen course. With conviction, I question, “is it worth the drive?” The answer is always,
Go the extra mile. It’s worth far more.
To learn more about Alabama Chanin, the work or Natalie Chanin and her extraordinary team of makers visit www.alabamachanin.com and take a road trip to Alabama Chanin the Factory and School of Making in Florence, Alabama/.
Sarah West serves the Opelika Observer as a contributing columnist, with written works of Cultural Arts relevance and prose. She is a preservation, and conservation advocate, activist, and visual artist of American Illustration with a focus on Regional Narrative Painting. She is founder of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, A Center for Cultural Arts, Smiths Station, Alabama’s premier fine arts destination. She is the appointed Official Artist to the City of Smiths Station, a Lee County syndicated columnist, the director of her art center’s Cultural Arts Outreach Initiative which partners with local schools to make the arts accessible to all. She also serves a chief curator to the City of Smiths Station, City Hall Art Galleries. She is a founding member of the Smith Station Historic Commission. She is a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Board- Cary Center, Auburn University College of Human Science. She is an elected member of the Society of Illustrators- NYC. She mentors art students of every age through weekly classes at her studio located in the heart of Smiths Station, Alabama. To learn more about her work and activism visit, www.thesarahwestgalleryoffineart.com.