The closure of Cone Mills White Oak Plant shook the denim scene to its very core. Not only had one of the most beloved denim mills in the world closed, but a stalwart exporter of American-made textiles disappeared in what seemed like an instant.
While the textile world has been lamenting the loss of a denim giant, Vidalia Mills has been planning the return of American selvedge with the very same looms that sat on the floor of White Oak for nearly a century. Located in Vidalia, Louisiana, the mills is a forward-thinking project that looks set to become a huge part of the denim scene not only in America, but the world.
With Left Field NYC set to receive its first rolls of Vidalia selvedge this week, we had a virtual sit-down with denim-expert and Vidalia Mills team member, Eric Goldstein, to find out what it’s taken to get the mills from a concept to a selvedge-looming powerhouse.
Heddels (H): How and when did Vidalia Mills start?
Eric Goldstein (EG): The mill was in the planning stages for the last three years, we started receiving equipment over a year ago and the mill started weaving selvedge denim from the Draper X3 looms in January. We are currently spinning and weaving selvedge denim in-house with much more to come as we continue to move through the start-up phase of the mill and into full production.
H: What is your goal in terms of denim production?
EG: We want to be a ‘craft-brew’ of the denim world. We are not looking to just be another mill – we want to be the best, the most sustainable, the most creative, and the quickest to market. When we are fully running our goal is to produce about 7 million yards of denim between selvedge and non-selvedge denim.
In addition to classic and timeless styles, we will also be offering some novelty fabrics and stretch for the modern market.
H: What sets you apart from other mills?
EG: The fact that we are completely vertical, we have our entire supply chain under our roof, the BASF e3 fiber comes in one door and finished garments come out another door, we even offer a fulfillment option where we will ship jeans directly to the brand’s customer. This helps with our speed to market and sustainability statements.
We are also the only mill in the world that has a 100% branded cotton, BASF e3 cotton. We are also running the original X3 Draper looms that the industry knows so well, it’s truly a very special part of the mill.
In addition, we also have our on-site Industry Creative Center. The object of this 20,000 sq ft design center is to bring consumer-facing fashion brands and the supply chain closer together so they both have a clear understanding of what is available in the industry. This will drive innovation in sustainability, fiber research, chemical research, finishing, sewing, weaving, and spinning.
Included in the Creative Center is a digitized vintage denim library for design inspiration. It’s fully digitized and integrated so any laser pattern can be electronically sent to any laundry facility in the world. Designers can scan the library from any computer and send it directly to the Design Center laser.
H: How many people are involved in the day to day running of Vidalia Mills? Who do you have who knows how to run the mills?
EG: Our team is eight very seasoned executives that all have many years of experience in denim manufacturing and marketing. I myself have worked on the start-up team for huge labels such as Gap 1969, RRL, and Jean Shop. Beyond that, we have a solid management team in the plant. We will have a few hundred employees in the next six months. Right now we are at over 100 already and the operation is steadily growing.
H: How did you get the White Oak Draper Looms?
EG: That’s a very interesting question. There were so many stories about the looms being sold through the industry over the past two years. Everybody thought they had been dismantled. I was unsure what actually happened to them so I called the owner of the demolition company that purchased the entire Cone White Oak facility. I asked him if any of the looms were available, and he asked me who I was and what I would do with them. Apparently they weren’t going to sell them to just anybody and had already turned down others.
I got on a flight that same night and headed to Greensboro, NC to see the looms. I asked him where the looms were so we could meet there and he said they are in the exact same place as they have always been, which was exciting.
I still had no idea what condition the looms were in and how many would be left. Well, to my surprise, when I was walked up there the looms were, in fact, in exactly the same place as they had been forever. They were all covered in plastic sheets and many still had denim on them. I could not believe what I was looking at.
Literally, on the spot, we negotiated and we started moving the looms out about 10 days later. As part of our deal, we also purchased all of the tools and spare parts that go along with the looms, everything, we even purchased the iconic wood floor that the looms have been attached to forever.
H: What looms do you use aside from the Drapers?
EG: We have 46 Draper X3 looms, 40 new Picanol looms, and 30 vintage Picanol President shuttle looms. This is the number of looms we need to reach our target of 7 million yards of fabric a year. We will use the Picanol President looms for some novelty selvedge fabrics, and the Draper X3 looms will continue to weave the finest selvedge denim in the industry as they have done for many many years.
H: How does Vidalia score in terms of sustainability and ecological impact? Are there plans to introduce more sustainable fabrics or recycled yarns?
EG: Sustainability is the most important thing to us at Vidalia. We only use BASF e3 traceable sustainable cotton, which is a branded cotton developed by BASF themselves, grown using socially equitable, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable practices. BASF is completely thorough and tracks the cotton from farm to yarn. Each e3 cotton farmer tracks every aspect of production impacting sustainability – from planting practices tall the way to harvest.
Our laundry is zero discharge, 70% of our energy comes from hydroelectric power, and we will be installing a large solar power system on our roof in the future. We are also planting cotton on our 150-acre property in front of the mill which will help us to completely shorten the supply chain on some of our fabrics
Our carbon footprint will always be a fraction of the industry average because our entire supply chain is under one roof in the USA. We will be giving every wash development that we dan Environmental Impact score so all of our customers know exactly what impact the wash is having on the environment before they purchase the fabrics.
in short, sustainability is of utmost importance to Vidalia and a core aspect of our operation.
H: What fabrics are currently available? What will be available?
- 27% indigo 100% cotton in both 12 and 14 oz.
- 17% indigo 100% cotton in both 12 and 14 oz.
- Black warp with a natural fill in both 12 and 14 oz.
- Black with a black fill in both 12 and 14 oz.
H: What is the price point per yard? How does that compare to White Oak?
EG: The price depends on the product and the quantity ordered, but our prices are very very reasonable. They’re similar to White Oak.
H: Lastly, why is selvedge important to you?
EG: It’s American history, it’s classic, it’s heritage, and it’s quality.
The legacy of White Oak continues into what will hopefully be a new generation of American selvedge denim. We look forward to following the developments out of Vidalia as it hopefully resupplies denim makers in the US and all over the world.
The fabric has just left the factory, but you can pre-order a pair of Left Field jeans made out of Vidalia’s selvedge denim right now for just $198 on the Heddels Shop. Expected delivery is in 6-8 weeks.