It’s been 81 years since Hamilton Carhartt, 82, and his wife, Annette Welling Carhartt, lost their lives from a 1937 automobile accident near the home of their son, Wylie. Today, the fifth-generation family-owned company, referred to as an “overall maker” by the New York Times back then, is charging forward in its 12th decade in business under the direction of CEO Mark Valade, Hamilton’s great-grandson.
The global premium workwear brand, whose authenticity has gained everyday street appeal among urban tastemakers in recent decades, has produced more than 80 million garments and accessories in the U.S. over the last 15 years. The Dearborn, MI, company, which has global operations in the U.S., Mexico and Europe and employs more than 4700 worldwide, generates annual sales north of $600 million, according to Forbes.
Carhartt’s senior management team includes a number of women, including Linda Hubbard, who in 2013 became the first non-family member named president, CFO Susan Telang, SVP of Industrial Strategies and Customer Engagement Andi Donovan and SVP of Human Resources Jennifer Piscopink. In late May, Janet Ries, a 20-year retail and footwear/apparel executive with experience at both Reebok and Rockport, joined Carhartt as VP–marketing.
Ries recently took time out to offer her views about the company, its strategies going forward and the overall workwear category.
Janet Ries: “It’s interesting. FA – Functional Apparel – has always been limited to workwear. But today, the consumer doesn’t really think of that. It goes well beyond the eight-hour, the 12-hour hard-working day people put in. We see that there is a ton of exposure and opportunity to showcase our brand and our products in the 24/7 perspective of our consumers. We can be a part of their lives and are a part of their lives, not just at the workplace but in the activities they love to do, be it fishing, hunting, camping or other outdoor activities.”
“It’s not just for eight hours, it’s a full day that we can be part of our consumers’ lives. That’s what we need to explore with the trade. The trade wants to put us (Carhartt) in a very precise bucket, if you will, and we need to let it know that our consumers don’t see in that manner. We have a lot of critical strategy we are trying to open up, although I can’t divulge it yet. While we have strategic accounts with Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops, we’re looking to expand distribution because, again, we’re not just looking at (the brand) for workwear, but as a component of a person’s lifestyle. But keep in mind, we never want to walk away from that (workwear) perspective. We will always be, first and foremost, a workwear brand.”
“We are really starting to put a lense on the women’s side. Women want to be part of our brand and we’ve got two opportunities. The women out there in the workforce next to that guy, she doesn’t want anything different. She knows Carhartt gives her the respect from her co-workers that she’s wearing it. So, we need to make sure that we are meeting her needs. Secondly, we have discovered she tends to buy for her family, her spouse and her kids. She has the opportunity to buy some things that she likes. We’re recognizing that we have two female consumers and they are each wanting to be part of this great brand.”
“One hundred percent. There’s never been more interest in the workwear space. It’s becoming a really hot topic, especially with VF [purchasing Williamson-Dickie] and Levi sort of looking into the space. Mark Valade is fully committed to keeping this a family-owned business. The core mission is to deliver quality and durability in everything.”
Given your background in footwear, will Carhartt make a push in the category?
“We actually are in it. We partner with Black Diamond out of Boston. We’ve had a partnership some nine or 10 years. We did initially do some footwear with Red Wing (2004-11) and we found that we needed to go out on our own. The (footwear) distribution and how we’ve been opening it up has been strong. Tractor Supply Company is a big distributor of the products and we will look to continue that relationship and enhancing the offerings.”
What are Carhartt’s objectives for the rest of 2018 and in 2019?
“We will continue to focus on reminding the consumer that Carhartt is the brand that has your back 24/7. It’s one of our mantras, what we do and what our consumers are asking for. We also want to show that we’re much more than a maker of workwear. We’re the brand for hard-working people. Carhartt is intended to be worn on and off the job. And this fall, we’re going to thank workers with a full (ad) campaign starting Labor Day.”