The Good Life
with a Southern Drawl

Woman Of Style: Natalie Chanin, A Life Handmade With Love

By Amy Bailey — May 18, 2016

photo by: Peter Stanglmayr

With a strong belief in tradition and locally made goods, founder and creator of Alabama Chanin, Natalie Chanin has devoted her life to sustainability and preserving the crafts of the community where she grew up, Florence, Alabama. Through design, education, food, and photography, Chanin tells a story of the importance creating with one’s hands. Her interview below will spark a newfound respect for locally made items and true artisanship. You can also visit Chanin’s design studio in Florence, Alabama and even partake in one of Alabama’s best meals at The Factory including Chanin’s Friends of the Café Dinner Series that connects award-winning chefs to the community.

What inspires you about waking up each morning? I find that I am very productive in the mornings, before my everyday routine gets going. I can take care of returning emails and other little tasks that might get lost in the course of a busy workday. But, mostly, it is a good time to clear my head (with a good cup of coffee), center myself, and prepare for whatever the day holds.

What inspires your work? I have actually thought quite a lot about where inspiration comes from and talked to other artists about how they access what inspires them. What I’ve found to be true (for me and for many others) is that it’s rare to have one single source to draw from. You are most likely to find inspiration if you remain open to possibilities and aware of the world around you. You cannot force true creative drive because inauthenticity is easy to spot and not easily forgiven.

How does your family inspire you? As a child, I learned so much from my grandmothers – how to sew, garden, embrace family, and how to live well without having a lot of money. Everything I learned from them inspired the creation of my company and the work that I do. My children also inspire me, but in different ways. My ten-year-old daughter is constantly challenging me to see things from a more innocent, enthusiastic, and unspoiled perspective. Watching my grown son raise his daughter (and becoming a grandmother, myself) gives me a rounder perspective on my life.

What advice would you give women going through life’s trials and tribulations? Breathe. Try to be present and mindful, so you don’t miss the lessons life is offering you. We all fall down in life, but it’s the getting up that is most important. And it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. By the way, I would give the same advice to men… Every one of us wants to be liked and successful, but not everyone will be. When you realize you can’t control other people’s reactions, that you can only control your own, it gives you permission to fail and to learn and try again.

How do we begin to seek a better life? Decide to be brave. You don’t actually have to BE brave yet, but you have to want to be and to try to be.

Describe your personal style? Right now, I’m in Fourth Grade mom style: utilitarian (and, hopefully, beautiful and sexy at the same time).

What did you wear as a child? Many of my clothes were made by my grandmothers – and like many southern girls, I had my fair share of lacy church dresses. My grandparents also allowed me to rummage through attics and old trunks and play dress up constantly. So, a lot of my wardrobe depended on the day, my mood, and what character I’d dreamed up that day.

What is your favorite quote? For the moment, it’s a little inside joke that I have with my 10 year old daughter: “Run Tuba. Run!” There are many times a bit of running can help your life—plus, it cracks us up every time.

Who have played mentor roles in your life? There are too many to mention here; but, start with my grandmothers: strong, resilient, beautiful women who knew how to make good things.

Advice to women in their 20s. You have opportunities now that you will never have again, so take a few chances; don’t take everything too seriously or too personally; some of the things you think are very important now will not even factor into your life in 10 years; the best years of your life are still to come.