Dan Feibus, CEO of fabric startup Vidalia Mills Co., not only aims to be successful in manufacturing premium denim in the U.S., but he also wants to set an example for the sector.
Vidalia will focus on performance denim and shuttle-loom selvage denim on par with what is produced by premium denim mills around the world. The target market is better brands sold through premium retailers. This would include the more specialized offerings of brand like Wrangler, and specialty brands like Imogene & Willie, with which Vidalia has been working on developing product and California-based luxury brands.
“We’re using new technology, particularly in terms of our yarn dye, energy systems and other things we’re putting in that really allow us to maximize the impact of the energy savings and the input savings, which makes us competitive, let’s say, with better mills from Turkey on a cost basis,” Feibus said.
The mill is gearing up start the first full-scale yarn spinning production in August or September, and move ahead to full weaving of denim fabric by the first quarter of next year. Capacity there is around 8 million to 9 million yards per year.
Vidalia’s entrance onto the scene comes after the closing of mills like Cone Denim’s White Oak facility in North Carolina in 2017 and DNA Textile Group in Columbus, Ga., ending denim production last year, leaving places like Mount Vernon Mills among the few facilities left in the U.S.
Made in America denim is important, too, because, Feibus said, “there is a real need or quick response on premium denim and the mill is designed to do quick, custom denim production to fill a niche that is currently served by air freight from mills overseas.”
“On an emotional level I think people would really like to buy things made in the U.S. and denim is seen as a U.S. type of fabric,” he said. “It makes it an easier sell, but you have to have the quality, you have to have the price–if you have the right product it certainly can make a positive impact.”
Since Vidalia denim will be made in the U.S., Feibus said the mill can’t can compete as a volume producer.
“We have a very efficient cost structure for a premium mill, we’re competitive with other global premium denim mill, however we’re not in the commodity sector,” he said. “One of the points of differentiation both from a values perspective and a commercial outlook was that we really feel passionately that the cotton, grown properly, is renewable and sustainable. It’s exciting to be able to tell people that the cotton your using can be verified to have reduced CO2 emissions through carbon capture can have a big impact that resonates with consumers and with brands.”
Vidalia Mills shares its name with its hometown of Vidalia, La., and was built from the skeleton of a former Fruit of the Loom distribution center. The mill uses a state-of-the-art slasher yarn dye preparation system that radically reduces the amount of water used in fabric dyeing. It has also eliminated the most harmful chemicals often used in the manufacture of denim fabric and has created a close-loop water system for zero discharge.
“We are a fully vertical denim mill with in-house spinning, which is all ring spun for our own needs–core yarns and design-effect yarns–the stuff that you see in premium denim. We’re working with Lubrizol on development and use of their elastomeric fabrics because I think they’re phenomenal in terms of the potential it has to make your favorite denim even better,” Feibus said. “We’re also working with BASF and their e3 [cotton] program which is to our mind the only truly verifiable sustainability protocol that will have meaning to consumers because of its transparency and standards.”
When it comes to reducing water, the mill isn’t stopping there either.
Vidalia is actively investigating other water saving technologies, Feibus said, “because our goal is to be the most water-efficient and minimal-use total manufacturing denim platform in the world.”
Adding to that, he said, “We think that you can lead by example because of you can develop the ways of doing this here effectively I that creates a standard around the world and can have a huge impact.”