With the creation of the first t-shirts, Natalie develops stenciling as a cornerstone of the company’s design process and business model. The first stencils used are simple, block numbers made out of brown kraft paper—the kind of numbers sold at hardware stores to spray-paint addresses on curbs. Through the decades, thousands of stencil patterns are developed, from simple to elaborate, and from geometric to floral motifs.
The stencils are used as tools to transfer decorative patterns onto collection garments, and act as “maps” for sewing methods—appliqué, reverse appliqué, and even intricate beading. Fabric pieces are cut and stenciled in the studio to be used for embroideries and—in most cases—the construction of the garments. The stenciled patterns then guide artisans, most of whom live near the studio, as they position embroidery. Because the stencils so effectively guide the design, artisans are able to work independently when and where they want, scheduling their work time as individual business owners.
The artisan business model that Natalie establishes is studied by professionals and recreated in other craft industries. Artisans are independent contractors and licensed small business owners who, through a bidding system, set their price on the project kit they will purchase and the selling price for the finished product. Bids are based on production needs and competitiveness.
In addition to supporting an artisan business model, the stencils also support the design and manufacturing process. Lean method manufacturing allows ultimate flexibility in the design process since it is not necessary to purchase thousands of yards of printed fabrics in a variety of colors. By practicing lean method manufacturing, no products are made until an order is confirmed. This process ensures that only what is required is produced, conserving natural resources. A stock of base materials is kept on hand and through the manufacturing process nothing goes to waste.
Fabric scraps leftover from the production process are integrated into other product designs which require fewer yardages. Through a continuous process of recycling and upcycling, zero waste manufacturing has been at the forefront of Natalie’s design and production methodologies since the creation of her first t-shirts.
Slide 1: Fabric swatch in Camel featuring the 21 Years stencil, photograph by Robert Rausch
Slide 2: Fabric swatch in Lace White/Taupe from Alabama Chanin’s Spring/Summer 2016 Collection, photograph by Abraham Rowe
Slide 3: Lee Stencil in use, Alabama Chanin stenciling department, 2017, photograph by Rinne Allen
Slide 4: Fabric swatch in Lee Black Walnut, Black, and Sally Fox’s Black Chambray from Alabama Chanin’s Fall/Winter 2017 Collection, photograph by Abraham Rowe
Slide 5: The Brenna Cape, 2017, photograph by Abraham Rowe; Chandler Jacket and Austin Skirt (top right), 2018, Lee Dress (bottom right), 2017, Alabama Chanin, from The Women who Revolutionized Fashion: 250 Years of Design, 2020 by Peabody Essex Museum in collaboration with Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Rizzoli Electa, edited by Petra Slinkard (pages 128–129), photograph by Robert Rausch
Slide 6: Fabric swatch in Lee Black/Concrete from Alabama Chanin’s Fall/Winter 2017 Collection, photograph by Abraham Rowe
Slide 7: Fabric swatch in Lee Vetiver, Sally Fox’s Vetiver Chambray, and Tea from Alabama Chanin’s Fall/Winter 2017 Collection, photograph by Abraham Rowe
Slide 8: The Gina Smock, Essential Rib Top, and Essential Skirt in Vetiver from Alabama Chanin’s Fall/Winter 2017 Collection, photograph by Rinne Allen
Slide 10: Air Love Drape Tank and Air Love Tee, both in Black and featuring beading and embroidery, from Alabama Chanin’s Fall/Winter 2017 Collection, photograph by Abraham Rowe
Slide 11: Fabric swatch in hand-painted Concrete Florence from Alabama Chanin’s Fall/Winter 2020 Collection, photograph by Robert Rausch
Slide 12: Stenciling process photo taken in the Alabama Chanin stenciling department featuring the Florence and Rinne Stencils for the Permission to Wander collaboration with artist Rinne Allen, 2021, photograph by Rinne Allen