Levi Strauss and Cone Mills were partners in the production of denim jeans in the United States for more than 100 years, creating an American style. Denim became part of the American culture that was spread around the world.
Late last year, we received probably the worst news possible in the American denim scene: On October 17, 2017, Cone Mills announced it would close its last American denim mill at the end of the year. After more than 110 years of continuous production the Cone's White Oak mill in Greensboro, North Carolina, ceased operations.
The Role of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross
In March of 2004, current U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross bought Cone Mills for $46 million. He also bought their longtime competitor Burlington Industries and several other smaller manufacturers and rolled them all into a new conglomerate, the International Textile Group (ITG).
Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, saw an opportunity to turn around delining domestic textile producers. Secretary Ross sought to take the knowledge and name-brand appeal of these domestic mills while moving their operations overseas, a tactic he employed to great success with bankrupt steel companies just two years prior.
But textiles didn't prove to be the quick turnaround Ross found with steel. His textile companies began with a combined revenue of about $900 million in 2005, but had dropped to $610 million a decade later in 2015. The company's flagging sales combined with Ross's political ambitions lead him to sell the textile company to private equity firm Platinum Equity in October, 2016 for $99 million. Ross then became Secretary of Commerce in the Trump Administration in February of 2017. Within a year after the sale, Cone Mills closed its doors forever.
It is ironic that the Secretary of Commerce for the administration claiming to champion "Made in the USA" would be responsible for the loss of the world's largest denim manufacturer.
History of Cone Demin
The Cone family history began in 1845 when Herman Kahn (1828-1897), a Jewish-German immigrant, and his family left their home in Bavaria, Germany, for a new life in the United States. Herman changed the spelling of his last name from Kahn to "Cone" upon arrival in the United States to become more American. Their first child was Moses Cone, born in 1857, was the founder of Proximity Manufacturing Company (original name for the Cone Mills enterprise). Their next son was Ceasar, born in 1859.