I am very excited to announce the publication of my second book, this time covering Greenville’s most fabled industry – Textiles. Through the process I was asked how would someone my age know or appreciate what this industry did for the area. So here is my opportunity to explain how.
For me, the textile industry is more than an industry, it was a way of life. I learned what that meant and to respect it at a very early age. While a small child, my uncle was chairman of Steele Heddle. I can remember the abundance of home accessories fashioned out of discarded shuttles all over my aunt and uncle’s house. I can remember my kindergarten teacher at First Baptist pouring a large box of wooden bobbins out in the middle of the floor for us to use as musical instruments. We would slide the ridges, tap the ends, and beat them like a drum in unison to produce a rhythm.
Growing up, I remember going to mill outlets such as Mayfair and Piedmont Shirt to pick out back to school clothing. My grandparent’s automobile had a license plate on the front that said “Greenville – Textile Capital of the World.” My eldest brother has it now and still causes contention to this day. Even with the number of mills diminishing during my adolescence that phrase created decades ago still resonated in this town. While watching Your Friend Four one night my senior year, a mandatory family ritual, Michael Cogdill conducted a survey asking Greenvillians what textiles meant to them. I remembered that survey during my first job interview. It was with a synthetic fiber and yarn manufacturer in the lower state and the first question asked was “What do you know about textiles?” I answered just as one Cogdill’s surveyors did, “I know that Greenville is the Textile Capital of the World!”
I got the job. A dream come true as all through college I wanted to become a fiber broker just as many of my friends’ fathers were. I sold polyester fiber and yarn to such names as Greenwood, Milliken, Westpoint, Dan River, and Mount Vernon. It was my travels to clients’ mills across Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia that I began to see the other great companies locking their doors and gates for eternity and plants falling silent. I felt the need to record their existence by taking photographs and writing notes. I also filed away news articles on any topic that was textile related. I did not have a specific purpose for doing this, only as my own personal repository. Volumes of albums line the shelves in my office today. Sometimes I go through them for reference, other times just to reminisce.
With this information along with the incredible historic photograph collections of the Greenville County Historical Society and the Greenville Library System, I have written Greenville Textiles. It was an act I felt compelled to do before anything else slipped away. Whether you are seeing these images for the first time or viewing them as your own history, I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
Kelly L. Odom