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Brand History and Authenticity: The Archive at Carhartt

by Dave J. Moore, Resident Archivist, Carhartt on

Still from Carhartt's historically themed advertisement.

Still from Carhartt’s historically themed advertisement.

“Making good is merely a matter of exerting sufficient energy.”

I often return to this 1924 quote by Carhartt company founder Hamilton Carhartt in my day-to-day work. With 127 years of company history to preserve and provide access to, I’ve surely exerted my fair share of energy over the roughly two and half years I’ve been working at Carhartt headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. And in that same period of time, I’ve surely heard my fair share of questions pertaining to the purpose of a corporate archive and why it’s important to support the development of one. Why indeed?

Without an archive, there is no gold standard for a brand’s history. This can lead to missed opportunities. A dedicated historical resource at Carhartt has dramatically increased access to archival materials, allowing for in-depth research that was previously impossible. The company’s marketing department recognized this and worked with the archive to spearhead Carhartt’s 2016 advertising campaign, titled “The Future is in Our Heritage.” The archive provided information on key touch points in company history, whether it was a historical event that Carhartt was involved in (such as providing World War I service trousers to the military) or the years that we introduced our most iconic garments. The archive collaborated with product design and Kentucky-based sewing associates to recreate authentic replicas of the brand’s iconic products depicted in the commercials from 1889 to current day.

Click here and here to view Carhartt’s Spring/Fall 2016 marketing campaign chronicling 127 years of product advancement:

Authenticity is rapidly becoming a key factor in driving consumers toward particular brands. Exposure to a company’s history, especially one as long as Carhartt’s, engenders trust and loyalty. People want to be involved with products that have a meaningful narrative. For some of Carhartt’s garments, like the iconic Chore Coat, this narrative is very natural because the piece has been in the line since the early 1900s. However, Carhartt’s designers constantly draw on the inspiration of Hamilton (or “Ham”) Carhartt even in the development of new products, seeking consumer feedback just as Hamilton did over a century ago when he pioneered market research, seeking feedback from railroad workers to perfect the design and construction of the brand’s legendary overalls. The overarching focus on quality and durability remains the same, so the history really serves as both a touchpoint to the past and a guide for the future. Authenticity has been part of the corporate DNA for 127 years and it keeps customers returning. Continuing to focus on Hamilton Carhartt’s legacy is increasingly attracting new consumers who respect that commitment.

 

overalls-engineer-sack-coat

1920s catalog image of classic Carhartt denim overalls and the Engineer Sack Coat, today’s Chore Coat.

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