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Blue-collar Carhartt brand shaking up fashion industry

Jeanette Settembre

The uniform of blue-collar America has gone from farm to fashion for all.

Carhartt, the Detroit-based outerwear brand known for its jackets and rugged workwear, is heating up the fashion industry with bi-partisan approval from consumers around the country who continue to flock to its cotton canvas winter coats, beanies and signature overalls. And some items are fetching close to full retail value on the second-hand market.

Vintage jackets, typically priced between $100 and $150, are in high demand with online resale markets like Poshmark, eBay and Etsy, and other have been finding the vintage workwear in second-hand shops like Goodwill.

"The anti-glamour of it makes it cool. It's an unspoken way of relating to everyday people," New York City-based stylist Amanda Sanders told FOX Business referring to Carhartt. "It's becoming the 'it' thing. People who can't afford a super expensive trend can easily achieve the look."

A brown men’s Carhartt coat is selling for $105 on Poshmark’s website. A brand new one on the Carhartt website costs between $99 and $109. And a vintage Carhartt denim blanket lined jean jacket is selling for $100 and advertised as “perfectly worn-in with real character” on eBay catering to the desired look of worn-in and distressed as opposed to new with tags.

From trenches to red carpets

The company, which was founded in 1889 by Hamilton Carhartt, is known for its durable duck canvas fabric, which was used in uniforms of the U.S. military in World War I and during World War II, was suited for workers in blue-collar trades and vocations such as construction workers, farmers, hunters and railway workers.

In the 1980s, the jackets gained popularity among New York hip-hop musicians and in 1989, it brokered an international licensing deal with Swiss designers to create Carhartt Work In Progress, a more streamlined streetwear label aimed at consumers in Europe and Asia.

Now, it’s having a moment with celebrities like Kanye West, David Beckham and supermodel Kaia Gerber who’ve been photographed sporting Carhartt’s jackets and hats, and its landed highbrow partnerships with brands like A.P.C. appealing to mainstream consumers, many of whom likely have no intention of getting them dirty.

And Carhartt’s accessible price point, functionality and politically neutral fashion statement is what’s given the 130-year-old company staying power.

“You look at a brand like Nike taking a stand on all these issues, Carhartt has a hands-off approach. They really let their products speak for themselves and that’s really part of their charm,” Kirsten Fleming, a senior features writer at the New York Post, told FOX Business.

Fleming recalled wearing her father’s old Carhartt coat six years ago to weather the elements on a trip to Green Bay, Wisc. She continued to wear the faded green, blanket-lined coat when she returned home to New York City where admirers complimented the coat, with some even offering to buy it right off her back. She eventually gave it to her teenage nephew, who was familiar with the brand and thrilled to inherit the vintage coat.

“It’s a brand that just grew with America and helped it grow,” Fleming said, of the brand’s mainstream popularity.

LEVI’S OR WRANGLERS: WHICH JEANS DO REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS PREFER?

Bipartisan

Other made in America brands have gone a different marketing route, establishing a political divide among consumers. Greensboro, N.C., blue jean maker, Wrangler, is popular in the West and Midwest, while Democrats favor San Francisco-based Denim Company Levi’s, appealing more to consumers living in urban areas, consumer research data cited by the Wall Street Journal show.

Carhartt, meanwhile, has become synonymous as the working man’s jacket, and politicians from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama have embraced it to resonate with voters across the country. Still, Carhartt has stayed politically neutral over the years, letting its clothing and the people wearing it speak for themselves.

“We’ve always stood for hard work. We recognized that nobody looks at voting records when they’re on a job site," Tony Ambroza, the chief brand officer at Carhartt, said. "They’re looking at the person. We’ll stay focused and stay true to serving the needs of the workers because that’s what we do."

A decade ago, people found out about the brand by word of mouth, now Carhartt’s products are sold in more than 1,000 retailers including sporting stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Modell’s in addition to Amazon.

Bestseller

And while Carhartt’s outerwear has become nearly as ubiquitous as the "Amazon coat," the company’s namesake acrylic A18 watch hat ($14.99) is the brand’s No. 1 seller and was Amazon’s most-purchased item during its Cyber Monday sale earning more than 8,000 five-star ratings. It’s a nod to demand for streetwear, a market being dominated by brands like American skateboarding and clothing company Supreme, which is one of the top-selling company’s on the resale market according to luxury consignment marketplace The RealReal. 

Carhartt’s overalls, meanwhile, were among one of Amazon’s best-sellers of 2019, showing the fashion trend of craftsman chic is on the rise.

“People are looking for a connection to humanity. Our product has a real feeling to it," Ambroza said. "It’s something you can break in overtime and make your own. It becomes more and more personalized the longer someone wears it and owns it."

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