April 14th, 2022
By: A.J. Gastélum
Carhartt has been around for over a century. Founded in Detroit, the brand has forged itself into the standard for durable, quality, American workwear. Just a few decades ago if you looked at who bought Carhartt, it was overwhelmingly blue collar workers who appreciated the practicality and long lasting nature of the clothes. But in the last few years Carhartt has become the fascination of a newer, younger generation. Cities, particularly on the coasts have had large numbers of young people buying Carhartt for their pants, jackets, shirts and shoes. Celebrities from singers to actors have been seen sporting the iconic Carhartt patch on their clothes. This change seems abrupt but is explained by the swing of fashion trends toward anti-glamour, and the shift back toward handmade, quality products.
"For Gen Z, upcycled, reclaimed fashion is opening up a new sense of individuality and self-expression, while helping to save the planet"
- BBC, Bel Jacobs
That raises the question: How has Carhartt managed to capitalize on these shifting trends? The rapid increase in audience potential is difficult to keep up with, but Carhartt has become successful by sticking with the consistent, no frills messaging that has worked for the last 130 years.
Success in Appealing to Everyone
Carhartt has been able to consistently appeal to everyone. “Carhartt is the only brand that can transcend from the farmer’s back to the kid walking down Broadway; in a way that I don’t even think Nike can,” Jeff Carvalho, the co-founder of Highsnobiety.
Carhartt has avoided much of the partisan stances that brands like Nike or Levi’s have made in both clothing and work-wear specific industries. Their quality products are for anyone who embodies their mission and spirit, and with this marketing strategy they have avoided disenfranchising large swathes of their consumer base. It is such a distinctly American brand, and one of the few brands who has maintained success while also having a low profile for social issues and stances.
Controversy: Original Wearers
Yet despite a low profile, there has been some debate over this previously clear cut workwear company. Many people feel like it is strange, or even appropriation for consumers to over romanticize the workwear of working people as “aesthetic” or “trendy.” Young people looking for “worn down” and used Carhartt pants are leaving loyal Carhartt fans confused. Many loyal customers of Carhartt have been pleasantly surprised at the prospect that their year old “distressed” work wear could be sold on sites like eBay or Grailed for more money than they were bought at. Others are more happy with the fashion trend of workwear worn by the masses, saying that instead of having to be ashamed of workwear or feeling like it was undesirable, they now are automatically fashionable in their professional attire.
Controversy: New Consumers
Young people have expressed similar realizations of the effect the brand has had on them. While many talk about how durable and comfortable the clothes are, some feel a sense of imposter syndrome, a feeling that the clothes they are wearing aren’t really meant for them. How has Carhartt addressed this? They have doubled down on their core brand message: “we are worn by the hardest-working people of them all.” They have extended this to their websites and digital media presence to include those who don’t work the traditional blue collar jobs in the brand.
“We respect anyone who buys it … whether they’re walking to the office from the subway or they’re a rancher in Texas.”
- Tony Ambroza, the chief brand officer at Carhartt
Needless to say the success of Carhartt has been in their universal appeal. Despite being an established, American brand, they have not shied away from extending overseas and being worn by young and old alike. This consistency allowed them to move into popular fashion in recent years, and tells a greater story of how effective a cohesive brand image really is in the long term.
AJ Gastélum is one of the Co-Content Directors this semester. He is a sophomore at NYU Stern studying Marketing with a minor in Studio Art. Check out his article on Digital Marketing!