Cathy Bailey and Natalie first meet in 2009 through a group of creative friends whose work was rooted in responsible design and sustainable production. Shortly after their initial meeting, Natalie and Cathy begin a dialogue about their respective businesses, both of which produce hand-crafted goods locally and by hand, and about collaboration. The conversations have never stopped. Many travels, adventures, train rides, and events have followed; many more adventures are planned for the future.
The discussion below between Kimry Blackwelder and Cathy Bailey took place via email on April 16th, 2021.
Kimry Blackwelder: What is your earliest memory of Natalie and/or Alabama Chanin?
Cathy Bailey: I read an article, around 2003, about Project Alabama. I was instantly inspired, the ideals and mix of preservation, craft, re-use and design were all things that resonated with me, and I hadn’t seen anyone else mixing them together with such integrity and vision. I found Natalie’s email and had hoped to come up with something to reach out to her about, but never did. A few years passed and a mutual friend brought us and several other remarkable women together as what was sort of a creative support group. We all put together an event that we did in Heath Sausalito Factory around 2008, after this event Natalie and I started dreaming about what we could do together. From the start it was one of those easy connections and almost effortless collaborations.
KB: Do you have a favorite Alabama Chanin piece, collection, or collaboration? If so, why does this stand out to you?
CB: I have several favorite pieces of clothing, but Natalie designed these clocks for a Heath project that I love. She used small plates to represent each hour and we etched with the Alabama Chanin pattern in them. The piece has an amazing impact, and was a really unique and creative take on the project.
KB: Do you have any fond memories or experiences during which you recall wearing Alabama Chanin?
CB: Natalie loaned me a beautiful dress for the National Design awards gala in 2009.
KB: Can you describe your most memorable encounter or experience with the Alabama Chanin brand?
CB: I've been to so many incredible events that Natalie has spearheaded. The Makeshift events in NYC around 2013 were really memorable for me, Rosanne Cash sang at one and Tift Merritt at another, she had a chair making workshop that connected interesting people and inspired the coolest work all in an afternoon. Also Project Threadways in 2019. There's no place I'd rather be than among all the people Natalie draws together, that symposium brought food, history and awareness together in a remarkable way.
KB: What do you feel is Alabama Chanin’s most enduring quality? We want to know what comes to mind first and what resonates with you.
CB: Depth or craft and beauty coupled with purpose. There’s so much purpose and thoughtfulness that comes through in the designs. I and a generation of designers and business people were sold on the importance of Design, but it is not enough, it must be coupled with responsibility, and purpose. The work of Alabama Chanin embodies this, it inspires us all to look deeper at beauty and design and that those ideals are only fulfilled if coupled with responsibility, purpose, observation and preservation of the past.
KB: Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to Natalie or the Alabama Chanin team?
CB: Natalie and her team have always been an inspiration and a hopeful example that a business can be built on integrity, beauty, and preservation. They create a force of forward thinking momentum. I’m immensely thankful and full of gratitude for their work and generosity over the years.
Follow the travels of Cathy Bailey, Robin, and Jasper Petrovic here.
Slide 2: One-of-a-kind clocks designed in collaboration with artists to commemorate Cathy and Robin Bailey’s tenth anniversary with Heath Ceramics Heath Ceramics, 2013, photographs courtesy of Heath Ceramics; Clocks by featured artists, clockwise: Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin, Adam Silverman, Roger Herman, Geoff McFetridge, Tung Chiang, Commune, Jeff Canham, and House Industries
Slides 3–4: Heath Ceramics lamps with organic cotton lamp shades designed and constructed by Alabama Chanin, 2018, photographs courtesy of Heath Ceramics; Read more about this project via T Magazine here
Slide 5: Photos from the Alabama on Alabama exhibition hosted at the Boiler Room, Heath Ceramics’ event space located on Alabama Street in San Francisco, 2015, photographs courtesy of Heath Ceramics (read an entry on the Alabama on Alabama exhibition here)
Slide 6: Artwork by Seale, Alabama folk artist John Henry Toney alongside garments from Alabama Chanin's Fall/Winter 2015 collection from Heath Ceramics’ Alabama on Alabama exhibition, 2015, photograph by Rinne Allen
Slide 8: Alabama Chanin hand-crafted indigo quilt, stitched from pieces of reclaimed vintage quilts, hanging in the Boiler Room's entryway during the Alabama on Alabama exhibition, 2015, photograph courtesy of Heath Ceramics
Slide 9: Alabama Chanin indigo quilts hanging alongside Rinne Allen’s photographs from The Organic Cotton Project for the Alabama on Alabama exhibition, 2015, photograph by Rinne Allen; Read entries on The Organic Cotton Project and Rinne Allen