Carhartt WIP - A Brief History of the Workwear Giant – Tenue de Nîmes

Carhartt WIP - A Brief History of the Workwear Giant

Tue, Oct 24, 23

At Tenue de Nîmes, we have a deep appreciation for brands that consistently deliver quality and remain true to their roots. Carhartt WIP is a great example of a brand that endures the test of time perfectly, and because of that the brand is a ‘no-brainer’ in our roster. A blog like this is not enough to cover the rich and amazing history of the workwear giant that is Carhartt. However, we took the time to write you a brief deep dive about the brand, explaining how it set the standard for modern-day workwear and why it became a cult favourite.

The humble beginnings of Carhartt date back to a small Detroit loft in 1898. Hamilton Carhartt, determined to make his mark in the workwear industry after an initial setback, conducted extensive market research to find out what the ideal bib would look like for blue-collar workers.

1898 Carhartt Commercial
A 1920’s Carhartt advertisement of their famous denim bibs, including a photograph of Hamilton Carhartt himself.

The brand's mission was clear: to provide "honest value for an honest dollar". With this ethos in mind, Carhartt rapidly evolved into the standard for quality workwear. By 1910, the business had expanded extensively nationally and internationally. Carhartt’s logo quickly became iconic as well, featuring a cable car and a heart (what’s in the name, right?!), a testament to the brand’s visionary marketing approach. It wasn't until 1970 that the logo underwent a significant transformation, evolving into the yellow Carhartt emblem we recognise today.

Despite facing challenges during the Great Depression and both World Wars, Carhartt persevered. During these turbulent times, they supplied their factories to the U.S. military, to produce army uniforms during these eventful times. In 1937, Hamilton Carhartt himself passed away and transferred the company to his son Wylie. 

 Carhartt Logo's Through The Years
Left to right: the Carhartt logo used from 1920-1940, the Carhartt logo used from 1940 to 1970 and as last the current logo as we know it today (1970- present)

Two decades later, Wylie's son-in-law, Robert Valade, took the reins, propelling Carhartt to new heights. He opened numerous factories and invested heavily in the private label sector. Under Robert’s leadership, the iconic Active Jacket style was introduced, which remains Carhartt’s top-selling style to this day.

By the 1980s, Carhartt had expanded beyond blue-collar workers, attracting a broader audience. In the late 1980s, workwear began to influence fashion trends, and Carhartt seized that opportunity by showcasing their styles at New York fashion shows in the early 1990s.

ASAP Rocky Wearing a Vintage Carhartt Active Jacket
NYC hip hop star A$AP Rocky wearing a worn-in denim Carhartt Active Jacket.

Following the splurge in popularity, Carhartt started to show up on the streets and gained traction in the music industry, embraced by rappers and hip-hop stars. The brand also found its way into prestigious fashion publications such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, solidifying its status as a fashion icon.

L.A. rap icon Eazy-E wearing a Carhartt Chalk Shirt.
L.A. rap icon Eazy-E wearing a Carhartt Chalk Shirt.

Hip-hop legends like Tupac Shakur, Eazy-E, Nas, and Snoop Dogg were often spotted wearing Carhartt- this kickstarted the fact that Carhartt had become a cult favourite brand among working-class individuals. Styles like the Chore Coat, Detroit Jacket & Active Jacket became immensely popular. The loose fit clothing trend, which was also influenced by Carhartt, still continues to shape modern fashion to this day.

Youths in Detroit- 2000 rocking Carhartt Active Jackets
Youths in Detroit- 2000 rocking Carhartt Active Jackets in the ‘super baggy clothing’ days.

In recent times, Carhartt's vintage workwear has made a resurgence, thanks to hip-hop stars like Kanye West, Action Bronson, and A$AP Rocky. They frequently sport Carhartt Detroit Jackets, Active Jackets, and long-sleeves, making these vintage pieces highly sought after and fetching prices of up to €500 or more. Kanye West’s label, ‘Yeezy’, and many other modern fashion brands, are also heavily influenced by Carhartt’s faded workwear pieces , offering a fresh take on workwear style.

Vintage Carhartt Detroit Jacket in Faded Pink
A fine example of a vintage Carhartt Detroit Jacket in mint, but worn-in state.

In 1994, Carhartt expanded to Europe through the efforts of Swiss designer Edwin Faeh, who imported the brand for his store ‘All American Concept’. This move was an instant success, and Faeh later secured exclusive rights to sell Carhartt in Europe, giving birth to the sub-label Carhartt WIP.

Carhartt WIP operates as a distinct entity, referencing the brand's workwear roots while incorporating modern fits, fabrics, and colours. At first, the brand positioned itself as "underground", avoiding large marketing campaigns and instead supporting authentic artists and athletes with clothing and funding.

Funkmaster Flex’ first European gig at Le Palace- Paris
Funkmaster Flex’ first European gig at Le Palace- Paris in 1996, sponsored by Carhartt.

This strategy unintentionally catapulted Carhartt WIP to cult status. Besides the hip hop influence, the brand garnered a devoted following in skateboarding and BMX subcultures, thanks to the brand's under-the-radar sponsorship of various initiatives. Carhartt also made appearances in cult classic movies like La Haine, Interstellar, and Wind River, contributing to its broad appeal. This, in combination with the ‘underground’ positioning of the brand, made the Carhartt brand loved by all layers of society. 

Matthew McConaughey sporting a Carhartt Detroit Jacket
Matthew McConaughey sporting a Carhartt Detroit Jacket in the movie “Interstellar”- 2014.

In recent years, Carhartt WIP has collaborated with leading brands such as A.P.C., Vetements, Sacai, Junya Watanabe, Patta and many others. These collaborations, combined with the resurgence of workwear, have driven a surge in Carhartt WIP's popularity. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, we’re delighted to add Carhartt WIP to our roster because the brand continuously exemplifies an unwavering commitment to crafting the best clothing available. Explore the entire collection online and in-store today.

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