• 04
    Jan
    Posted in:
    Carhartt History Shows Us A Resilient Metaphor For Detroit
    Featured image by halfrain via Flickr

    When it starts to get cold out, Carhartt becomes a name that’s on people’s minds. It’s also a name that’s on top of a lot of our heads, if you have the right beanie. Carhartt history begins around since 1889, and since then, the company has outlasted two world wars and the Great Depression. They’re a brand worth looking at because they represents our city’s working-class past and our present-day resilience.


    It All Started At A Small Loft In Detroit …

    Before becoming a household name, they were called Hamilton Carhartt & Company, starting with two sewing machines and a determination to sell work overalls to locals. They didn’t start off as strong, though, which led Mr. Carhartt to do some marketing research the old-fashioned way.

    Carhartt went around meeting railroad workers in the area and asking them what they looked for in their clothes. The answer to his questions led him to bib overalls, a product that would help him gain international reach in the next 20 years.

    After finally achieving success, things took a downturn during the Great Depression. According to their website, the company barely survived after the stock market crashed.

    “Keeping the business alive is a testament to the tenacity, passion, and ingenuity displayed by Hamilton and his sons during that time.”


    The Complicated Identity Of A Modern Brand

    Today, the demographic for Carhartt is hard to define. Their products haven’t changed all that much over the years. But their “Active Jac” hooded coat has become a beloved part of hip-hop culture and even the superhero universe.

    This past fall, an entire book was published on the brand’s influence in Europe under their Carhartt WIP (“Work In Progress”) label. The tome, entitled The Carhartt WIP Archives, shows the connections the brand made between skating culture and rappers like Tupac Shakur and Kanye West. It even points out the subtle of Carhartt’s C-shaped logo on the hat of an actor in the French film La Haine.

    It’s worth mentioning that Marvel’s Power Man (the hero of the Netflix series Luke Cage) is regularly seen wearing a Carhartt utility jacket as he fights crime in Harlem. It’s hard to imagine a character whose powers include unbreakable skin and superhuman strength wearing anything else.

    Carhartt history still matters


    Why Carhartt History Matters

    In an article for Dazed by Calum Gordon, the author says the appeal of Carhartt workwear is its ability to remain looking nice after years of use. Because of this timelessness and functionality, Carhartt clothing has served countless groups over the years.

    “With its minimal branding [it allows] the wearer to impart their own identity onto the garment.”

    What started as a brand for railroad workers has since protected soldiers, workers, rebellious youths, performers, anyone working outdoors, and those who simply want to stay warm. But, much like Vernors, Carhartt is also a brand that makes Michiganders blurt out “Oh, that’s from Detroit” every time they hear it mentioned.

    Why is Carhartt so important in today’s culture? Because it’s a reflection of the city that created it; a city full of people whose clothes need to survive the occasional polar vortex; a city full of strength, culture, and working-class pride.

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