Two sewing machines and five workers were all it took to start one of biggest streetwear brands in America. Worn by everyone from Sarah Palin to Tupac, Carhartt began in 1889 as a company that made workwear for railroad workers. The wide-cut practicality of the Carhartt jacket foreshadowed its success as a streetwear brand. It wasn’t until Carhartt Work In Progress (WIP) was born in 1989 that the brand crossed the border from workwear into fashion. The Carhartt jacket is now a staple of the hip hop world and its journey from railroad and ranch to street and stadium acts as a lens through which we can see America’s rich history.
Carhartt WIP’s genuine submersion in subcultures of the 90s such as skateboarding and fanzines, meant that it had happened across the idea of the influencer long before it became a marketing staple. Known a ‘marxeting’ Carhartt WIP would gladly give clothes or sponsorship to artists that they liked, but rappers and skaters adoption of the parent workwear brand was never planned. It’s been said that ‘Carhartt didn’t choose the culture, the culture chose us” [Lebugle] and it is the fact that the brand has never sacrificed its utilitarian purpose for high fashion that makes it so iconic. It has stayed true to its 1889 slogan ‘honest value for an honest dollar’. A core part of the Hip Hop scene as it exploded into international consciousness, Carhartt WIP became known as the brand that clothed its stars. Originally planned as a way of marketing expanding the original Carhartt Brand in Europe, Germans Edwin and Salomee Faeh began a brand that became a cultural phenomenon.
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