Alabama is an internationally known hub of manufacturing for cars, planes and ships, but the state also turns out an impressive variety of items that fit perfectly underneath the Christmas tree.
For the 2017 edition of the Made In Alabama holiday gift guide, we turned to the people who know the state’s creativity and craftsmanship best. (Here’s the 2016 installment.)
We asked Alabama makers and artists to name their favorite local products – aside from their own – that they like to give as Christmas gifts.
Anna Brakefield, owner of Red Land Cotton in Moulton, is a big fan of her peers’ work and had a few suggestions.
Montgomery-based Alabama Sweet Tea Co. topped her list.
Founded in 2015, the company was inspired by the founders’ memories of enjoying homemade sweet tea at family gatherings. Their own recipe is a custom blend of high quality loose leaf tea leaves, pure cane sugar and hand-squeezed fruit juice.
“The sweetest and most humble people you may ever meet brew the sweetest tea known to the South and specifically Alabama,” Brakefield said. “Their boxed tea is a great gift to include as a stocking stuffer or in a care package to remind a loved one of their sweet southern roots or to give them a little taste of the South.”
Alabama Sweet Tea Co. also sells glasses, tumblers, shirts and hats emblazoned with the company logo.
Another favorite of Brakefield’s is Idyllwilde, a design company and workshop studio based in Florence. Its clothing, accessories and items for the home are made from natural fiber textiles and plant-based dyes.
“A lot of amazing talent comes out of Florence, Alabama, and this shop is no exception. Their simple pieces are custom made so there is a delay in shipping but it’s worth the wait!”
Brakefield said many items are hand dyed in small batches and truly are works of art.
“The South has a rich textile history and so giving a piece of Idyllwilde’s clothing or home accents is like sharing a little piece of that history with a friend,” she said.
As for Brakefield’s own business, Red Land Cotton sells bedding, bath towels and other linens made from cotton grown in North Alabama.
She and her father, Mark Yeager, own the business, with a farm that has been in the family for three generations. Their heirloom-inspired bed linens are recreations of those passed down from ancestors a century ago.
COFFEE AND COOKIES
Other Alabama makers also shop local at gift-giving time.
Robert Armstrong, founder of G Momma Cookies in Selma, picked a hometown favorite.
“My top gift would have to be Revival Coffee – great coffee and great mission as well,” he said.
The small batch roaster, which opened in 2014 in Selma’s historic district, says its purpose is to see lives redeemed, and 10 percent of its profits are dedicated to Christian ministries.
Revival offers several varieties of blends, including Integrity, Redemption, Restoration and Salvation.
As for G Momma Cookies, Armstrong said business is growing. He’s working on introducing a new flavor and upgrading equipment. The company has also expanded to three full-time and seven to nine part-time employees.
Armstrong was inspired by his grandmother’s cookie recipe when he founded Selma Good Co., maker of G Momma Cookies, in 2009, and they have been sold in stores across the Southeast. Earlier this year, he took home the top prize of $107,000 in the Alabama Launchpad Competition, which funds entrepreneurs statewide.
SOCKS AND ORNAMENTS
In northeastern Alabama, there’s mutual admiration between two well-known makers in Fort Payne.
The organic cotton socks are made in Fort Payne in an operation run by Gina Locklear, who is carrying on her family’s business and a community legacy. Fort Payne was once known at “The Sock Capital of the World” before offshoring dismantled the domestic industry.
But Locklear’s socks have found a niche, with their bright colors, bold patterns, high-end quality and appeal to customers interesting in green living. A year ago, Locklear was named a winner in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards, and just recently, she opened a store inside the Fort Payne sock mill.
Meanwhile, Locklear said her favorite Alabama-made gift is Orbix ornaments.
Breed and his crew fashion the ornaments, as well as bowls, vases, pitchers and other glass sculptures that have garnered international acclaim, in a studio atop Lookout Mountain near Little River Canyon National Preserve.
The glass-blowing process is a delicate dance of fire, human breath and constant movement, and the studio hosts tours and sessions for visitors to blow their own ornaments.
“I love them because they are collectible, uniquely beautiful and also, I love they are made in Fort Payne by kind folks I know,” Locklear said.
MORE GREAT GIFTS
And if you’re still in need of gift-giving inspiration, here are a few more Alabama-made gifts to help check off your shopping list:
Shadow Catchers Art: This longtime Greeneville company produces professionally framed and mounted artwork and wall décor for retail stores and design projects.
The team works with designers, decorators and buyers to select images, moldings, mediums and mounting techniques
Their work spans a wide variety of interests, from botanical and nature scenes to coastal and cityscape images. Product types include acrylic, canvas, lithograph, mirrors and more. (Read a story about the company.)
Earthborn Pottery: Top chefs across the U.S. and beyond have come to depend on owner/designer Tena Z. Payne and her Leeds business for unique pottery to frame their culinary creations.
Each plate, bowl, mug and other pieces are functional works of art, and they can be found in restaurants and retailers nationwide. Three generations work together in the family-run, woman-owned business.
Made By AK crafts jewelry that is minimal, modern and unique, making it another favorite of Brakefield’s.
“When you attend craft shows there are a lot of jewelry makers. To me, Made By AK stands out. It’s truly unique. It’s bold but intricate and the pieces are made from high-quality materials. Handmade in Birmingham, AK’s jewelry is crafted by hand and inspired by life’s little imperfections and that’s something I feel we can all relate to,” she said.
(courtesy Made in Alabama)