Made in the South Awards

2015 Crafts Category

In small-town Florida, a self-taught luthier builds world-class instruments

Photo: Tara Donne

Crafts Category Winner

Driftwood Guitars
Product: Acoustic guitar
Made in: Freeport, FL
Est.: 2007

“A really good guitar should make you want to pick it up and play,” says Chris Alvarado. He should know. A musician himself, Alvarado performs almost three hundred gigs a year. After leaving the Air Force, he channeled his finely honed musicality into building gorgeous stringed instruments by hand. Traditional acoustic guitars comprise the core of his business, but he can also make you a mandolin or a ukulele. First, though, he wants to get to know you, because the type of musician determines everything from the instrument’s size to the kind of wood to the body shape to the strings. “Clients tend to want to make decisions with their eyes,” Alvarado says. “My job is directing them from a sound perspective.” For Duke Bardwell, for example, who played bass with Elvis Presley, he went with bear-claw Sitka spruce and African blackwood for the body and high action (string height) to complement his hard-strumming style. That’s not to say the piece shouldn’t look good, too. Another recent client grew up on a farm in Missouri, so Alvarado used walnut from the family property for the intricate inlay on the guitar’s neck. “That’s what makes a handmade guitar so special,” he says. “If you just want a guitar, you can go to any music store. I want to craft something the musician will have forever.”

Price: $3,750–$7,000

Crafts Category: Runners-Up

Stephanie Seal Brown
Product: Hand towels
Made in: Louisville, KY
Est.: 2011

It takes a certain kind of artist to find beauty in everyday chores. “I look at my work as art you interact with,” says Stephanie Seal Brown, a textile designer who weaves her collection of colorful, candy-striped hand towels on a traditional Swedish loom inside a turn-of-the-century mill in Louisville. “Drying dishes is not the most elegant thing, but it is the kind of task that occupies so much time in our lives. I try to elevate the simple things. I like the dichotomy.” Generously sized and made of fine linen and cotton treated with fade-resistant sustainable dyes, the artful kitchen towels are hardy enough for daily use and require no special care. “I’ve been weaving for twenty years, and my family still uses some of the towels I made in the very beginning,” Seal Brown says. “They just keep going, and they’re still beautiful.”

Price: $120 each

One Love Organics
Product: Skin care
Made in: St. Simons Island, GA
Est.: 2010

Most of the potions found at cosmetics counters—even the priciest bottles—come from just a handful of global manufacturers. One Love Organics is different. Founded by Suzanne LeRoux, who first studied aromatherapy to relieve stress during law school, the entire skin care line is produced in micro-batches on St. Simons Island, off the Georgia coast. LeRoux’s pristine lab is one of only ten manufacturing facilities in the country licensed by Ecocert, the world’s largest and oldest organic certification body. There are eighteen products in the One Love arsenal, ranging from foaming cleanser made from Chilean soap bark and cold-pressed apple oil to eye cream with shea butter, pomegranate, and sea kelp. The multitasking Skin Savior suits just about any skin type—including guys’.

Price: $10-$79

We Took to the Woods
Product: Candles
Made in: Greenville, SC
Est.: 2011

Mary Campbell’s inviting Greenville shop—equal parts home-goods boutique, floral design studio, and general store—feels more like a well-loved country house than a retail space. And as in a lived-in family home, she and her three co-owners wanted it to have distinctive fragrances that would remind visitors of their time there. “We tried to develop candles that are warm and not overpowering,” Campbell says of their in-house line. “The kind that make you want to keep them lit all day.” The hand-poured soy-wax candles come in nine subtle scents with evocative names such as In the Glen (cedarwood and pine); Blue Jeans, White Shirt (warm linen, vanilla, herbal tea, sandalwood); and Whiskey River (tobacco, amber, musk); plus an annual holiday variation. This season’s offering: Christmas on Cedar Run.

Price: $40–$94