During the early 1900's the demand for denim grew further. It made the Cone brothers decide to build yet another plant close to Proximity. A huge White Oak tree of nearly 200 years old that measured four feet and two inches across the trunk became the symbol of this new project. History tells us that the oak was used as a meeting place for people who came to Greensboro from the surrounding areas. The tree would protect from sun and rain underneath its spreading branches. This would be where the brothers decided to build the largest denim factory ever. The White Oak plant began to exclusively produce denim in 1905, and continues to do so to this day. The white oak tree remained a symbol of its excellence long after it came down during a summer storm in 1930.
After World War I the focus in denim production went from military materials to peacetime products. The entire business subsequently went through an adjustment. Cone added new fabrics to the portfolio such as chambrays, coverts, ticking and upholstery cloth to the existing list of products. Although Cone would develop many great new cloths to the business it was another denim breakthrough that would turn the jeans business upside down. Before 1936 denim's dirty and dusty looking qualities were considered to be inherent to the fabric. Cone's visionaries had a different opinion. In 1936 they produced the Cone Deeptone Denim that was more pleasing in terms of color, smoother in finish and much more attractive to post-war consumers. The new fabric modernized marketing as well. Levi Strauss was one of the first manufacturers who established ideas about brand identity and loyalty. Cone's close relationship with Levi's started in 1915 and continues to the present day. Cone produced the legendary XX fabric for Levi's that became of the brand’s most important icon next to the 501 jean.
WORLD WAR II
During World War II the Cone Mills were quickly converted so they could produce fabrics for the war effort. Cone was making cloths they had never produced before for tents, camouflage clothing and other much needed fabrics. According to estimates seventy percent of the Southern clothing business was reserved for WWII support. Soon after the war the entire business changed again. During the fifties the invention of television began to influence youngsters who started to wear jeans as a fashion statement, rather than as functional workwear. With the emergence of Rock 'n' Roll an entire nation's social structure changed and Cone increased their business in dying, printing and finishing fabrics to match the demand.
POST WAR AMERICA AND CONSUMER CULTURE
In 1956, for the first time, demand for denim declined. The company decided to further develop their production of corduroy, twills and poplins. The interest in the contemporary side of denim would further grow during the decades that followed. Inventions like stretch-denim would take the current denim interpretations further and further away from the fabric that it all started with. Technological advancements sped up this process even more. The Mills were suddenly able to blend fabrics and continued to develop, in order to serve the growing casual and sportswear markets. The Cone Mills 20th Century is best described as one of excellence. This family business with the inspirational Cone brothers as major innovators, have always been ahead of time. When no one was thinking about jeans besides the Northern States, Cone was doing it better than anyone. Although nobody thought of life after raw workwear, Cone Mills developed it. When they concluded that the enormous denim demand would basically mean that they had to build a 24hr business and they needed motivated people to run it, Cone created an entire village with a private infrastructure and even its own baseball team. They would basically do anything for quality and diligence.
Although Cone Denim is not really the small denim factory that a lot of us might think it is, the mill is most certainly ‘the real McCoy’. The successes of a century are not just based on a great fabric and superior quality. Cone became the aorta of the denim industry because the company was able to be progressive and unconventional. On top of that, the company has proven to be flexible in times of war and economic crisis. They have been capable of taking risks when everybody said that the company was crazy. Lastly, Cone never lost faith in denim. Although the demand for the cloth changed and society changed dramatically, Cone was always ahead of the game with a new application of the evolving fabric. Denim is a fabric that dressed the 1900s and though the styles evolved in parallel with the developments of that ‘shortest of centuries’, it continues to be relevant today. In fact, it is interesting to observe how recent global economic circumstances have led consumers to seek out quality and tradition – Cone Mills represents something that can be trusted to endure.