Friday, January 24, 2014

New Alabama Chanin Collection! Nude is not a color.

**************Update October 18, 2014***************

The use of "Nude" as a color descriptor at Alabama Chanin has changed. The new color is "Ballet". I am not sure when the change occurred, but I am glad to see that it has happened.

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When I originally  saw the new Alabama Chanin Collection I loved it. This post originally raved about it with photos and praise. I later spent more time looking at the collection and reading the descriptions.
 
                             
                            
                     


The Magdalena Gustav coat is one of the many garments "available and shown here in 'nude'". It is rather disappointing to see such a narrow color description. After a week of supportive Civil Rights Movement and MLK posts in their journal, this racially exclusive description saddens me. It put a pin in my  earlier enthusiasm about the collection. This is not a universally nude color and seeing it described there as such makes me feel like these garments are not meant for me, a person of color.  When that is added to the price, it further draws a line under who these designs are for. Perhaps simply calling it beige, sand, taupe, light toast, might be less insensitive? I wonder how a Caucasian person would feel to see a chocolate brown dress coded as "nude".

I am not one to throw stones and hide. So, I optimistically wrote the company, and hoped that they will make a change to this descriptor. After an insufficient response from a staffer, I sent a follow-up message and finally received a detailed follow-up message from Natalie Chanin herself who acknowledged the inappropriate name, but has no plans to correct it based on the way business works. The specifics of her response were surprisingly dismissive and hurtful. It broke my heart.

Based on her response I wrote a detailed explanation of why I am pulling my support for the company (something she invited me to do). It included references from my graduate education in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and my years as an Equal Employment Opportunity, Sexual Harassment Investigator. It touched on white privilege, institutionalized racism and personal responsibility to change things.  In the end, I decided not to post it. It is unnecessary to intellectualize concepts that should be so basic. My response to it all is to simply say: I will no longer support this company. We have vastly different views on the appropriate response to racial bias and exclusion.  

I am very proud of the work I have done to this point using their patterns and stencils; I have learned much.  I have a hard time however, "loving my thread" and investing extensive time and money in this company moving forward.  I will not direct my hard earned money to a company that devalues my essence. You may not see me, but I see you. Luckily for those of us who enjoy hand-sewing, there are many other patterns, stencils and sources of fabric from which to choose.


Happy (inclusive, sensitive, considerate) Sewing,
Bianca

44 comments:

  1. Oh, that scallop dress! And the Alabama fur panel dress - how much work thst took! Thanks for the heads-up - I didnt even know they put up collections.

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    1. I thought you would want to see. I have updated it since you first read it.

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  2. You know, I guess I've never thought about that. It not only doesn't fit half the population, but it's just a boring name, when they have names like pewter and storm! Why not call it sand or something like that? I think this is one of those things that we've become accustomed to for so many years that nobody really thinks about it. I remember my mom buying me 2 colors of pantyhose - nude and suntan, and suntan was actually more of a chocolate brown on me.

    I was always struck by Barbie dolls, actually. It kind of broke my heart to see little black girls playing with white Barbie dolls - what does that say to a child that there's not a doll that looks like her? I guess they've fixed that now, but it still took awhile.

    A friend of mine has actually made a movie about race relations in Mobile, and I think he traveled the country interviewing people for it. I haven't seen it yet, but the website is mobileinblackandwhite.org if you're interested. And let us know what you hear from AC...

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    1. Thanks for the support. I hope they change it; I like sand! I am from the Bahamas so that resonates with me :)

      Thankfully, we have come a long way from the single color doll! The American Girl store is fantastic! Our bi-racial daughter found her skin color and hair type with ease when there. I was delighted that the only dilemma was which accessories to choose. They even have a compete sewing studio with working machine! (It costs as much as a real machine, so we dream).

      Thanks for the information on the movie, I will have to check it out.

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  3. Replies
    1. The initial response was pretty much, thanks for liking the collection, we have always done it this way, continue to like the collection.

      I feel like I am at the beginning of a bad break-up. Like I have told my mate how they hurt me and rather than consider changing, they persist in the painful behavior because I never complained before.

      I am waiting on a follow-up message to my clarifying questions. Obviously, I am a fan of the company. I however, cannot see continuing in my fanaticism when they clearly communicate that their garments are not for me.

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    2. Oh, this is disappointing. Hopefully it will work its way up the chain and be really addressed.

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    3. I will no longer be supporting this company. We have vastly different views on the appropriate response to racial bias and exclusion.

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  4. Thanks so much for bringing this issue up. The words we use ARE important. Keep it coming. (and you are making me want to do a "nude" series in all shades of browns and beiges). Hillary

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    1. Hillary. I can't wait to see it! My husband designed a nude protest shirt for me to stitch. I needed a little distance from this situation before I began making it. I plan to begin my stencil soon...

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  5. I knew better than that when I was seven. In 1971. In Montreal.

    And I’m white.

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    1. Thanks Alison! Too bad it is not that clear for so many.

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  6. I am ashamed to say that I had to google this to even figure out the issue. I had no idea. Wow, my eyes are opened a little bit wider. Thank you.
    Blessings,
    Patti

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    1. Thanks Patti for sharing. I am sorry you had to do more research, but, I am glad you did and feel enlightened. My motivation for writing the company was to alert them to the issue and hope like you, their eyes would be opened and they would change.

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  7. Bianca, did you get a second response from them,or did they ignore your second email? I was hoping they'd lead the way in dumping old-fashioned ideas....

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  8. I am sorry, I did get a response, but I added the update in a comment on another post. I got a reply from Natalie Chanin who was following the communication with me and the journal editor. She explained that the "inappropriate" misnomer is system-wide and has been in place since 2000 (we have always done it this way).

    They had just released new color cards so they were not going to change the "inappropriate name". I was invited to pull my support if their inactivity was insufficient to satisfy my concern.

    The impression I got was that the cost of the change was greater than my impression of deliberate exclusion of people on the basis of race. I do not see how a name change to, for example "Toast, formally called Nude" will financially cripple the "small company".

    Clearly from this blog and my wardrobe, I wanted a different response. I approached my emails from the perspective of telling someone that their skirt is caught in their pantyhose and their butt is showing. My intention was to say, "Hey, you may not know how you look, but I care, so I will tell you." The response was like that person hearing me, and continuing down the hall showing their a**.

    The whole exchange made me feel like lint being picked off of a shoulder.





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    1. I like your name change idea, and the thing is, they just added some new colors and even mailed out swatches to previous card purchasers if requested for free, so what's the big deal about adding one more swatch with the new name? They also "re-did" peach! I just don't get it....

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    2. oh my goodness.... I'm laughing so hard....

      at your description of how you felt you wanted to do them a favor as motivation for the email.... I know people who would walk around with their a** showing, totally unaware of its inappropriateness. Great analogy.

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  9. Yes, I also contacted the company with the same complaint and referenced your situation. In less than three hours I received a response from the owner Natalie Chanin. She also forwarded the final response that was sent to you, which you paraphrase above.

    Unlike you, I found it more thoughtful and understanding than you did. I most definitely felt heard and understood. However, having worked communications for small companies and non-profits I do know how much money a change like that could mean. A printed mistake in posters or ads can be costly particularly when distributed by a global company that wishes to leave as lilttle impact on the earth as possible. Though I don't have any examples of what you wrote them, I did receive a promise from Natalie that the name would be corrected as soon as it were financially feasible for the company. I am perfectly ok with that.

    When I think of what that company provides economically for that town in Alabama (replacing its lost industry) and it's people; what it does for our country by showing that a U.S. based clothing company CAN survive by paying a living wage to Americans workers; and the financial support it provides to endangered populations around the world, I believe I can give them a few years to correct a color name. I feel that their particular priorities (and not taking money away from the good they do) may give them a justifiable pass. Take care.

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    1. I am genuinely pleased that you got a timely and favorable response to your concern. It seems that you got a concrete commitment to the change for some time in the future. (My message implied it would be considered, but was not definite).

      I appreciate that your experience in the communications field positively influences your understanding of the business side of things. Thank your for that perspective.

      Similarly, I fully acknowledge that my experience resolving systemic and individual employment related discrimination complaints influences my perspective here. I know that these seemingly small issues can communicate messages that, if left unchecked influence ones values and actions.

      I am not clear why a change would take years to make? I may be naive, but couldn't a web update be made in the meantime? Would this change undo the good they do? I would think it would enhance the good they do. It is hard to communicate virtually on a sensitive subject without sounding contentious, but I am sincerely curious. It seems so simple to me and I guess that's what makes me feel unheard.

      Let me also say this, Alabama Chanin is not the only company that mis-codes colors in favor of the majority. It is also, not the only company I choose not to patronize when I see it. Nail, makeup, shoe, and clothing companies have done it for years and normalized it. People of color have simply chosen other products and moved on, never communicating why.

      My moving on is more public here, because I have so many blog posts supporting them here.

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  10. Hi Bianca,
    I was lead to your blog through Pinterest, and it was all because I saw a picture of you in your Alabama Chanin project shirt (which looked fab btw) with the caption "I no longer support this company" under it. So I wondered why, as I have just recently discovered AC and am working on a project of my own just "inspired" by her technique. I, like you, have been sewing for years, learned as a child, blah, blah, and I wondered why someone would have an issue with the company.

    To clarify, as a white woman born n' bred in Georgia, I have to say you are right. I do hope they change the name, and I also don't see why it would be such a big bureaucratic deal to do it. What is "nude" anyway?

    I also will share that my opinion is shaped by decades of growing up in the South around all kinds of people, and having seen my fair share of insensitivity and consideration in every kind of person. I am also currently in a relationship with a fantastic African American man, and your comments about this issue put me in mind of the Band-aids he uses that are supposed to be "flesh" colored. It made me wonder why a big company like that can't make those in more shades so they blend in with darker skin? Of course, he did not say anything about it (he's too much of a gentleman to do so), but I noticed it. As you say, he has moved on...in his mind anyway.

    At any rate, I am glad I found your blog, and I like your posts about your projects! I do hope AC changes that name. I travel with my job and am going to be in the North Alabama area in about a month was looking at stopping in. I think I may just bring this up to them, haha!! I'll let you know what they say...
    Thanks!
    Sharon D.

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    1. Thank you Sharon for your support of my projects and on this issue. It means so much to know that I am heard on this point. I clearly love the designs of the company, but given the immense time commitment required to construct a garment, I could not see me giving any more time to them until a change is made.
      As I have said and you reiterate, it seems like an easy fix that they will not do.

      It seems so simple. I recently overheard this conversation between my 5 yr. old and my 2 yr old:

      5yr: Ouch! You hurt my foot with your toy car.
      2yr.: Sorry.
      5yr: That's okay, you didn't see my foot.
      A few seconds later, 2yr rolls car on 5yr old's foot.
      5yr: Hey, you did it again! This time on purpose!
      2yr: laughing
      5yr.:Walking to another room: I am not going to play with you if you say 'sorry,' but keep doing the same thing. When you want to play nice you let me know.
      A few minutes later
      2yr old sets down car and goes to 5yr old.
      2yr: Sorry
      5yr: I forgive you! (hug) Let's play.
      They get it...

      Thankfully, hand-sewing is a time honored tradition that precedes AC. As you have likely seen on this blog, I have hand sewn garments using other commercial patterns. I also have stencils from other companies. I will likely get back to hand-sewing garments, so keep checking back.

      I am interested to hear of your experience with them if you pop in. I would also love to see your projects, so please share. :)

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  11. You are so, so very right! There was an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art last year of hundreds of colors of skin. It was wonderful---I can't seem to find a link online. AC response is weak and invalid. They should have jumped at the opportunity to make it right.

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    1. Thank you so much for your support and information on the exhibit; I found it! It is called Synecdoche by Bryon Kim and it is wonderful! He showcases a mosaic of 429 tiles of skin tones of his subjects.

      Below is a link to the Washington Post article about it.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/26/AR2009112600169.html

      Thanks again for the support!

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    2. Since this post years ago, I've become quite cranky about this. Anytime someone posts something "nude" and it is not people without clothes, I comment: "Nude is NOT a color." Rarely do I get any response. I will continue commenting anyway.

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    3. Yay! I am so happy you are doing this! :) Let's all keep commenting like that.

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  12. Bianca, Thank you for sharing your concerns and by virtue opening the eyes and inspiring some of your readers. The company has a made a choice and that choice is simply to continue to disrespect and disregard its customers of color. It is a corporation and has the right to do so. We have a right and responsibility to not support them while they choose that response. It would not take years to change the website and send a message to its customers. It would simply take a decision that this is wrong and should be corrected. Thank you for continuing to remind us that we all have a responsibility to stand up for what is right - even with companies we love.

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  13. I think there are other and more important issues for all of us to waste our energy on then the names a company gives to colours. besides, alabama chanin have really amazing catalogues which are anything but racist. The UK is much more racially inclusive than the States but their beigey pink shoes are called nude - I think it's been "trending" for a while as a colour name - not that I understand trends, as a seamstress:). I don't think anyone wants to offend - but if you are going to be ready to take offense at everything, then you should rant at patternreview (which is where I saw your review and fell in love with your fabulous dress) for having all their contest buttons with light beige skinned cartoon women! That is something that really bugs me and always has - and I am officially caucasian - I cannot bear these "standard" beige icons". Personally, I am a pale freckly beige, and wish I were darker - I can't and don't want to tan because I've already had a little cancer removed from my face, but feel like a dead fish next to people with dark skin and am super annoyed that amongst my mixed ancestry there isn't any African.
    Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, if these people are just idiots with standard responses, screw them - but use their stuff for inspiration, don't ban it from your head - I call it use and abuse LOL.

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  14. Thanks for stopping by. You say so much here :) Glad you liked my dress, thank you. I am getting back to hand sewing, using my own stencils and patterns. Thanks for encouraging me in that. The cartoons on PR have diversity. Check out the cocktail dress contest for example.

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  15. Brava! This is how I felt when I saw the cowboys and Indians collection from Stella McCartney - very disappointing. Love your work!

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    1. Thanks Tanja for the support!

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    2. I just found out that Alabama Chanin has changed the "Nude" descriptor to "Ballet". Glad to see tha change has been made.

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  17. I'm a lot late in reading this thread but couldn't resist adding a comment. I am white. Very white skinned. Snow White has nothing on me! And I am so exhausted from people constantly bringing it to my attention - like I didn't already know???? I was born like this, I can't "help" it. I am in my 50's now and still I cover up just to avoid remarks some might consider funny but I am offended and hurt by them. I would like to tell a story that happened to my sister when she was in kindergarten. She is a red head with freckles all over her body the size and shape of Corn Flakes. On the first day the teacher wanted a note to confirm she did not have a communicable disease. And that little girl cried while pinching the skin on her forearm, " But it's me- it's me!!" Makes me cry every time I think of it! Sometimes you just can't fix stupid! All colours are beautiful. You do what you have to do-boycott AC - I respect your movement for change. Change is slow to happen yet I have faith that they will change the name. As always I remain a religious follower of your work and your blog.

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  18. Thanks so much for your support Maureen, it means so much to me. I am surprised how often I get a message from someone who has been affected by this issue, Many have shared that they contacted the company to voice their sadness at the lack of response. I believe we all made this concern relevant. AC has since changed the name of the color! I was notified by a fellow blog reader that the change was made. That is a step forward, but it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. A quick scan of the models in the newest book communicates an important message on the issue of inclusion on which they need to continue to work.

    I will be sharing a tee shirt design inspired by this issue very soon. I have also contributed to a quilt project on this issue by my friend over on Entropy Always Wins. I cannot wait to share them soon!

    Your story of your sister's experience is so sad. It breaks my heart to think about how terrible she must have felt. I want to hug that little 5 yr old and throat punch that teacher!

    Thanks again for you kind words and support :)

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  19. Bianca, I read your comments as I was viewing your garments. It really just stopped me. As a white woman, I wondered how many times I might have used the term 'nude color' without a second thought. especially With the variety of skin tones available in american girl dolls, as an example. Nude is a personal and internal term I guess. I will be awAre of how I use the term going forward. It made me recall what is was like to be the first woman manager in the fleet group in Pepsi 's corporate owned company. Going to a golf outing and being the only person in the women's changing room, being mistaken as a secretary (no offense to those who support managers) , supplier lunch meetings that were really planned As a date, the secretaries assuming that my boyfriend had abused me ( I had no boyfriend) when i entered the office after I had totaled my car. And having my bum pinched by male co-workers. I wish you more successful efforts. It can take a while to help people see a position from another's viewpoint.

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  20. SoSoLili, I am glad you are embracing your new "Nude" awareness. It is one of those things that you don't see until you do, and then you see it everywhere. As a former EEO investigator, I appreciate your parallel with gender inequality in the workplace. Both can be extremely isolating. The feeling of being disregarded based on an obvious and unchangeable part of yourself is hard to deal with. It is more so troubling when it comes for people/companies you respected. Here's hoping more people speak up and more companies make the change.

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  21. We were Yankees in Northern Alabama until recently and, I'm ashamed to say, unintentional racism and sexism is still the cultural norm in a lot of areas (I was often addressed as "Old gal" and my daughter was "Girly"). Your polite, gentle, yet firm approach to correcting this area of awareness is highly commendable and I only hope that all of us can learn to be as gracious in making people aware of hurtful attitudes.

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    1. I love your name Shameless Old Baggage! Thanks for your support and generous words. It is a sensitive subject and it is a fine line of expressing one's point and "going off" on someone. I am glad I communicated the importance and urgency of recognizing and correcting this bias.

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  22. I am stupid, I guess I don't get it. Nude, an adjective.. to much PC...

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  23. Thank you Bianca.
    I've just recently come across Alabama Chanin as an idea. My interests are related to methods of textile surface design.
    As I read more and more about the company and the woman behind the company my gut gnawed at my brain insisting that something wasn't quite right.
    For all the commentary about organic and eco-friendly this and that I am disturbed by the omission of references made to the people who made cotton the king in that part of the south. I was also disturbed by the absence of many people who look like me in northern Alabama employed as the 'artisans' who make the company what it is.
    Eventually gnawing gave way to anger on behalf of my Mother and Grandmother who taught me the artful necessity of 'stitching'. They were the first 'artisans' I knew who loved their thread and clothed their families.

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    1. Thank you! I appreciate your unique perspective as a local. The absence of the history of cotton and the true originators of these techniques was troubling to me also. When I first discovered the company there was diversity, then that changed with this collection. I have not returned to see what they look like now. It doesn't matter to me at this point. "When someone shows you who they are, believe them."

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