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The year-old welder from Indianapolis only splurged on Carhartt because his boss told him to purchase some through the company's supplier for work.
He liked the brand so much that he now owns a Carhartt hat and jeans, "like the kind Gary Johnson wears. It's like my go-to outer layer. Ross, who voted for Johnson in the last election, doesn't agree with many of Trump's policies, though he does think it's "refreshing to have a politician so efficient in keeping his promises. A few states over in Michigan, Michael Montgomery echoes the same sentiment—at least about Carhartt. Unlike Ross, Michael Montgomery works in an office, as a development and fundraising consultant.
Growing up in Detroit, Montgomery can think of no brand that better represents his adolescence than Carhartt. Now a father of three, he finds himself wearing the brand to work on casual days. Like him, his kids grew up wearing Carhartt, and two still do.
Montgomery went from buying the brand at the local hardware store to online, but his loyalty remains. One white collar, one blue collar. But to the folks at Carhartt, Michael and Ross couldn't be more alike.
To the summit
Carhartt has become shorthand for the heart of blue-collar America. It's had an enduring appeal to the nation's working class, which makes it no surprise that the brand has long been co-opted by politicians trying to prove their everyman bonafides. Sarah Palin allegedly once agreed to an exclusive interview with a reporter because they shared a love of the brand.
The iconic jacket was front and center in Rick Perry's "Strong" adwhich features the former Texas governor talking about his Christianity and American values. Even former President Barack Obama was spotted wearing the gear during his three-day trip to Alaska in as an homage to the state's devotion to the brand. Yet despite its appeal to right-leaning values, the reality of the brand's operations are a conservative nightmare: Since it's been predominantly produced in Mexico, rappers and Europeans love it, and yeah, maybe it likes hunting, but it's also into jazz festivals and celebrities.
Carhartt has become the model for a brand that has matched a degree of progressivism with working class values, all without alienating its conservative white consumers. The brand, it might seem from the outside, is a bit of a paradox.
But to those who know and love it, it's simply a good product, beloved by the right and left alike. While other American companies are struggling to define "All-American" in a polarizing political climate, Carhartt hasn't gone out of its way to prove anything. It's won the hearts and wallets of consumers across race, gender, and occupation without so much as a team of ad agencies. With only two sewing machines and five employees, founder Hamilton Carhartt established the clothing company in just outside of Detroit in Dearborn, Michigan. Using the motto "Honest value for an honest dollar," Carhartt worked with local railroad workers to de the perfect overall bib.
Within two decades, the company's operations expanded to eight other cities, including one in world industry capital Liverpool and two in Canada. Despite going through a period of downsizing during the Great Depression, the brand was able to rebound by capitalizing on America's efforts to rebuild after a devastating war and economic crash.
The company's campaigns to rede rugged clothing for the next generation of Americans managed to put it at the forefront of mass-produced workwear through America's post-World War II expansion. No place is more emblematic of Carhartt's working class golden age than Alaska, a state where love of the brand runs so deep you'd think it was invented there.
Each year in the city of Talkeetna, residents dress up in their finest shades of brown, brown, and more brown for the "Carhartt Ball. Both the creation of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline and an economic boom resulting from state and private spending on construction and infrastructure caused the state's working-class economy to swell in the late 20th Century. Bythe population would grow to overpeople.
And thanks to the savvy marketing efforts of Doug Tweedie, the company's sales representative in Alaska between andCarhartt was able to ride this growth to become the most popular workwear in the state.
Tweedie worked extensively with independent stores, which, in the '70s, were the backbone of the relatively isolated local economy. When they came out with black that got everyone excited again. Once consumers realized that Carhartt's products lasted twice as long as other outdoor apparel on the market, the brand's reputation caught on despite its premium prices within the category.
Tweedie even managed to get Nordstrom in Alaska to carry the brand, though this was long before Carhartt's high fashion days. Inthe state laid the claim to the largest per-capita Carhartt sales in the world.
Impressive, yes. But it was the end of an era. Alaska was the brand's last grab at the kind of growth that was still reliant one type of customer: the largely white working class. And that working class was changing.
Two recessions in the early '80s paired with a shift to service-based goods had already resulted in the beginning of the decline of the labor economy. The old model was no longer relevant. As chance would have it, however, a new coalition of customers had begun to gravitate toward Carhartt. In the s, the brand noticed its jackets had become increasingly popular with urban drug dealers. What seemed like an unusual pairing sparked a new era: one in which the company radically expanded its idea of who the working class was, long before politicians were to come to terms with the reality.
The trend had become so embedded in street culture that bythe hip-hop label Tommy Boy Records gave out of the jackets, embroidered with the company logo, to influential "tastemakers.
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In fact, the promotion was so successful that Tommy Boy started its own clothing line. The street popularity also inspired German denim entrepreneur Edwin Faeh to strike up a licensing deal with the company in order to bring a more streetwear version of the product to Europe in with Carhartt Work in Progress.
Though the brand still riffs on the same kind of jackets spotted on American oil workers and farmers, in Europe WIP became the uniform for skateboarders, hip-hop he, and disaffected youth at riots and protests. We've just happened to come by it naturally.
The brand's fashion appeal has spread stateside in the past decade. WIP opened its first store in SoHo inand now fashionable New Yorkers who have probably never seen a tractor supply store in their life browse through neat racks of the brand's deer line. The silhouettes of the duck jacket's high-end counterpart are sleeker, but the de is unmistakably related.
It's a playbook also used by legacy brands such as Nike and Levi's, which manage to appeal to the Marshall's and Madison Avenue crowds alike. It represents the right and the left.
It represents the fashion folks and the non-fashion folks. It's a brand folks can rally around.
It comes down to its authenticity. Everything they do is real. As an arm of experimentation safely padded from the core of the brand, WIP helped usher Carhartt into a new era.
Instead of just three shades of brown, Carhartt now sells products for women and children, and even produces medical scrubs an obvious run at competitor Dickies. What's most striking is that none of this happened because of anxiety about the future. You won't find any United Colors of Benetton-style from Carhartt in the '90s. Even now, the parent company's website clings to the imagery of a white masculinity that's not exactly in line with modern social and economic realities.
And when asked about a subculture's affinity for the brand, the company's line for the past nearly three decades has been a big shrug. Carhartt couldn't tell you how it's marketed to such a diverse group because it hasn't. The company has followed working class America for years and this is just where it wound up. And what we focus on are the commonalities," says Brian Bennett, vice president of creative at Carhartt. If you wanted to boil the brand's secret into a business strategy, the closest you might get is its commitment to in-house marketing, a rare thing for a company of its size.
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Its feature actual consumers, giving the advertising team unparalleled access into the minds of the people who actually buy their products. To shoot its spring campaign, for example, the team will be making its way from the ranches of Southwest Texas back to Detroit, where the brand has caught on in local artisanal food culture. Even the company's partnership with Aquaman star Jason Momoa, who has been directing for the company sincehas a humble beginning.
The star, who still owns the same Carhartt pants he bought when he was 19 years old, called Bennett relentlessly asking for a meeting. It wasn't until the company's senior vice president of marketing, Tony Ambroza, told Bennett that he was a fan of Game of Thrones that Bennett agreed to get drinks with Momoa in Detroit, a decision that sparked a three-year and running creative relationship and friendship. He's an artist at heart and family man. He has a real Carhartt work ethic as an actor and a director," says Bennett of Momoa.
Celebrity or rancher, what Carhartt's customer-focused advertising has taught the company is that regardless of where consumers buy their jackets or what they know about the brand's diversified offerings, their mentalities are the same.
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And what we focus on are the commonalities. It's the kind of authenticity that almost seems cheesy, but it's something that's stuck with the brand even throughout its expansion under current CEO Mark Valade. Valade, who is the son of heiress Gretchen Valade, is the fifth generation of family leadership in the company. In its native Michigan, Carhartt has been a strong champion of urban renewal.