At the end of last year, Cone Mills announced that they’d be shuttering their famed White Oak plant due to a “lack of orders,” effectively closing the book on US-made selvedge denim. Following that, a slew of brands released ‘last of’ collections that sold out with a streetwear-like fervor – a tragically ironic outcome according to a new feature from GQ, which argues that the plant “closed because the excitement around the collections cropping up now wasn’t exactly there when it was still operating.”
“These collections position American-made selvedge denim as the works of an unsung artist: not appreciated in his own lifetime, but beloved in death,” Cam Wolf writes. “It’s a hell of a sales pitch — and it’s also too little, too late.”
Noting that there’s been no shortage of brands looking to cash in on the extinction — Levi’s, Wrangler, Todd Snyder and others have released limited edition pieces with collectible, “end of an era” marketing hooks — and that fondness for American-made goods is, overall, a positive thing, Wolf says that “there’s something a little grim about this sequence of events.”
“White Oak is hailed as the most legendary and important denim producer in the states — it’s the reason brands are excited to get their hands on the remaining fabric — and yet that reputation was not enough to save it from going out of business,” he writes.
It’s a weird, if predictable, paradox. White Oak denim is now inherently more valuable than just about any other denim on the market due to a lethal combination of scarcity and sentimentality. Wrangler, for instance, normally sells jeans for “around $34,” but they’re now moving their limited White Oak-made 27406 collection at a $225 apiece clip.
And the value of deadstock White Oak denim-made goods will only continue to climb as the remaining supply runs out – something brands are fully aware of, and keen to exploit. “Wrangler bought enough of the denim… to release small batches of product for the foreseeable future. The strategy, while grim, carries its own stroke of brilliance: with each collection, Wrangler will deplete its supply, making each collection even more valuable and collectible than the last.”
You can read more about it at GQ.