Influential Images: Cone Mills Ads, Vogue November 1999

March 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

In ongoing discussions about how to revitalize America’s garment industry, my colleagues and I have been mulling over the marketing techniques different textile mills and manufacturers use to publicize their goods and services. Today, the number of garment and fabric businesses and conglomerates that allocate resources to mass media is limited. One company that continues to market textiles is Cotton Inc., established in 1970 to “increase the demand for and profitability of cotton through research and promotion”. Since 1976, they’ve marketed American cotton growers via consumer and trade advertising:

At a healthier point in domestic garment and textile industries’ history, marketing was a regularly employed tactic. I’m guessing that was because the domestic market was competitive enough that some amount of branding and advertising helped companies to stand out.  I have two copies of American Fabrics, a mid-century trade quarterly, that is chock full of textile advertisements.

American Fabrics 1949

American Fabrics 1949

American Fabrics 1949

In 1999, Cone Textile Group enlisted some of America’s top designers to create special pieces made of their fabrics for an ad campaign in Vogue.

Daryl K. for Cone Mills, Vogue November 1999

Lilly Pulitzer for Cone Mills, Vogue November 1999

Todd Oldham for Cone Mills, Vogue November 1999

Sean John for Cone Mills, Vogue November 1999

Susan Lazar for Cone Mills, Vogue November 1999

Richard Tyler for Cone Mills, Vogue November 1999

Cone Mills, is one of America’s most storied textile mills and was known throughout the 20th Century as the “King of Denim”. The mill was founded by Moses and Caesar Cone. In 1887, the brothers invested in the C.E. Graham Mill Manufacturing Company in Asheville, NC. C.E. Graham manufactured cotton plaids, but the brothers expanded the business by investing in other surrounding mills like Salisbury Cotton Mills and Mineola Manufacturing Company. In 1891, the Cone Export and Commission Company was founded, with Moses as President. He went on to create a denim empire, building his first manufacturing facility in Greensboro, NC in 1895. A few years later in 1899, Moses and Caesar brought on partners in order to build a flannel manufacturing plant. At that point, their company was named Proximity Manufacturing Company.

Cone Mills

It took the brothers and their partners only a few years to become the world’s largest denim manufacturer, and also as a major manufacturer of corduroy, flannel, terry cloth, chambray and other cottons. To this day, Cone supplies Levis with the denim for their 501 jeans. They continued to acquire surrounding mills with complementary competencies in order to bolster further growth. In 1948, after many mergers between subsidiaries, Proximity was renamed as Cone Mills Corporation. After taking the company public in 1951, they fought a hostile takeover, and went private again in 1983. Much of the Cone family was no longer involved in the business, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2003. Cone Mills was bought by W.L. Ross and Co. who currently owns and runs the company. Despite the financial turn-of-events, the company has endured as a leader in the cotton space.

U.S. textile and garment industries are no longer considered world leaders. But perhaps that’s precisely why some sort of marketing effort is needed – to show consumers and the trade that there are still remarkable goods and services being offered domestically, in NYC, in North Carolina, in California and in many other places across the country. Americana-focused blogs have picked up on this need and have helped to show the excellent quality and the great histories of American manufacturers that still exist. It might now behoove the businesses themselves, whether individually or collectively, to think about how to appeal to an even greater base in order show American consumers and fashion companies that they have as much to offer as their international counterparts, and that Made in the USA really does mean something.

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