The 2022 Rooted Collection is about “sustainability, traceability and state pride.”
In 2019, Wrangler paid homage to its American roots by introducing the Rooted Collection, a line of state-specific denim jeans that were entirely Made in America. Now the company is expanding its American-made offerings, highlighting the skill and quality of American manufacturing with a focus on transparency and sustainability.
Wrangler partnered with single-family farms from five states to source cotton used in making its iconic blue jeans at manufacturing facilities in the United States. The original rollout included jeans made from cotton grown by farmers in Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.
New for 2022 is a state-specific brand of jeans for California as well as a line of American-made T-shirts representing 13 states. Additionally, five more family farms were selected to take part in the sustainable farming method.
“We love U.S. cotton, and we know exactly where the cotton comes from. It’s just another great benefit of using U.S. cotton and I think people wear these jeans with pride,” said Jeff Frye, vice president of Global Product Development, Global Procurement, Sustainability and Innovation for Kontoor Brands, the parent company of Wrangler jeans.
“Our goal is to get better every day. We feel we are celebrating the other side of the pandemic and just pushing forward, and it is just a great time, great messaging, and we are just trying to celebrate our states.”
Wrangler first introduced its authentic western jeans in 1947, and the Greensboro, North Carolina company grew to become one the United States most popular brands. While Wrangler makes many of its products overseas, the Rooted Collection line is helping to restore some of the denim manufacturing that has been lost over the past several decades.
The pandemic slowed the progress of the Rooted Collection, but Wrangler is again plunging full steam ahead to meet its goals of producing more than 80% of the cotton for its North American manufacturing while working only with cotton farms that practice sustainability and regenerative farming practices.
The state-specific jeans project is a partnership with America’s single-family farmers. The cotton produced from these local farms is used to make the jean collection specific to that particular state.
Each pair of jeans in the Rooted Collection has information on the inside pocket bags which tell the story of the farm where the cotton for the denim was grown and the farmer’s signature. The metal shank button that closes the waistband at the top of the zipper fly is emblazoned with an outline of the specific state where the cotton was grown. There also is a line of throwback jeans that are also American-made that have the outline of the United States on the waist-fastening shank.
But these are just the aesthetics that are certainly provided to catch the consumer’s eye. The Rooted Collection’s mission runs much deeper.
“The collection is about sustainability, traceability and state pride,” Frye said. “We wanted to highlight the farmers who grew the cotton and pay tribute to their work ethic and land stewardship. When someone puts on a pair of jeans from the Rooted Collection, they’ll see the farmer’s signature who ‘grew’ those jeans.”
Frye has been in the apparel business for 35 years. He grew up in Greensboro and as a teenager he became a third-generation family worker at the White Oak Cone Denim Mill that was once the largest denim mill in the world. It was closed in 2017, creating a sourcing shortage of American-made denim.
So, while it hasn’t been easy for any company, let alone a huge global brand like Wrangler, to source an entirely American-made blue jean, Frye is taking the Rooted Collection one step further by emphasizing sustainable American farming practices.
“First you need to answer, what is the definition of sustainability?” Frye said. “Sustainability is the dynamic process of continual improvement for people, our products and the planet. We want to source cotton that is better for the people who grow it and for the planet and every year we want to source more than the year before.
“We currently define sustainable cotton as cotton from the U.S. or Australia, certified recycled cotton or certified cotton under a sustainable cotton framework. As part of our goal, we are also looking to advance regenerative agriculture practices in cotton. The practices of farmers in the Rooted Collection are practices that put carbon back into the soil, build crop resilience while improving yield and reduce water and energy inputs.”
The three leading practices used by the Rooted Collection’s family farms are complex crop rotation, conservation tillage and cover cropping. Each cotton grower must use effective crop rotation that requires at least three different crops grown on the farm over a five-year period.
“When those three practices are used together to grow cotton, they put carbon back into the soil and that is one of the greatest weapons we have to fight greenhouse gases and global warming,” Frye said. “What the farmers get out of it is preservation of their land because the more carbon you can capture the more rich it makes their soil.
“The farmers’ land is handed down from generation to generation, so they really have an incentive to take care of their land through these practices. We’ve learned a lot from agricultural science through the years and it is just amazing.”
Frye added: “If you travel to Texas where a lot of cotton is grown, you will walk through the fields and you will step on peanuts because a lot of times they use peanuts as a cover crop in the down season. But you see it. The soil just captures all these nutrients and just soaks it up. You reach down and pick up a hand of dirt and you can see how rich it is. It’s all adding one part love and one part science and taking care of stuff.”
When the cotton is harvested from these state-specific farms it is then sent to mills where gin machines separate the seeds, pods and other plant byproducts. After being ginned into pure cotton it is sent to Mount Vernon Mills in Trion, Ga., where it is woven into yarn by a company subsidiary and then turned into denim.
After the fabric is dyed, it is sent to one of two companies in El Paso, Texas – Excel Manufacturing and Border Apparel – where it is cut and sewn.
The inside waistband area of each pair of jeans has a silhouette of the state where the cotton was grown and an American flag. The pocket bags that hang from the inside of the jean are stamped USA-made and contain the name of the farming family who grew the cotton and what state provided the downy fiber. There is also a stitched, discreetly placed outline of the state’s shape on the outside of the jeans left pocket.
“The shanks, rivets, zippers and pocket pieces are all Made in the U.S and the shanks have the outline of the state so it’s really cool,” Frye said.
Americans have been good to the denim company community, and Wrangler realizes that returning to its American roots as much as possible is giving its die-hard fans what they want.
In keeping with that tradition, Wrangler added three state-specific jeans to its 2022 Rooted Collection that are specifically designed for women. And a new addition to the Rooted Collection are American-made T-shirts representing 13 states. The T-shirts display the geography of each individual state on the front, but the cotton used is not state-specific, having come from the same Texas farm that provides the sustainable, U.S. cotton for the Rooted Collection of jeans.
“We took and spun the yarn for the T-shirts with Parkdale Mills and then took the yarn and sent it to California to Antex, a very fine knitting facility, a world-class business,” Frye said. “They then are cut, sewn and printed. It’s another way to expand our Made in the U.S. footprint.”
Wrangler Rooted Collection jeans are available on the company website and at Wrangler company stores and many select retailers throughout the United States. A pair of Rooted Collection jeans retails for $120 and the T-shirts are priced at $35.