The new plant will employ more than 300 full-time workers – and its goal is to set the standard for sustainability, transparency, quality and range flexibility in North America

The new plant will employ more than 300 full-time workers – and its goal is to set the standard for sustainability, transparency, quality and range flexibility in North America

A new $50m denim mill that will produce yarns and fabrics for the North American market with a focus on sustainability and innovative technology is preparing to ramp up its operations ahead of full commercial production at the beginning of next year.

Based at a 900,000 square foot facility in Vidalia, Louisiana – the heart of the cotton-producing region of the Mississippi Delta – Vidalia Denim Mills has secured its initial funding and tapped iconic denim brand Wrangler as an initial customer.

The new plant will employ more than 300 full-time workers – and its goal is to set the standard for sustainability, transparency, quality and range flexibility in North America.

Based in a former Fruit of the Loom distribution facility, Vidalia Denim will purchase raw cotton, which it will then spin, dye and weave into denim fabric. The company will ship the denim material to other manufacturers that produce labelled blue jeans.

Louisiana and Mississippi sourced cotton will be used to supply the facility, which will produce high-end denim including stretch (with Lycra) and dual core stretch denim (with Lycra and a polyester strand wrapped in cotton, providing additional stretch support).

It will also have the latest indigo dyeing and finishing equipment to produce smaller lots for high end premium jeans manufacturers. The technology means the plant can use less water and manage its power usage more efficiently than any other denim mill in North America, the company says.

This environmentally friendly chemistry and technology allows for filtration and reuse of process water, reducing total water usage by more than 60% of a legacy mill. Discharge water will exceed US and EU standards for clean water discharge – and more than half of the mill's energy needs will be met from renewable sources.

In another first for the sector, Vidalia Denim Mills will use e3 sustainable cotton exclusively in its operations, the first such operation in the world. Its cotton will be sourced from across the US farm belt from various farmers enrolled in Bayer CropScience's e3 sustainable cotton programme.

"This is a significant development for e3 and marks a watershed moment for our programme as for the first time a textile mill will use our programme as its exclusive source of cotton," says Malin Westfall, US cotton business lead of FiberMax and Stoneville Brands. "By utilising e3 cotton, Vidalia will offer its customers complete transparency of leading grower sustainability practices."

Additionally, VF Corporation's Wrangler denim brand is in discussion with Vidalia Denim about the development of fabrics for its 2019 product collection.

"This mill is pushing the standards for sustainability denim fabric in North America," agrees Roian Atwood, director of sustainability for Wrangler. "We are excited about the opportunity to...produce good looking denim that utilises innovative manufacturing methods."

"We have been looking for an ideal site for about two years, and the Vidalia site was by far the best site for our project," says Dan Thompson, Vidalia Denim's executive vice president for manufacturing. "The available building has the existing infrastructure we needed, and when combined with the strong workforce in the region already in place, as well as the close proximity to cotton crops for our key raw material, we knew this location was primed and ready for us to locate this project."

CEO Dan Feibus praised "the help and support of the US Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration in helping to make the facility a reality."

He also acknowledged "the valuable contributions of the City of Vidalia, Natchez Inc, our partners at Killebrew Cotton, our lead lenders at Jefferson Financial Federal Credit Union and Greater Nevada Credit Union, and especially Donny Wooley and his team at Ark La Tex Financial."

Vidalia Denim Mills will begin full commercial operations during the first quarter of 2019, following an immediate ramp-up in its operations during the remainder of 2018.