When I was 14, the guys at the bike shop where I volunteered insisted that Carhartts were the only pants worth buying at retail price. I biked out to Coastal Farm and Feed in Eugene, dropped $40 on a pair of B01 double-knee pants, and have been a fan ever since. We've done a few little posts on the subject, but in general we defer to Mr. Fox, undoubtedly the king of Carhartt in these parts.
Recently there's been a little excitement as Carhartt starts to promote the styles still made in the USA. The WSJ had an interesting piece over a year ago, and Michael at ACL recently posted a great article (with, as usual, an entertaining comment thread).
Carhartt kindly sent over one of their made in USA Active Jacs for me to check out. I love it - super warm and it's built like a truck. Gotta dig that giant zipper pull. Regular/roomy fit, so you can layer sweaters underneath. $100. Seriously cannot beat that bang for the buck unless you're buying used.
Really happy to see the USA-made goods getting pushed, and here's hoping that more and more of their goods can be brought home as demand increases. I asked a few questions about the USA line, and here are the thoughts of Tony Ambroza, VP of Marketing at Carhartt. I'm most interested in the links between domestic manufacture and the physical design of the artifacts being produced, so I would have loved to hear more about that process - maybe someday I'll take a field trip to Irvine, KY to see the plant!
1) What made Carhartt decide to bring the production of these styles back to the USA?
Our Made in the USA line of apparel was created in response to consumer feedback; they told us they wanted to know exactly which products we make and source in the U.S. We were able to shift some product to other manufacturing facilities in order to accommodate production of these popular styles.
2) What advantages have you found in domestic production?
We never stopped manufacturing in the U.S. since the company’s founding in 1889. In the last 15 years alone, we’ve made more than 57 million units of apparel in our U.S. facilities. Fortunately the family who founded the business still owns Carhartt outright and understands how the company's heritage is linked to US manufacturing. As a consumer focused American work wear manufacturer, serving and protecting hard working people with our products is extremely important to us. We work to ensure our products are still built to the high standards established by our founder Hamilton Carhartt, while keeping our prices competitive and affordable. Thanks to our manufacturing approach we are able to maintain US manufacturing without increasing the price for our US styles.
3) Any drawbacks?
It is difficult to remain competitive in our industry with only domestic production when just 2 percent of clothing bought here is actually manufactured here. This is why we have chosen a balanced supply chain strategy which includes domestic and outsourced production. It allows us to provide high-quality products at competitive prices. With that said, no brand makes more rugged work wear in the U.S. than Carhartt.
4) Has it been easy or hard to find the needed skilled labor to produce at scale in the USA?
Fortunately, many of the employees who stitch together our products by hand have been with us for several decades or more. The work is physically demanding. It takes a great deal of training and time for employees to learn the skills required to build Carhartt to our exact specifications.