In January 2011 Tenue de Nîmes was invited by Cone Denim to join them at the prestigious denim trade show Kingpins in New York for the first time, thanks to the efforts of our friend and G-Star designer Adriana Galijasevic. The company showed their collections amongst the finest denim producers around the globe such as Kurabo, Denim-Tech and Rampuya. We were curious to meet the people behind Cone Denim because the company is without a doubt one of the most successful denim production specialists in the world. For more than 120 years Cone Mills has been a bestseller in the denim industry. Until this day, jeans brands are keen on promoting their labels by telling their customers that the fabrics for their products have been produced by the classic company from Greensboro, North Carolina. A Cone Denim White Oak label became powerful marketing tool, a stamp of quality goods. Furthermore, it became a brand of itself. We met up with VP New Product & Marketing Kara Nicholas and got a serious lesson in denim history which was originally published in Journal de Nîmes Nº7 in 2011.


During the American Industrial Revolution the Southern States became famous for their cotton production and by 1860 two thirds of the global cotton production came from that part of the USA. After the Civil War people dreamed of a 'New South' considering the vast possibilities of production in North Carolina. At that time two young sales men, named Moses and Caesar Cone, ran their father’s grocery business. Since money was scarce in those days, the brothers would sometimes get paid in cloth made by store and mill owners which they could then sell to other markets. This is how the Cone brothers got involved in the textile business and how they realized something had to change in their region. At that time over fifty mills were situated in the area and in 1891 the Cone brothers decided these textile plants needed somebody to represent them all as banker and distributor to market the products they were manufacturing to the rest of the world. This was to be the beginning of their legacy to the North American clothing industry.


In 1893 Moses and Cesar Cone believed it was time to change their business model due to a lack of quality fabrics. Secondly, they faced trouble renewing the contracts with the various mills as they argued that if their cloths were really as good as they claimed, then they could earn more profit if they started selling the fabrics again themselves. This is why the brothers decided they would build two textile Mills of their own. One would make denim fabrics and the other would stick to flannels. However, due to ‘The Panic’ in 1893 and again in 1896 they were forced to focus on denim development. In conjunction with the production business Cone added a new chapter to the history the South when they opened a facility to finish cloth. This allowed the producers in the South to diversify and improve their semi-raw products
At the end of the nineteenth century denim was a fabric that was only produced in the North-East of the United States. Cone Mills foresaw that the industrialization would lead to an exponential growth in demand for denim. For this reason the company decided to try to evoke the Southern Mills to focus their business on denim. However, after only one of the mills dared to take the chance, they decided it was time to take steps on their own. In 1895 the company gave birth to Proximity Cotton Mills where they began weaving denim fabric a year later with 7500 spindles and 240 looms. To keep that many looms supplied with yarn the spinning machines were running night and day. During its 82 years of existence Proximity produced nothing but denim. By 1951 the plant had 1500 employees 61.632 spindles and 2085 looms producing 49.000.000 yards of denim per year. In 1978 the company decided to close the Proximity business and consolidate its denim operations in the White Oak and Cliffside plants. 

Continue reading part II here.