As Vidalia Mills CEO Dan Feibus put it, “Denim is the American fabric, so it’s time we made selvedge denim in the United States.”
While unveiling the last roll of selvedge denim manufactured at Cone Denim’s White Oak facility that shut down in 2017, Feibus went out to the factory floor to flip the switch on a selvedge denim weaving machine, one of more than 40 purchased from Cone that will be used by Vidalia Mills.
Feibus explained to executives and stakeholders invited by BASF e3 cotton on the last leg of its “Farm to Fashion” supply chain tour that the company has invested $50 million in infrastructure and retrofitting its 900,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Vidalia, La., a former Fruit of the Loom distribution center a stone’s through away from the Mississippi River.
Feibus laid out the Vidalia Mills game plan, with open-end yarn spinning planned to start up in November; selvedge denim production in December; ring-spun yarn in January, and the foam dye system from Temsan, a Turkish manufacturer of air-conditioning systems for spinning, weaving and knitting mills, to be integrated by April. Vidalia Mills has a strategic relationship with Lubrizol Corp. to work closely to maximize the performance and eco-friendly attributes of Lubrizol’s X4zol-J elastomeric fiber in Vidalia’s production of denim fabrics.
Vidalia Mills will only use 100 percent certified sustainable E3 cotton from farm-direct sourcing in its denim that is traceable back to the field. In a talk and tour of the soon-to-be operational facility, Feibus explained that Vidalia is partnering with such companies as BASF, Temsan and Lubrizol to create a cutting-edge yarn and denim manufacturing facility.
“Being transparent and sustainable is more than a slogan,” Feibus said. “It’s a major commitment to a process, from how cotton is grown on the farm to how it’s manufactured at the mill. We think running only e3 cotton gives us the ability to provide that traceable yarn element all the way through the system and we see that as a really big part of our mission.”
BASF’s e3 cotton is derived from its high-quality certified Fibermax and Stoneville cotton seeds that can be traced from the farmer and the ginner through to the mil and retailer. With third-party verification and documentation, a licensed merchant can sell Fibermax or Stoneville garments or home furnishings.
Vidalia intends to employ 600 people once fully operational, with manufacturing to begin in November, and be fully up to speed in about six months. Feibus noted that significant local government incentives will help reduce energy costs and the overhead for hiring and training employees.
Combined with speed-to-market capabilities of its location–“We can see America from our factory”–and expertise, and no concerns about tariffs or imports costs, Vidalia will be able to produce a competitively priced yarn and fabric for U.S. brands, he said. The company is also working on establishing a local garment factory for full-package goods, Feibus noted, and will set up a laundry facility at the site.
Feibus and many executives on hand discussed the importance of bringing denim manufacturing back to the U.S., which they said can provide an attractive, alternative sourcing opportunity for brands.
Robert Antoshak, managing director of Olah Inc., said, “Vidalia Mills is needed in the industry and hopefully can be a model for others to follow.”
Roian Atwood, senior director of global sustainable business for Wrangler and Lee jeans at Kontoor Brands, said he hoped Vidalia denim can be utilized by Wrangler, similar to the Wrangler Rooted Collection, a specialty line featuring five state-specific pairs of jeans from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Executives from Turkey’s Temsan were also on hand to discuss its indigo slasher foam and dye technology that will result in significant water and energy savings. Vidalia also operates a zero-discharge site water filtration system, with more than 50 percent of the mill’s energy needs met by renewable resources.