Going the Extra Mile

Late one Sunday night I lay awake with questions spinning round, pondering thoughts likened to “should I stay of should I go?” In past weeks, I’d made thoughtful preparations and networked with a designer in the northwest corner of the state. In previous correspondence, I’d set an appointment for the next day, to visit the designer in studio, preview designs and purchase a garment. Initially, I was excited to find someone who crafts just the thing I was searching for in my home state. After a long search online, followed by an exchange of emails, the appointment was set. Yet, I lay awake. Reluctance tempted me to cancel the engagement of the following day. In the dark, I questioned my intentions. “Is this a ridiculous notion? Who would drive 4+ hours (one way) to purchase an item that could be ordered online? Is this an extravagant idea, perhaps even radical? And, if I change my mind, cancel and opt to make my purchase mail-order online, would my decision be defined as responsibly frugal or compromise?” I weighed the points of my self-inflicted debate. Ultimately, my convictions won. While, I understand that some may see it as impractical, I suppose, I’d rather know that I was willing to go the extra mile.

Early the next morning, I began my northward trek through Chilton County, on to Moulton and then to Florence. I began my drive hoping to meet a kindred spirit. Along the trip, I made it a point to stop by Red Land Cotton, a cotton company I’d recently read about. Description illustrated the cotton company to a homegrown enterprise, began by a cotton farmer who’d taken to home-goods textile manufacturing. Along Moulton’s picturesque town square, the Red Land Cotton mercantile boasts luxurious Alabama grown linens, and other merchandise. The shopkeepers were kind and helpful, and even offered gift wrapping following my Alabama cotton purchase. I left my contact information as reference, and assured them I would return. This experience lifted my spirits, and I provided with me the encouragement, that perhaps this discovery alone was well worth the drive.

By noon, I arrived in Florence. I paid the parking meter and found humor in discovering that just .25 cents buys two hours of parking in this quintessential Alabama town. A few steps down the sidewalk brought me to the designer’s studio door. The door was locked and a note read, “Sarah…had to run home…be back in 15min…” I first read the note with relaxed impressions, with empathy and casual understanding. After all, sometimes things come up. Then secondary thoughts overcame the first. “Perhaps this was a mistake…perhaps, I should have cancelled. When I set the appointment, I wrote clearly that I was making a 4 hour trip for this.” For a moment, I felt incredibly foolish, even remorseful. Still, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, by placing confidence in them until I’m proven otherwise. I chose to wait. After all I’d driven a long way. Fifteen minutes passed. I decided I’d return to my car. I watch for the designer’s return in the rearview mirror. While waiting, I reflected on the positive events of the drive, the cotton company, the pristine farmland and the summer sunlight. Twenty minutes, twenty-five, at last the person arrived. After a casual welcome into the studio, I found myself prompting conversation. The individual seemed little interested in sharing their work. And when I acknowledged the remarkably curated website, the bio and mission statement regarding sustainability, there was little remark offered on the subjects. The product and designs were well made. However, the effort to connect with a potential buyer was lacking and sustainable conviction seemed doubtful. Had I chosen to purchase online, I wonder if the garment would have ever arrived. I kept our visit brief. I wished the designer the best, and walked back to my car.

All those questions, I pondered the night before, came back tempting greater remorse. Somewhere between Tennessee Street and Alabama Avenue, I decided the day wasn’t a lost cause. I added another address to the GPS, and began my drive further out of town, to a place I’d only read about…

Often the best experiences are found in the extra mile

To learn more about Red Land Cotton visit www.redlandcotton.com or take a road trip to shop Red Land Cotton, on the square in the heart of Moulton, Alabama.

Red Land Cotton- Moulton, Alabama
Red Land Cotton- Moulton, Alabama

It isn’t located on a picturesque town square, nor along a tree-lined historic promenade. This abstract take on locating the ideal has had an enduring appeal for me. For those who live in nearby Tennessee, a drive to Florence may seem convenient. But for me on this particular occasion it was quite the contrast. I’d made my trek to the far corner of the state intrigued by countless articles spotlighting sustainability. Some stops along the way were charming while others evoked disappointing remorse, which left me questioning should I have come at all. A day such as that, in retrospect, now seems the kind of setting that prompts the voyager to explore more, thus proving what extraordinary things are in store for one willing to go the extra mile.

I’m an advocate for sustainability, an artist, writer, mentor and Alabama small business entrepreneur. I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve grown to think of my state in both critical and affectionate context; equating my love for my home state to my love for family. Travel any back road through the southland, and in a matter of a day, you will form a romantic attachment to it, as well as an established understanding of it’s flaws.

I missed my exit, traveling north. I took the next one, and chose a rural route over to Muscle Shoals. Signs call it a highway. Perhaps long ago, before the four-lane, it was. A flat road winds its way through farmland. Signs along farm fence-posts profess “repent.” The remnants of abandoned old filling stations succumb to kudzu and sumac. I pass primitive polling venues. It’s an election year; campaign signs are scattered everywhere. Around noon, I arrived in Muscle Shoals, crossed the Tennessee river and later made my way to the outskirts of town.

The Factory as it is known, welcomes the pilgrim with open arms, and indelible southern charm. Building 14 stands at the center of what was once the “T-Shirt Manufacturing Capital of the World.” A person must know what they are looking for to find Alabama Chanin. A relic of the modern factory age has become a romantic ode to heritage; resurrecting favored traditions and pastimes of Alabama life and transposing them to meet the sustainable needs of current society. Here I found exceedingly more than I was searching for.

Seldom do I happen upon a place and people that seem to parallel my path. My discovery of Alabama Chanin was uniquely that. My visit was unannounced. I hadn’t called ahead. I wasn’t sure before arriving that I would have time to dedicate to a proper visit. I knew little of the fashion house, it’s heritage and history.

Upon arrival, the Factory shop consultants provided a heartwarming welcome and swept away guests into a tour of the factory store, cafe, workshop- known as the School of Making and more… Remarkably, each person renders exemplary representation for the work, the designer/founder, philosophy and ethical mission with a transparency that is deeply rooted in Alabama soil. Without one thread of pretension, consultants explain the origin of each garment, the process of their making and the source of every fiber. This experience strikes a chord with a person of conviction, as it is evident that Natalie Chanin and her team of makers- practice what they preach. Cotton from our region, processed in the southland and hand-stitched by local makers preserves a provenance and carries forth a heritage that sets the bar high, empowering kindred spirits to go the extra mile.

So often quoted is the phrase, “it’s the journey not the destination.” In my life this takes on reinforced meaning, when confluence of contrasting experiences evoke both second thoughts and validating overture. The currents we travail along the journey oft reroute us and guide us towards the experiences that reaffirm the core of our chosen course. With conviction, I question, “is it worth the drive?” The answer is always,

Go the extra mile. It’s worth far more.

—Art is Life Expressed— Sarah West

Alabama Chanin
Alabama Chanin

To learn more about Alabama Chanin, the work of Natalie Chanin and her extraordinary team of makers visit www.alabamachanin.com and visit the School of Making in Florence, Alabama.