Written by Neil Summers.
Carhartt WIP is one of those brands that has somehow transcended its former life as genuine workwear and become a streetwear icon. But is it such a leap from the railroad to street style?
Carhartt was founded by Hamilton Carhartt in 1889 in Dearborn, Michigan. Just as brands like Filson, Dickies and Red Wing were formed for manual labourers, Carhartt had a similar mission. The first chapter of their story began with just two sewing machines and five workers, with a focus on railroad workers and their requirement for strong and long-lasting work clothes.
The roots of Carhartt are on the railroad and they date back to the 19th century. The brand worked closely with workers to ensure that their work bibs met their needs. Success breeds success, and when Carhartt became a name to trust, it resulted in growth into other cities, including overseas. Today, Carhartt clothing is commonly found on construction sites, farms and ranches, among other job sites, though that is largely a U.S thing. Here in Europe however, the brand is much more known for its stylish take on durable, every day styles.
Collaborations with likeminded brands have helped enhance their reputation, and Carhartt WIP is now the go-to brand for forward thinking people with an appreciation for the past. Under the stewardship of Edwin Jeans founders Salmee and Edwin Feah, Carhartt WIP has blazed a trail for the adoption of traditional workwear among youth tribes. It is within these streetwear devotees the brand has found favour, something not lost on the brand following the looting of their Hackney store during the riots of 2011. The brand famously produced a t-shirt depicting their shop, mid-riot.
It’s a far cry from their early years, especially as the brand is still family-owned, but is it really such a leap from the 1800s railroad men to 2010s roadmen? A look on any streetwear forum or even indeed any street would suggest not.