Southern Makers in Alabama keep it real by showcasing local, high-quality products

Southern Makers in Alabama keep it real by showcasing local, high-quality products
Southern Makers is a backdrop wihich will bring togetherr Alabama craftsman, artisans and makers of all sorts. (Contributed)

There’s a world of difference between sending a text message and sending a card, says Steven Lambert, creative director for Montgomery-based Cotton and Pine, a design studio and custom print shop. He dabbles in letterpress printing himself, and he is very careful not to belittle one type of communication or glorify the other.

Southern Makers will be held in Montgomery this weekend at the Union Station Train Shed. (Contributed)

“When you want to communicate in a very meaningful way, a text message, there are challenges in that,” Lambert said. “But with a handwritten note, there’s a story within the story. There’s something beautiful and charming about that.” The “plush” feel of the paper and the imprint of the press “are sensory elements that help us remember that more” than a text or email message, he said.

And there is a difference between a mass-produced card and the one made by the company that made the paper Paul Revere wrote on and printed on a 100-year-old press, Lambert said. One of those old presses was once owned by A.H. Cather Publishing. The Birmingham business shut its doors in 2014 and sold the press to Cotton and Pine.

Southern Makers is a showcase for Alabama artists and craftspeople. Montgomery’s event will be held Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. at the Union Station Train Shed, 300 Water St. in Montgomery. The first event was held four years ago. This year, the Birmingham event is scheduled for Sept. 10-11.

Makers are cobblers, woodworkers, seamstresses, tailors and quilters, cooks, printers, leather craftspeople as well as those who create using electronics, robotics and 3-D printing. In Alabama, making things has been a way of life for a long time, but since the mid-2000s, making things has become part of a national movement.

Southern Makers celebrates products and cultivates networking and collaboration. The event will include food, live music, beverages, a bazaar of carefully curated Alabama products, workshops, demonstrations and a story series about some of the makers and their products.

Southern Makers is a celebration of products made by Alabama artists, but also encourages networking and collaboration. (Contributed)

It will also mark the launch of The Alabama Sweet Tea Company. When Wes Willis travels with his band, Rush of Fools, he admits to missing his Montgomery home. To him, sweet tea takes him back to memories of playing in his grandparents’ backyard on hot summer days.

“Grandmother had glasses that were ornate and very, very thick. I can almost feel my teeth hit the rim,” he said. The tea was beautiful amber, honey color. I remember gulping it and going out to play again.” The color is so important to the tea and the company that a sample is taken from each batch and checked in sunlight.

Willis is quick to say that he and his business partner, Golson Foshee, never set out to build a better tea bag or outdo popular refreshers available to and loved by Alabamians, like Publix tea and Milo’s. “We love Milo’s made in Bessemer,” he said. “Mad respect.”

They started out with a notion to grow their own, but learned that tea grows best in China and India. So they sampled teas. “We were just jacked up on caffeine for months!” Then they tested teas on their family and friends and arrived at a China/India blend that typified the sweet tea experience Willis remembered as a child, but also tastes great to people who drink it unsweetened, like his mother-in-law from North Dakota.

The tea is $7 a box and makes about three gallons.

Lambert and Willis are both motivated to make high-quality products in their hometown, and show people that although manufacturing has taken hits, especially in the South, products are still being made here. They also encourage people who are interested in working with their hands and making something to get inspired and get connected with the Alabama maker community.

The Alabama Sweet Tea Company (Contributed)
Southern Makers will mark the launch of The Alabama Sweet Tea Company. (Contributed)

“Things that last a lifetime … there’s only a few ways you can make things like that. Quality and design is a big part of that. It’s not just handmade, it’s quality made. It’s ethically made.” Lambert said.  “We’ve all seen the results of why cheaply made things was not a good idea. I think there’s something special about someone taking that kind of time, when something is made well and cared for it shows up in the quality. There’s a story about how it was made, who it was made by.”

The stories and the products themselves are designed to last and meant to be shared and passed on. Lambert, who loves the feel and look of high-quality paper, intends to do just that.

“My wife and I started our relationship writing letters to each other. We lived in two different places. We still have those. It’s something we’ll pass on to our children and grandchildren.” They also journal about thoughts, memories, dreams and travel, he said. Unlike common wood fiber paper, cotton fiber paper, which is what the U.S. dollar is made of, can last a long, long time.

“If the hard drive crashes, what are you going to show your grandchildren?” he asked.

Wes Willis’ Tea Brewing Tips


  • 6-7 tablespoons tea leaves
  • Boiling water
  • Sugar to taste

There is no one right way to brew tea, and Alabama Sweet Tea Company’s tea is brewed to suit a wide variety of tastes. But Willis likes to brew tea at home by putting a kettleful of water on the stove and bringing it to a boil. He removes the tea from tea bags, measuring out 6-7 tablespoons of tea.

Then he steeps the tea in the kettle for five minutes with the lid on. Willis puts sugar in a gallon jug while the tea cools a bit, then strains it into the jug, squeezing the liquid from the leaves into the jug. He stirs the mixture until the sugar has dissolved, then adds enough ice to bring the temperature down and to increase the volume to about a gallon.

Southern Makers


Noon-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Union Station Train Shed, 300 Water St., Montgomery

A day pass costs $37.74 for adults, $21.99 for ages 11-17, free for children 10 and younger. Weekend and VIP passes are also available.

For tickets and more information:



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