As an unofficial uniform of many American laborers since 1889, Carhartt remains a leading workwear brand in the US. Not many brands can boast of the rich heritage that Carhartt does. The brand has been supplying workers with apparel for more than a century. The brand goes by the motto ‘outworking them all,’ which is the essence of blue-collar workers. To date, the company continues to provide quality products for its customers while also ensuring durability and comfort in all its products.
The company started out producing overalls for railroad workers. However, the company expanded its product line to include pants and jackets. Soon everyone, including farmers, construction workers, goldsmiths, and more, were wearing Carhartt’s dusty clothing. However, Carhartt isn’t just a dusty legacy brand from a century ago. This company has grown to become a fashion staple today due to its adoption by the hip-hop community. With a vast customer base to boast of, this brand doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. However, many people continually wonder who owns Carhartt and the name behind the brand. This article will briefly answer this question taking you down the brand’s history lane.
Who Owns Carhartt – The Early Beginnings
To discover who owns Carhartt, there’s a need to go back to the beginning of the brand. The brand’s story began in 1882 when Hamilton Carhartt left school to start a furniture business. However, in 1889, he converted the business to a men’s workwear apparel manufacturer. In a Detroit loft, the company kicked up with two sewing machines and a half-horse power electric motor. Although Carhartt failed at the beginning, he refused to give up. Instead, he met railroad workers, asking them what they would like to see in their garments.
He used the answers he got as a template for his designs, and from them, Hamilton started creating honest workwear pieces that fit workers’ preferences. The clothing ticked all the boxes, and the company hasn’t looked back since then. It featured denim fabric and dusk that ensured durability while ensuring comfort for the user. By 1925, the company already had plants across the globe like New York, Paris, Liverpool, Paris, and many more. The brand also set up a subsidiary called the Hamilton Carhartt Junior. This subsidiary focused on manufacturing young men’s apparel, including pants, shoes, overalls, and shirts. This division was a notable indication of Carhartt’s plan to expand its product range. The move also gave us an inside peek into the brand’s vision.
The brand growth positioned it for success as a creator of military uniforms for soldiers fighting in World War One. Hamilton created the brand’s ‘Carhartt Chore Coat’ within this period. However, its popularity continues into the present because of its never-waning provision of quality products.
The Great Depression
The Depression of the 1920s and the 1930s Great Depression hit Carhartt as much as any other American. This economic downturn led to the brand losing its location except for Detroit, Atlanta, and Dallas. The Depression almost caused Carhartt to close its doors permanently. But, instead, the brand sold off its rights to sell in Texas, several southern states, and southern Europe, California, and Canada. During this period, Carhartt tried launching a new sportswear line but failed.
However, despite the financial struggles, Hamilton Carhartt, who owns Carhartt, and his sons were resilient in the face of trial. They managed to keep the business alive with just a few stores to fall back to. During this Great Depression, Hamilton consistently supported men’s and women’s rights in the workplace and an 8-hour workday. Its signature techniques, strong woven cotton duck, triple chain stitching, double fill yarn, and many more features ensured the brand remained the go-to brand for all workwear needs. Their outfits not only made you look good but could also withstand the rigour of working life.
With assistance from Kentucky residents, Carhartt launched a new plant in 1932. At the launch of this company, it had 20 employees. However, in 1937 Hamilton Carhartt was involved in a car accident where he died. At his death, his son Wylie Carhartt took over the company’s reins.
Change and Progress
When Hamilton passed away, his son Wylie Carhartt took over as the company’s head. Without dwelling on his father’s death, he launched the brand’s ‘Back to the Land’ campaign. This program soon made Carhartt an in-demand name amongst farm workers and ranch owners. He also opened operations in Kentucky and Tennessee to offer healthy working conditions away from the slums at union rates. Wylie Carhartt, who owns Carhartt, wants to alleviate the poverty and distress still plaguing the country.
Soon Wylie Carhartt’s daughter Gretchen married Robert Valadale, who joined the company in 1949 and then took over the company’s leadership in 1959. Under the leadership of Valade, who owns Carhartt, the company began production in its first modern facility. This step was significant for the brand and positioned them to indulge in private label business for top stores like Sears and JCPenney. The company also began to enjoy more significant revenues from its stores. With these revenues, the company repurchased the selling rights it sold off during the Great Depression. As a result, the company witnessed impressive growth from $2 million to over $300 million in sales.
The company also introduced its hard-finished duck hoodie, and this style continues to be one of the top-selling jackets of the brand. Also, Carhartt was in great hands due to its part in major projects like the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
Who Owns Carhartt – Acquisitions and Expansions
In 1971, Robert Vadale, who owns Carhartt, established the company’s first subsidiary, Carhartt South Inc. This subsidiary focused on producing jeans after acquiring a plant in Mississippi. Several other subsidiaries continued to pop up around the contrary throughout the country. However, in the late 80s, the brand decided to streamline the company’s structure by margining the subsidiaries with the leading company. It was in this same decade that Carhartt launched a national marketing program. Expansion of the brand continued through the 90s. The brand acquired several sewing plants in varying locations, bringing the brand to many people worldwide.
The brand expanded by purchasing a 64,000 square foot sewing plant in Kentucky. When workwear began to show signs of being a fashion item in the late 1980s, Carhartt displayed the outdoor working man’s collection in New York fashion shows for the first time. In Japan, the company has been selling its products as strictly fashion pieces since 1987. The company also expanded into an 80,000 square foot sewing plant in Camden, Tennessee. It hit its sales goal of $120 million in 1993 when workwear as a fashion trend began to grow.
In 1997, Valade, who owns Carhartt, launched a women’s line and an Extremes line. This line featured outdoor clothing that could withstand the harshest weather condition. The brand tested out the women’s line first and then rolled out the women’s line in more than 100 stores. This birthed the creation of Carhartt women specifically for women.
Who Owns Carhartt – A Fashion-Forward Brand
In the 80s and 90s, Carhartt was becoming a fashion statement for new demographics. From hip hop artists to skaters, Carhartt jackets were becoming popular. The Guardian recorded the Tommy Boy Record, a hip-hop label handing promotional jackets to its key players to help them gain popularity. This endorsement by the hip-hop industry coupled with the consistent production of high-quality products helped push Carhartt to the forefront of workwear and the streetwear industry.
In 1996, Mark Valade, who owns Carhartt after taking over as president, focused on leveraging new technologies. He focused the company’s strategies around the global business to leverage new technologies. Additionally, Valade launched several retail stores and a flame-resistant garment line. This new line was a success and led Valade to launch several new technologies.
The brand became a countercultural symbol that anyone outside the blue-collar working class could also appreciate. Its new popularity with skaters and punks soon made Carhartt easy to find on city sidewalks and factory floors. Its toughness and warmth are reasons many people love this brand. This history is what birthed the Carhartt Work in Progress. This subsidiary was known for creating stylish and modern product lines.
In 1997, the Carhartt WIP released a new product range adapted and re-worked to fit the needs of the active life and urban environment. However, this new product range remained faithful to the brand’s core comfort, durability, and comfort. After this first range, the brand creates several products for the European market. The brand’s ability to honour its heritage while enhancing its designs for its modern customers helped the brand pave a new path in the streetwear industry.
Who Owns Carhartt Today
Today Carhartt continues to live on with its success and has over 2000 employees in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Detroit. In a Forbes interview, Mark Valade, who owns Carhartt, shared that although strategies continue to change, the brand stays very true to its core values. It continues to create the best apparel for the active worker. The brand has also enjoyed a successful collaboration with BAPE, Vetements, A.P.C, Vans, and many more. They also featured the brand on Vogue and Harper Bazaar. Soon, the band found it hard to keep up with demands as people bought the company’s limited supply in little time. The brand also sponsors skateboarding events while also helping to develop skate parks.
Today, Carhartt has earned the respect of many from the lifestyle they continue to protect. It continues to be a mark of durability and quality and is still operated with the family, with Mark Valade as the current CEO. The brand has produced millions of garments in its US-based factories and remains committed to creating the best for American workers and other consumers.
Carhartt started with just two sewing machines, a big dream, and a couple of employees. This article tells how Hamilton Carhartt, who owns Carhartt, founded the company. It also explores the brand’s ability to transcend age, class, and culture. This article gives you insight into the company’s century-old history to discover its dedication and ability to adapt to economic turmoil. Carhartt continues to enhance its reputation by widening its customer base and sticking to its business model principles.