Kimry Blackwelder and Natalie meet in New York City in the early aughts, and quickly become friends through their shared Southern roots. Over the years, the two remain connected through mutual friends including Maria Cornejo, Sarah Cristobal, Billy Ferrel, and Zoe Turnbull.
In 2021, Kimry joins the Alabama Chanin team to help execute a then-abstract idea for a retrospective project called “21 Years,” which would chronicle Natalie’s 21-year journey in sustainable design, highlighting the important moments, projects, collaborations, and relationships along the way. What you are reading today is the culmination of that work. We are grateful to Kimry for her , thoughtful interviews and steadfast enthusiasm in bringing this work to life. When she’s not helping old friends achieve their dreams, Kimry, Southerner by birth by New Yorker by choice, can be found working as a partnerships leader for global brand communications.
Below, Kimry answers her own questions in September 2021 from her apartment in New York City (at last).
Alabama Chanin: What is your earliest memory of Natalie and/or Alabama Chanin?
Kimry Blackwelder: The famous Bowlmor Lanes Project Alabama fete in February 2003—Fashion Week but of course… Luckily, I knew the PR for the party and got in (wink wink).
AC: How do you think Alabama Chanin has impacted and/or influenced sustainability in the industry over the past 20 years?
KB: No one did what Natalie and her brand was doing 20+ years ago. To my knowledge, Natalie was the first to do "slow fashion" and operate "sustainably". Natalie is the true pioneer of sustainable fashion! Sustainability was not a term used in the early 2000's like it is today... and especially not in fashion.
AC: Do you have a favorite Alabama Chanin piece, collection, or collaboration? If so, why does this stand out to you?
KB: My favorite collaboration is the Alabama Chanin x Patagonia, the reclaimed down pieces! (I LIVE in that oversized scarf/vest most months from Fall until (early) Spring. It is also my go-to travel accessory… and one that is most adored. Frankly, I am shocked one of my friends has not tried to snag it from me. As someone who has made a career around brand partnerships and collaborations, I can honestly say this one is absolute perfection on many levels. NAILED IT! I would love to see more AC x Patagonia if possible!)
Two of my favorites tops are Alabama Chanin, and they may be two of the best-fitting-and-feeling tops I have ever worn!
One is an organic cotton t-shirt. AC does the BEST t-shirts! Perfect for hot days, but also for layering. The other is my beloved Waffle Sweatshirt. I treated myself to this piece at the start of the pandemic, and it saved me! Good thing AC pieces are quality and can withstand the test of many repetitive wears.
AC: Do you have any fond memories or experiences during which you recall wearing Alabama Chanin?
KB: Yes, and I always refer to it as my 10-year reunion with Natalie. It was NYFW February 2020, and I was leaving the Rodarte show with fashion editor extraordinaire, Sarah Cristobal. She said "You are coming with me downtown to dinner. I have a surprise for you." Oh Lord did she ever… I remember the two of us sitting at the bar of this Tribeca restaurant waiting for her special dinner guests. I see her smile and I whip around in my bar stool and there she was… Natalie, looking as chic and gorgeous as ever. Her iconic flowing silver hair, and she was wrapped in her Alabama Chanin x Patagonia oversized scarf—my fave AC Collaboration to this day! Needless to say this was a damn good surprise. Only thing that could warm a southern gal’s bones on a chilly February NYC Fashion Week night. As one can imagine, our dinner was non-stop chatter and smiles. One of the many moments from that dinner that resonates in my memory was realizing that Natalie had befriended my best friend from the South who, like Natalie, had made quite a name for herself—although her craft lies in the culinary world. Table texting to Chef Vivian Howard soon commenced.
Let's just say we will never go another 10 years again. This dinner with Sarah (Cristobal), Maria (Cornejo) and Natalie may still rank in my top favorite dinners of all time—and I eat dinner out A LOT. I was surrounded by such brilliantly talented, wonderful, and beautiful (inside and out) women that I am blessed enough to call my friends. Natalie threads not only fabrics, but a beautiful quilt of friendships.
As I have come to see so clearly, she creates an orbit of many characters across many countries and industries, but each sharing the quality of a special soulfulness... And that is because she is a beautiful and strong soul—pure and good, and full of grit, grind, and gratitude. To be in her orbit, even with encounters years apart, is pure magic.
I am—we are ALL—so blessed by Natalie and the orbit of Alabama Chanin!
AC: 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.
KB: Natalie is all soul, in her craft and in her character. She is also beyond loyal, not only to her craft, but also to her community.. It's a foundation that I think most designers and craftsmen wish to possess naturally. And some work tirelessly to obtain this, but Natalie's is as natural as her hair!
AC designs are pure, and you feel the love and comfort that Natalie radiates when you are in the pieces. I honestly feel so good when I am in my organic cotton Waffle Sweatshirt... obviously it's the fabric and craftsmanship, but in a way you also feel the Natalie/Alabama Chanin love...CHEESY I know, but so true!
Natalie is also a rule breaker… but in a good way! In the words of the great John Lewis, she is "good trouble." No one was doing what she did 20+ years ago in the industry. I only wish more designers, brands, and consumers would follow in her footsteps because it truly could make a difference in the fashion/lifestyle industry… and in the world, for that matter!
Everyone says they want to work for brands that make the world a better place, or buy from brands that are making the world a better place… well Natalie and Alabama Chanin do that. And they have been doing it for over 20 years, so shame on (some of) us for being so dang slow to catch on. Kudos to Natalie for being a visionary long before we ever knew how badly we needed it!
AC: As our industry evolves, what do you hope to see for the future? Where do you see Alabama Chanin in this vision?
KB: I certainly HOPE to see Alabama Chanin’s story told louder and more frequently! In my humble opinion, the brand's collections, partnerships, and stories are often overlooked, and that is a miss by the industry press. I feel like AC gets looked over because of 1) geography—being based in Florence, AL and not NYC or LA often puts folks out of sight/out of mind, which I hope will not be the case for much longer. Especially post pandemic where the world was set level and made more accessible virtually. And 2) being of a "slow fashion" mindset, and not adhering to the (prescribed) industry calendar. Because of these factors, the press is missing out on great storytelling—shame on them!
However, I believe that Alabama Chanin does not think or feel as strongly as I do about this matter. They will keep on creating and crafting and doing what they do best for years to come. Natalie has left an impression so strong that it will likely never fade. The industry and orbit she has created will continue to grow, and we will all be better for it.
I also hope to see “up and coming” young designers/talents learn lessons and take inspiration from Natalie and the Alabama Chanin "way": Be soulful, be kind, have grit, do it your way! Show the industry and the customer a better way—a smarter, truly more sustainable way! How beautiful, if they could create and embrace a more engaged and positive community?!
Nicole Phelps said it best: "We need more Natalies"!
So in the future, my hope for this industry—actually the entire world—is to have “MORE NATALIES”!
AC: Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to Natalie or the Alabama Chanin team?
KB: I simply adore and admire each of y'all! It has been wonderful getting to really know some of the AC team this past year. It certainly shows that the saying "teams are only as strong as their leaders" rings true at the "House of AC". I could feel the love, respect, and admiration that exists within everyone I have encountered. And it will be this team that carries on the AC torch for years to come… The industry is a better place because of the Alabama Chanin brand. Thank you, Natalie, for doing what you do and doing it your way! It's beyond inspirational.
Slide 2: Kimry’s coffee-table-turned-desk in her New York City apartment in New York City, where she would recap and transcribe the interviews she conducted for our 21 Years cCelebration (her notebook is currently open to notes from her lovely interview with our dear friend and trailblazing commentator of cuisine, Kerry Diamond)
Slide 3: Kimry Blackwelder wearing the raglan Suns Tee from the Alabama Chanin and Hable Construction collaboration, 2020, photographed by—in Kimry’s words, “THE BEST”—Peter Stanglmayr in New York City, 2021