Cone Denim Closing Its Last American Mill

Stocked up on American selvage denim jeans? Good. Because the last American selvage denim mill is closing its doors! After inventory runs out, no longer will you see that iconic White Oak Cone Denim tag. Cone Denim celebrated 125 years of denim production in 2016. Just one year later, Cone Denim is closing its last American mill—the White Oak Plant in North Carolina.

Cone Denim Closing: The demise of the White Oak tag

Cone Denim Closing: The demise of the White Oak tag (Image from Tellason, Nov. 4, 2017)

The Cone Mills Corporation existed from 1895 to 2004. In its 110 years, Cone Mills built company towns, acquired mills throughout the Carolinas, and employed tens of thousands of Americans. A Cone Mills factory, circa 1914, with a company “mill village” appears in the postcard image below. Read the Wikipedia page for Cone Mills’ full history.

Cone Denim’s White Oak Plant, 1905 to 1917

In 2004, Cone Mills’ assets, including the White Oak Plant, were combined to form International Textile Group (Wikipedia). After the financial crisis of 2008, ITG stock price continued to decline. This led to the final death knell for the American plant—an acquisition by Platinum Equity in 2016.

From Cone Denim’s site, here’s the description of the White Oak plant as of November 2017:

Still true to its heritage, the White Oak plant in Greensboro, NC, operates today as the denim flagship operation, serving as the center for product development and innovation, and the production of Cone Denim’s authentic premium vintage denims made exclusively in the USA. Whether using its most modern equipment and technology, or utilizing its vintage narrow shuttle looms, White Oak has the unique ability to innovate and style with distinct creativity, precision and control. The mill was named for the 200 year old White Oak tree that stood nearby and served as a gathering place for people traveling to Greensboro from the surrounding countryside. Construction began in 1902 and the first bobbin of yarn was produced on April 20th, 1905.

Sadly, Platinum Equity announced the December closing of the only selvage denim plant left in America. About 200 people will lose their jobs. Thus far, there appear to be no plans to close the three remaining Cone Denim plants in Mexico and China, which do not produce selvage denim.

But What about the Looms?

As for the 1940s-era American Draper X3 fly shuttle looms, Tellason notes:

If White Oak is the size of a football field, the Draper looms that make the selvage denim take up the space of half of an end zone. (Our Thoughts on the Closure of Cone Mills White Oak)

For a peek into the White Oak plant and its Draper looms, watch the video below:


The Last Cone Denim American Jeans

Jeans made of Cone Mills American denim are flying off of the shelves in light of the White Oak Plant’s demise.

When shopping for your American selvage jeans, search for “Cone,” “Cone Mills,” or “Cone White Oak.” Note that many sizes are already sold out while some companies only sell Cone denim shirts or jackets.

Did I miss an American selvage jeans manufacturer? Leave a reply to let me know!

Jeans Still Made in USA

Don’t worry! You can still find jeans cut and sewn in the USA, some even with US-made denim. It just won’t be Cone Denim selvage. Check out the Made in USA List Clothing > Jeans category for over 30 American jeans manufacturers. Or, if you’d prefer lower-priced working jeans, read 3 American-Made Jeans for Every Day.

As for the future of Draper looms, check out Huston Textile Company, which operates two Draper X3 looms for small batch denim production.

Additional Resources

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