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Natalie Chanin, Georgia Sewn expo to highlight weekend of sustainable fashion

Natalie Chanin is an internationally recognized leader in the sustainable fashion movement. (Credit: Rinne Allen)

Athens, Ga. – The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts at the University of Georgia and the Athens Fashion Collective will present a weekend of sustainable fashion events Jan. 28-30 featuring Natalie Chanin, founder and designer of Alabama Chanin, and Georgia Sewn, a one-day expo of the regional fashion design industry.

Chanin is an internationally recognized leader in the sustainable fashion movement. Based in Florence, Alabama, her company, Alabama Chanin, produces garments and other goods with organic cotton along with repurposed and reclaimed materials. Its entire manufacturing process is designed to achieve maximum sustainability at every stage, including cultural sustainability through the preservation of hand-sewing skills among local workers.

Chanin will be the first guest of 2016 in the Willson Center’s Global Georgia Initiative, an annual speaker series that presents global problems in local context with a focus on how the arts and humanities can intervene. Her visit is co-sponsored by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the Georgia Museum of Art and the Lamar Dodd School of Art. She will speak on “Alabama Chanin: Design, Making, and Meaning” at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29, in the UGA Chapel.

Athens photographer Rinne Allen, who has documented Alabama Chanin’s process and products for publications including The New York Times and, most recently, Bitter Southerner, will introduce Chanin’s talk.

“Having collaborated with Natalie Chanin for the last five years, I have been continually amazed by all that she has created through her company,” Allen said. “First and foremost, Alabama Chanin designs and makes clothes, but their work reaches far beyond the garments made in and around their factory: their work ends up weaving together people and traditions with visions of a better future.”

Allen has worked to bring Chanin to Athens for several years, calling her a visionary who digs deep into the ideas of creativity, community, stewardship, social entrepreneurship and sustainability.

“The Willson Center was the perfect partner to actualize her visit,” she said. “Thanks to their efforts, Natalie will be speaking to different groups across the UGA campus, hopefully inspiring a wide range of students, faculty and the Athens community at large. … It is my hope that the Athens community will hear and learn from the visionary steps Natalie has taken to create jobs in the apparel and textile industries in her own community, thereby bringing revitalization and new energy to those industries here. Her work is inspiring and contagious.”

The organizers of Georgia Sewn share Allen’s priorities.

“The concept for Georgia Sewn has developed out of the idea of connecting designers to resources for manufacturing and sourcing in Georgia,” said Athens Fashion Collective’s Sanni Baumgartner, owner of the Athens sustainable-fashion boutique Community. “There has been a growing interest in bringing some of the garment industry we had lost back to the U.S. and particularly to the South, which had played such an important role in the past.

“The conversation is shifting toward sustainable production and hyperlocal sourcing, and we see a great opportunity for Georgia to be part of this development.”

The Georgia Sewn expo will take place Saturday, Jan. 30, at 3 p.m. in the News Building at One Press Place in downtown Athens. Its goal is to connect designers to important sources and services within Georgia and to aid in cultivating new markets and products for Georgia businesses in all areas of the fashion industry. It will feature pop-up shops, educational installations about sustainable fashion and regional sourcing and a fashion show of Georgia designers, which will begin at 8 p.m.

The weekend’s events begin Thursday, Jan. 28, with a 2 p.m. sewing workshop led by Chanin in the first-floor atrium of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. A limited number of sewing kits will be available for nonstudents to use and share, but the public is invited to watch and listen to the 90-minute workshop whether they participate or not.

Then, at 7:30 p.m., Community will present a screening of “Cotton Road” at Ciné, 234 W. Hancock Ave. Directed by South Carolina filmmaker Laura Kissel, the film documents the global supply chain for the industrial production of clothing. Kissel will introduce the film and participate in an audience Q&A after the screening. A public reception will follow at Little Kings Shuffle Club, 223 W. Hancock Ave.

For more information on the Willson Center, visit To learn more about the Athens Fashion Collective, visit