“Made in USA” denim has a new source for fabrics. A new textile maker, Vidalia Denim, announced Tuesday it has secured its initial funding to produce yarns and fabrics in the heart of the cotton-producing region of the Mississippi Delta.
Located in Vidalia, Louisiana, the 900,000-square-foot former Fruit of the Loom distribution center will have the capacity to produce 15 million yards of denim a year when it ramps up full commercial operations during the first quarter of 2019. The mill will specialize in lighter fashion weights with an emphasis on stretch and dual core stretch denim.
In order to offer customers greater flexibility, Vidalia Denim CEO Dan Feibus said the company is developing a “dramatically” different model compared to legacy mills.
“We think that a lot of stuff is being sourced in Asia not because of cost, but because of availability,” he said. By making strategic yarns in small batches, Feibus said the vertically integrated mill can accommodate customers’ small runs with quick turnaround.
“We have been looking for an ideal site for about two years, and the Vidalia site was by far the best site for our project,” said Dan Thompson, Vidalia Denim executive vice president for manufacturing. “The available building has the existing infrastructure we needed, and when combined with the strong workforce in the region already in place, as well as the close proximity to cotton crops for our key raw material, we knew this location was primed and ready for us to locate this project.”
The launch of the mill is a testament to the U.S. denim industry’s past and future.
Vidalia Denim is investing in “next generation” indigo dye technology that will use less water and manage its power usage more efficiently than any other denim mill in North America. The slasher dyeing technology from Turkey allows for filtration and reuse of process water reducing total water usage by more than 60 percent of a legacy mill. Discharge water will exceed U.S. and EU standards for clean water discharge. Additionally, more than half of the mill’s energy needs will be met from renewable sources.
Vidalia Denim will also be the first mill to use e3 sustainable cotton exclusively in its operations. The mill will source its cotton from across the U.S. farm belt from various farmers enrolled in the e3 sustainable cotton program.
And in the process, the mill will help revive the region’s manufacturing sector left vacant when Hanes left in 2017. Vidalia Denim will employ a minimum of 300 full-time workers, paying an average annual wage of $30,000 plus a benefits package.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to diversify our industry base with an additional manufacturer, and we are fortunate to have an adequate building and infrastructure to support their business needs,” Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft. “It was difficult to hear the news that Fruit of the Loom was vacating Vidalia, but we have found the silver lining with the investment of Vidalia Denim and the creation of 300 quality jobs in our community. I am confident that our residents, along with the regional labor force, will provide Vidalia Denim with a competent and hardworking team to meet their production goals.”
Vidalia Denim purchased the manufacturing facility, an on-site wastewater treatment facility and 74 acres from the Town of Vidalia for $12 million. In exchange for job performance by Vidalia Denim and the new economic activity generated by the project, the city will grant $8 million back to the company for approved capital improvements to the site.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing loan support through its Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to spur economic development and job creation. Through the program, Vidalia Industrial Facilities will receive a $25 million loan from Jefferson Financial Federal Credit Union to purchase, renovate and equip the textile facility.
In addition to the USDA Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, the Small Business Administration is also providing support through their loan guarantee program. Through that program, Vidalia Denim will receive a $5,000,000 loan from Greater Nevada Credit Union for additional equipment and working capital.
The mill is already garnering interest from brands. “We’re focused on brands that are working towards sustainability and better fashion,” Feibus said. Wrangler is Vidalia Denim’s first customer and the iconic brand is in discussion with the mill about the development of fabrics for its 2019 product collection.
“This mill is pushing the standards for sustainability denim fabric in North America,” Roian Atwood, Wrangler director of sustainability, said. “At Wrangler, we are excited about the opportunity to work with Dan and his team and the e3 cotton growers committed to sustainable agriculture practices to produce good-looking denim that utilizes innovative manufacturing methods.”