Brent Beason first traveled to Slater Mill on a sales call with his father in 2000. In 2016, with the mill facing closure, Beason returned to purchase it, saving 57 jobs and creating new ones. His company is one of many breathing new life into the textile industry by sharpening its focus on advanced materials.
Spreading the Small Town Gospel
The American South and cotton have a troubled relationship. But thanks to Chris Bandy and his homegrown apparel brand, Southern Fried Cotton, things are changing.
When Bandy first entered Clemson as a textiles major, he hoped to have the same job that his dad had in the pulp and paper industry. Instead, he jumped straight into sales after graduating in 1992 instead of heading to N.C. State like he once planned.
Some 26 years later, he’s a co-owner of TigerTown Graphics — a Clemson tradition started by his partners, John Earle and Chuck Rice, in 1988, when Bandy was a freshman at Clemson. The three are also the proud co-creators of Southern Fried Cotton, a Southern-themed apparel brand that has grown from one store in Greenville in 2012 to a second store in Clemson and more recently, 200 retailers selling their t-shirts throughout the Southeast.
“I remember hand-combing cotton and learning those properties involved in making cotton softer. It has been very interesting being in the apparel industry as all the new blends change the T-shirt world, and some of the softest shirts are made,” said Bandy.
The sign in the back of the store is of a John Cougar Mellancamp quote: “I was born in a small town and I can breathe in a small town.” For Bandy, that’s what these Southern-themed T-shirts are about — “roots, being homegrown and small towns.”
That “small town” feel that his shirts evoke come from his heart. He and his wife Maggie, who he met while in college, have raised their two sons JT and Carter in Clemson. He helps coach local rec teams and volunteers at his church. Southern Fried Cotton is about sharing that feeling of belonging — the sensation of someone memorizing your coffee order — with people who have had to move on from their own hometowns.
“Almost 10 years after returning to Clemson to live, I still don’t take it for granted. I’m not getting special treatment; that’s just part of living in a small community,” said Bandy.