With great irony, free trade devastated the blue jean manufacturing industry in the South in the 1990s and now protectionism (tariffs) may be the one policy that will kill it off for good. On December 31, 2017, Cone Mill’s White Oak Plant in Greensboro, N.C. — the last selvedge denim mill in the U.S. — closed permanently. The White Oak plant opened in 1905 and was at one point the largest blue jean mill in the world. Until the last day of 2017, the mill produced denim continuously since 1905.
Today, made in the USA raw denim is mostly made up of boutique companies as opposed to large factories like White Oak. Small manufacturers like Raleigh Denim Workshop, owned by Victor Lytvinenko and his wife Sarah in Raleigh, N.C., is one of those boutique companies. In a story on Greensboro.com, Lytvinenko said his company has already lost two big accounts in Europe worth tens of thousands of dollars as a result of the tariffs the European Union slapped on American-made blue jeans in response to tariffs President Trump placed on the EU. Simply put, many shop owners in Europe refuse to pay the 25 percent tariff on American-made blue jeans.