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Levi’s 501 and Cone denim question…

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This may be a topic previously visited, but one I am intrigued with, nonetheless…

I was wondering if virtually all 501 jeans production, in the past, of course, used the Cone Mills White Oak denim. 

I understand Cone was extensively and historically by Levi’s on some of their clothing lines, but I also assume that collaboration tapered-off after the years rolled on, maybe because of cost-cutting concerns, among other things. I also realize there were specifically advertised 501 sub-runs that touted that unique connection, especially so, prior to the closing of that mill, as well as a short, ‘limited edition’ run using old-remaining stock, White Oak denim.

I ask, as I am in possession of a few pairs of new-old-stock 501s that still featured the lap-felled seams (on the inner inseams), and a few pairs from the briefly offered ‘Original Spin’ program (custom select your size, fabricated at their last, Levi’s owned, Texas facility) and curious if those were typically or specifically constructed from Cone denim.

I am also simply interested in my original inquiry of, if in fact, virtually ALL 501s were made with that particular mill’s production, and if so, when did they ‘officially’ cease that usage. I can’t seem to glean or source a real answer to this mini-mystery, or at least one that seems legitimate in scope to satisfy me.

Anyway folks, I would appreciate your thoughts and insight on this compelling matter.

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I’d say the cooperation between Levi’s and Cone Denim gradually became less after the shift to non selvedge denim made on wider looms. Just a thought however. No idea if before that all 501’s were made of Cone Denim but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because you’d want a consistent product, in this case the known 501 jean made of a specific denim fabric.

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mstax - I too thought that Levi’s/Cone partnership tapered-off somewhat. Again, to bring costs down, probably.

With all that, I have long held that Levi’s should have kept the Cone denim only for their 501s, and held to that mix, period. As their quintessential product and essentially what put their company on the map, so to speak, the 501 line should be held sacred to a degree, anyway, to an extent. My opinion, anyway.

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1 hour ago, mstax said:

I’d say the cooperation between Levi’s and Cone Denim gradually became less after the shift to non selvedge denim made on wider looms. Just a thought however. No idea if before that all 501’s were made of Cone Denim but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because you’d want a consistent product, in this case the known 501 jean made of a specific denim fabric.

I can't speak to this specifically, but I was in the White Oak facility less than a year before it closed and most of its production was done on projectile looms. The vintage draper looms were, if memory serves me, maybe operating on like 20% of the floor space. I wish I remembered more but I didn't know exactly what to look for at that point - it's actually one the things that piqued my interest in denim to begin with. To what degree Levi's was buying their projectile denim I'm not sure, but they were certainly not just buying the selvedge stuff - I think they mostly were buying the projectile stuff actually. I just can't remember the details of the conversations I had then. The selvedge stuff was the most visible and got them the recognition amongst a certain group but it wasn't really their most profitable product.

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I often wonder why Levi’s, being the fashion behemoth that they are, simply didn’t purchase those White Oak looms themselves and set up a small, artisanal production shop so they could exclusively offer their own ‘Cone’ denim line and keep that aspect uniquely special.

I fully realize they never took part in, nor dabbled with fabric production, and obviously did not need to, but what a cool side line that could have been!

With all that, the stuff of fantasy, I admit.

 

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A private equity firm bought cone mills in 2016. They simply made an economic calculation that the floor space taken up by the white oak selvage looms was not profitable, so they closed them down and sold them off. Levis although one of their main buyers of white oak, was also in the process of going public. As LVC only makes up a fraction of their lines and profit, they chose not to buy the white oak looms. They had also been planning for this contingency for many years, developing alternative fabrics in Japanese mills. 

There is a ton of info on this over in the LVC thread all by members who are more knowledgeable than me on the matter.

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If we're talking all Levi's not ust LVC - up to 2001 or so ALL the 501 raw denim was exclusively Cone. Don't know if from White Oak but I believe it was, most of it ring/OE on wide looms. THey expanded their supply from other manufacturers/plants and reduced purchases from Cone around the time Phil Marineau made massive cuts, closed Valencia St, and got a $12m bonus .

At one point, up to the  late 80s and possibly later literally all 501 fabric was Cone, including the jeans made overseas (in Scotland, for instance). The 1980s wide loom denim, ring/OE, was developed by Cone. I think as they moved to preshrunk etc they might have drawn in other manufacturers although, again, even fabrics like the two types of black denim used in 501 were Cone.

 

Edited by Paul T

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9 hours ago, Paul T said:

If we're talking all Levi's not ust LVC - up to 2001 or so ALL the 501 raw denim was exclusively Cone. Don't know if from White Oak but I believe it was, most of it ring/OE on wide looms. THey expanded their supply from other manufacturers/plants and reduced purchases from Cone around the time Phil Marineau made massive cuts, closed Valencia St, and got a $12m bonus .

At one point, up to the  late 80s and possibly later literally all 501 fabric was Cone, including the jeans made overseas (in Scotland, for instance). The 1980s wide loom denim, ring/OE, was developed by Cone. I think as they moved to preshrunk etc they might have drawn in other manufacturers although, again, even fabrics like the two types of black denim used in 501 were Cone.

 

Thanks for your succinct response, Paul. I kinda figured the Cone connection petered-out fairly early, but was curious as to exactly when.

On a side note which you may be privy to, do you know or suspect if that Levi’s ‘Original Spin’ program they instigated a while back, used the Cone denim for their ‘semi-custom’ (lengths) offering?

I have a few pairs of those (NOS) that I purchased and stashed back at that juncture, and just wanted to know if there was anything special about them. Some featured lap-felled inseams, some the later, single line of stitching, as seen more currently. A slightly fuller fit as well, when compared to the current 501 offerings.

Probably not ‘special’, but…

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