Many of us in the Denim world have been watching as the options for American made denim have steadily decreased over the past few years. The steady demand for higher profit margins, lower costs, and the rapid advancements in quality from Mexico, China, and India have all contributed to the gradual migration of denim fabric and garment production away from our shores. At the end of 2008, we’re beginning to wonder, will US made denim exist for much longer? We all hope the answer will be yes, but there have been alarming signs this year that future of American denim mills is in jeopardy.
With the news that Belgian producer UCO shut down its US operation earlier this year, that left only a few key players in the American-made denim business. These include Denim North America, Mount Vernon, American Cotton Growers, and Cone Denim.
The oldest and largest of the remaining denim producers is the legendary Cone Denim, founded in 1891. In November Cone announced a series of layoffs at their famous White Oak plant, which has produced some of the best US made denim since 1905. Cone continues very successfully to expand its overseas ventures, such as their China operation and a new plant in Nicaragua. However, the market for its higher priced, US made, wide and selvage denims is now indelibly tied to the volatile Premium Denim market. It remains to be seen if demand for high quality, American made denim can sustain the operations of the White Oak plant.
Earlier this month the parent company of Cone Denim, ITG (International Textile Group), announced a further consolidation of their businesses, effectively merging Burlington Worldwide with the Cone Denim division into a single integrated business. Fiber2Fashion reported:
“We are moving to the next level in ITG’s evolution as a global provider,” said Joseph L. Gorga, president & CEO of ITG. “Our strategic initiatives over the last couple of years have focused on globally expanding our capabilities, which today span across China, Vietnam, Nicaragua, India, Europe, Mexico, and the U.S.
“Combining our apparel resources into a single business provides a simpler, more robust platform to leverage our strengths and offer customers greater support within a more flexible, cost-competitive structure.”
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Let us hope that Cone Denim and the remaining American made denim producers can weather the current difficult economic environment and carry on the legacy of this uniquely American product.