Denim Production in the United States Hit With Another Blow

One of the last mills in the United States to make denim fabric has decided to shutter its denim production and concentrate on technical fabrics.

The DNA Textile Group announced on Nov. 28 that it would close down its Denim North America division by the end of January 2018 due to sagging demand and low selling prices.

“The air came out of the balloon this last year,” said Monte Galbraith, president of DNA Textile, headquartered in Columbus, Ga. “For four or five years it was great, but I have never seen it decrease so rapidly as I saw it this year. We did our best to hang in there, but after a while you have to realize that your better days are behind you.”

DNA Textile will be honoring all existing and open denim orders as of Nov. 28. By the end of January, the company will be laying off more than 100 workers. “It was difficult to make this decision on a human level because of our longer-term employees, but the financial numbers were easy,” Galbraith said.

DNA Textile started making denim in 2002 after it took over the factory built by Marubeni Corp. and took it private. In the heyday of 2004 to 2006, DNA was manufacturing 20 million linear yards of denim a year. Last year, production dipped to 10 million linear yards, Galbraith said.

Price competition with overseas denim mills was driving a lot of the production drop. Chinese denim can be bought for as little as $1.25 a yard. The average price of DNA denim was from the upper $3 range to the upper $4 range. “It was very affordable, but there was pricing pressure from people to buy it for under $3.30 a yard. We couldn’t do it.”

Around 2011, DNA Textile decided to add technical fabrics to its product mix, selling many of its goods for flame-retardant uniforms and clothing. “That will now be our main business unit,” Galbraith said.

The company will continue to invest more resources, talent and energy toward growing that area, which now has about 130 workers.

DNA Textile’s announcement comes weeks after Cone Denim announced it was closing its White Oak mill in Greensboro, N.C., at the end of the year.

According to a company statement, “changes in market demand” impacted order volume as customers shifted sourcing offshore. About 200 people are employed at the mill, which was founded in 1891. This is also where the company’s well-known selvage denim was made on vintage selvage looms from the 1940s. Cone Denim has bigger mills in Mexico and China.

The closure of these two mills is a blow to domestic denim production, which is now limited to just a few locations such as Mount Vernon Mills.