There’s more to the story of Louisiana-based Vidalia Mills than U.S.-made selvedge denim.
In an interview with Kingpins founder Andrew Olah during Kingpins24, Vidalia Mills owner Dan Feibus outlined how he’s steering the direction of the new mill to offer value-added fabrics, traceable cotton and domestic alternatives to complicated supply chains.
Famously, the foundation of Vidalia Mills is based on the American Draper X3 selvedge looms Feibus was able to acquire from the shuttered White Oak facility in Greensboro, N.C. These are the looms, he noted, “that a lot of denim aficionados have sort of a mystical bond with” and now allow his company to produce selvedge denim in the U.S., “which feels like the right thing to do.”
The mill, however, is also equipped to make wide fabrics with the newest generation of rapier looms—which Feibus described as “very precise”—and are key to the mill’s mission to deliver value-driven product quickly.
“Our focus is on value-added denims and filling in with quick response to this part of the market,” he said. “We want to provide value to our customers.”
Part of this value, he said, will come from the spinning arm of the company. Though a big part of Vidalia’s business is spinning, Feibus said the company does not have a “big spinning facility by U.S. standards.”
Vidalia is currently working on developing some yarns for both denim and woven goods, as well as for knits. “We’re doing some inventive things in spinning,” Feibus said. “We’re specialty. To make good denim, you have to be a specialty spinner,” which requires expert knowledge in blends and cotton selection, he added.
Understanding the growing importance of traceable cotton, Feibus chose to only use BASF CropScience’s e3 cotton for Vidalia Mills. “We feel the e3 cotton story is unique in terms of its sustainability and its value to both the U.S. farmer and the consumer,” he said. “It is the only completely traceable cotton protocol out there.”
From the cotton’s carbon footprint, impact on the economy and its effect on farmers, to the number of chemicals used to grow it, the U.S.-grown cotton provides a level of transparency and accountability that consumers increasingly want, Feibus said.
“It’s a unique platform for concerned consumers to really understand what they’re getting—and I think that is critical,” he added.
“The consumers today, particularly millennials, are focused on quality and where their products are coming from,” he continued. The data supports this notion; an Accenture survey says 50 percent of consumers are now shopping with their health in mind, while 45 percent are “making more sustainable choices” as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and believe their new behaviors will last long after the health emergency subsides.
“And if this current crisis teaches us anything,” Feibus said, “it’s that it is more important now than ever to really understand what’s involved in your supply chain, how things are made and what values are put into it.”
And as a U.S. manufacturer, Feibus is confident the garment industry will respond to the manufacturing challenges it has faced due to the coronavirus crisis by producing more in the U.S. and the Western hemisphere in the near future.
“I don’t think we’ll go back to normal, or what was the status quo,” he said, adding that companies are understanding that their vast supply chains are unreliable during critical times.
“People have looked at textiles for the last 30 to 40 years as the red-headed stepchild that we don’t really need—that it can be made somewhere else,” Feibus said. “If anything changes from this, it will be the realization that we need some of these things. We need to make more apparel [in the U.S.], we need to have trained sewing and we need to be able to react quickly.”