There are other players in the workwear game, but few companies ever come even close to the iconic status that Carhartt has achieved in the popular culture, whether that be through their street-style innovations or the fact that they make great clothes for swinging a hammer when it’s really, really cold outside.
Carhartt – History, Philosophy, and Iconic Products:
The year 1889 was a time of steel, steam, and locomotives. It was also when Hamilton Carhartt & Company was founded by its namesake (known affectionately as “Ham”) and began producing overalls with two sewing machines and a half-horsepower electric motor in a small Detroit loft. Early failures led Hamilton to focus heavily on market research, and after talking directly with railroad workers, he designed a product that truly fit their needs.
Under the motto, “Honest value for an honest dollar,” the Carhartt bib overall was created and rapidly evolved into the standard for quality workwear. The Carhartt brand became popular with consumers outside blue-collar trades during the 1970s and 1980s. More people began to learn about the brand as big names in the hip-hop music industry started to wear Carhartt. Interest expanded in Europe, leading to the creation of the Carhartt Work In Progress label in 1989, which is targeted toward consumers in Europe and Asia who value refined details and design that remains true to Carhartt’s brand DNA.
Americans like refined details and design as much as anyone! ( Except maybe the Italians. And French. And of course Scandinavians. And then there’s the Japanese. OK, maybe you get my point.)
In this day and age it’s worth mentioning that Carhartt has remained a family owned and operated business since day one, and while a not-Carhartt is now president for the first time in the company’s history, the family is still actively involved–Ham’s great-grandson Mark, “still serves as chairman and chief executive officer, and his mother, Gretchen C. Valade, remains chairwoman emeritus.”
Additionally, while Carhartt is most certainly a global company (with operations in far off Mexico, Europe and Kentucky), they proudly employ 2,200 Americans, 900 of whom are union members (no such luck for overseas workers who make 90% of Carhartt’s stuff though).
Forbes magazine estimated that Carhartt produces only about 10% of their goods in the US (Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and California), and while that doesn’t seem like a lot, the average for an American company is just 2%. We're choosing to be a glass-half-full kinda’ guy and see Carhartt as doing five times better than average, and that ain’t too shabby (this is positive reinforcement–let’s see if it works and that 10% number increases). Carhartt also produces a limited line of Made In The USA pieces, and unlike other companies where the homegrown stuff is “exotic,” and sold at a premium, Carhartt’s American stuff is usually just their regular stuff but made in the United States.
Iconic Carhartt Products:
Now, when it comes to quality and construction, Carhartt (impossible to miss on a crowded shelf thanks to their big square label) is infinitely better than average. They’ve built a reputation on triple seams, riveted stress points, and tightly woven duck canvas fabric that keeps the chill (as well as splinters, sharp edges and rusty nails) out.
And much the way that certain brands and their legendary core products have found a way into your brain’s hard drive without you putting them there (who know how the fact that Christian Louboutin high heels all have red soles is in my noggin, but it is) you certainly already know Carhartt’s greatest hits.
B01 Double-Front Work Dungaree and Overall:
There’s the heavyweight, 12oz cotton duck bib overall (in Carhartt Brown, of course), the Firm Duck Double-Front Work Dungaree. A classic seen on worksites, and it can be yours for about the price of a pair of 501s.
Acrylic Watch beanie:
The perennial favorite of roofers and mallrats, alike, the classic watch cap is about as no nonsense as it comes.
Carhartt – Work In Progress:
In 1994, a man named Edwin Faeh established the project, “Work in Progress,” and became the first distributor of Carhartt in Europe, a twist of fate that saw the late 1990’s with Carhartt WIP behind the wheel of the street and work wear head on collision, with its continued success proving this was no accident.
Carhartt WIP Michigan Chore Coat
And as perplexing as the anti-fashion as fashion trend is to me The most hyped Vintage products, while running perhaps ten times more expensive as regular Army/Navy Vintaget stuff, is it 10x better????., there have been items, like the above Michigan Coatthat i found with just the right amount of paint splatter on it, that have had me seriously considering a click on the Buy button. But knowing me, I’ll probably buy a non-Hype version, as it feels more honest and and in the spirit of what old Ham had in mind when he started the company in the first place.
Carhartt – The Final Say:
“Honest value for an honest dollar” makes sense, especially if you put in an honest day’s work, hauling hay bales on your shoulders, your Chore Coat’s pockets filled with drywall screws. I have an old friend, and he's Carhartt’s, looked like beaten down and broken in works of art after a couple years of carpentry. He’s offered me an even trade–his old stuff for new replacements, but I just couldn’t do it. As another friend always tells me, you gotta’ earn your fades.