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By Katie Okonowski, Archive Intern

Posted in 2020

Carhartt’s roots are in the USA, but did you know it’s had global operations since the early 1900s? From the company’s beginnings in the late 1800s, founder Hamilton Carhartt established a reputation for making quality clothing for industrial workers. He recognized that the demand for workwear went beyond the United States, and looked to expand the company internationally. By 1915, Carhartt had invested in warehouses and factories in major Canadian cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, and even set up a factory in Liverpool, England.

enlarge image Advertisement for women’s 'allover,' 1917
Map showing Carhartt production and distribution, c.1915

The success of Carhartt in Canada led to expanded product offerings. The first known Carhartt advertisement for women’s product was produced by our Canadian division in 1917.

enlarge image Map showing Carhartt production and distribution, c.1915
Advertisement for women’s "allover," 1917

The 1920s were known as a time of economic prosperity, and Carhartt benefitted from high demand for its products. The company increased its overseas presence with the establishment of a factory in Paris, France. In 1925, Hamilton Carhartt noted: “When I stop to think that over one million staunch, stalwart, conscientious men who toil, the bone and sinew of the United States, Canada, Great Britain and France are daily wearing the overalls I manufacture: I am deeply impressed with my duty to these men; I would be a traitor to this vast army of world builders did I not give them the best that is in me.”

enlarge image Toronto facility, c.1922
Toronto facility, c.1922
enlarge image Liverpool facility, c.1922
Liverpool facility, c.1922

Feedback across the United States and in foreign markets was overwhelmingly positive, and customer testimonials were received from across borders.

enlarge image Product feedback from Canada, c.1922
Product feedback from Canada, c.1922

Despite the company’s international successes, the stock market crash in 1929 began the Great Depression, and consequently, the worst economic downturn in US history. The effects were felt worldwide, and consumer demand fell drastically. This caused Carhartt to scale back operations, sell international holdings to cover costs, and focus solely on American markets. Only a select few factories continued manufacturing during this time. Although the company eventually recovered from these financial setbacks, it would be almost six decades before Carhartt began to re-establish a presence beyond the United States.

enlarge image Letter to stockholders describing financial setbacks, 1937
Letter to stockholders describing financial setbacks, 1937

Over 25 years ago, Carhartt once again began investing in overseas markets, entering into a licensing agreement that distributed Carhartt products in Europe. By the late 1990s, this new label, Work in Progress (WIP), was making their own adaptions of iconic Carhartt styles.

While Carhartt WIP was growing in notoriety, Carhartt’s core commitment to building rugged, heavy-duty clothing kept its business leaders strategizing on how best to re-enter the European workwear market. They were looking for a leg up in understanding the specific needs and requirements of European workers. The solution? Take advantage of existing expertise, which the company did when it bought the Netherlands-based workwear company ProfTech in 2000. For several years, Carhartt built products under the moniker “ProfTech Styles, a division of Carhartt.”

enlarge image ProfTech Styles catalog, 2003
ProfTech Styles catalog, 2003

This division has since become Carhartt Europe, re-introducing Carhartt workwear to the European market for the first time in decades. By the late 2000s, customers “across the pond” were able to purchase a wide variety of classic Carhartt products.

enlarge image Carhartt Europe catalog, 2005
Carhartt Europe catalog, 2005

Originally found through retail distributors exclusively, Carhartt Europe recently launched a website to allow consumers to find their workwear more easily.

enlarge image Carhartt Europe’s new website
Carhartt Europe’s new website

The company’s European headquarters can be found in Amsterdam, where they’re working hard to make sure Carhartt is the number one brand to turn to for rugged products – no matter what country you live in.

enlarge image Carhartt European headquarters, Amsterdam, remodeled 2017
Carhartt European headquarters, Amsterdam, remodeled 2017

“When a European customer buys Carhartt, they’re buying quality, fit, and relevancy in workwear apparel.” -Mark Valade, CEO/Chairman of the Board

Products referenced in the article

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