With avid fans such as Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean among the Americana blognoscenti, and a roster of A-list denim labels under its proverbial belts-- including an exclusive new Made in America collection for Lucky --this centuries-old mill is drawing big buzz in a growing fashion conversation about the quality and cache of goods built close to home.
Founded in 1891 by entrepreneurial brothers Moses and Caesar Cone, Cone Denim broke with tradition by supplying finished fabrics in an era when textiles were predominately sold raw. The brothers, who’d taken over their father’s groceries store, had often received barter transactions in cloth and intuitively recognized denim’s importance in the growing demand for hardy, ready-made clothing spawned by industrialization.
By 1905, Cone goods were in such high demand that the brothers founded their White Oak Mill in Greensboro, North Carolina, named after a 200-year-old tree that served as a local landmark. Just five years later, by 1910, Cone was responsible for producing more than one third of the world’s denim.
In 1920, White Oak patented the long-chain continuous dye process, now recognized as the gold standard for indigo dyeing.
The 1970s’ bleached jeans craze is rumored to have been kicked off by a White Oak factory flub – workers inadvertently spilled bleach while cleaning machinery following a 1969 local flood.
Today, many of the mill’s craftsmen have worked at White Oak for more than 25 years, and there are those who’ve been in practice for up to 50 years, reflecting more than a century of expertise passed down from generation to generation. Tapping into its 200-year-old archive, White Oak seamlessly combines rare vintage designs and the accumulated knowledge of it skilled workers with innovative techniques to bring modern denim, like Lucky Brand’s new Made in America collection, to life.