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How Levi’s Vintage Clothing Replaced White Oak Selvedge

The well of “Made in USA” selvedge denim is running dry.

The 2017 closure of White Oak, Cone Mills’ denim plant in Greensboro, North Carolina, left a gaping void for brands built on replicating authentic vintage designs, including Levi’s Vintage Clothing. For the first time, the brand sourced its selvedge denim from outside the U.S. The chosen mill? Kaihara in Japan.

Here, Paul O’Neill, head designer at Levi’s Vintage Clothing, shares why the brand decided to work exclusively with Kaihara.

Rivet: What qualities were you seeking in the replacement fabrics?

Paul O’Neill: After the closure of White Oak, our focus was on trying to find a mill that could reproduce our historical ‘shrink to fit’ fabrics in an authentic manner and give them the love and attention they needed. This included extensive research and examination of our vintage fabrics and yarns, and many trials to get to a level of quality we are used to with the Cone fabrics we have worked with for so long.

patchwork jeans
Levi’s Vintage Clothing Courtesy

Rivet: Why is Kaihara the right fit?

PO: They have a great history and appreciation for vintage denim. Immediately they were up for the challenge, and I traveled to the mill and spent several days there working with their team. They were excited to work on historic Levi’s fabrics and gave us great resources to develop them correctly.

Rivet: Tell us about the fabrics.

PO: We worked on seven different fabrics spanning from our 9 oz. loomstate fabric from the late 1800s to our 12 oz. denim from the 1970s. Each fabric has its own complexities with multiple yarn counts and specific characteristics of the specific era that can present many challenges. We are extremely happy with the results and look forward to seeing them come to life.