Photo: Unsplash via Laura Ockel.jpg
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you both Carhartt and Fjällräven have been around for decades; which is the truth, but a lot of our introduction to these brands has come from these last few years. Regardless of whether you’re on campus, in the city, or on social media, you’ll see one of these brands’ logos displayed on a piece of clothing or bag. In today’s piece, we’ll try to get a better understanding of what lies behind the growing popularity of these brands and others like them.
Carhartt, the homegrown American brand formerly known as “Hamilton Carhartt & Company,” was founded by Hamilton Carhartt in 1889. The brand’s first product, a pair of overalls, was produced in a Detroit loft. Hamilton Carhartt took his time perfecting the brand and getting the right product on the market. By the 1900s, it had grown into other areas of the country and overseas, which included sewing facilities, mills, offices and warehouse spaces.
What’s also interesting about the brand is that it supported a lot of American war efforts during that time. On its website, the brand details that “[It] offered seven Carhartt facilities to the government for the purpose of creating uniforms for the U.S. military in World War I. During World War II, Carhartt produced coveralls for soldiers and support personnel, jungle suits for Marines in the Pacific, and workwear for women entering the factories on the home front.” Carhartt is also known for being a workwear brand. Carhartt supported workers during the Great Depression and received high numbers of clothing orders during the construction of the Alaska pipeline. Carhartt also had a lot of facilities in rural and working-class areas, including Kentucky, or Tennessee.
Fast forward to today, and Carhartt’s most prominent clothing items are pieces that have been with the brand for decades. GQ’s Lauren Cochrane spoke to this in her assessment of Carhartt’s big boom. She writes, “the chore coat, the double knee pants, the watch hat beanie, the K87 pocket tee. Recently, those designs have seen Carhartt move from beyond a just-fine, slightly unexciting streetwear-adjacent brand, into a bestselling brand of the moment. It hasn’t even really tried to do anything different.” She goes on to write, “But why now?”
Dennis Todisco, the man behind the popular Outfit Grid Instagram account and head of streetwear partnerships on the same social media platform, pegs it to a wider trend. “[Carhartt] transcends trends,” he says. “However, I’d be remiss to not mention that ‘workwear’ is having a moment right now and more people are discovering the brand through that.”
What Dennis mentioned is right: workwear apparel in general has seen an uptick in popularity, as today’s generation is mixing it with their everyday streetwear style. Brands like Dickies, Caterpillar and Timberland have seen newfound success. Footwear brand ASICS has also seen a boom in sales for their flagship shoes. Their retro “dad shoes” appearance has made them popular among younger generations.
Switching to Fjällräven, which means “arctic fox” in Swedish, describes itself as a brand “Hailing from the small town of Örnsköldsvik in Sweden, a place where mountains and forests meet the sea[.] Fjällräven is an outdoor clothing and equipment company that’s committed to making nature more accessible. In our offices and stores, we are designers, product developers, buyers, administrators, marketers, communicators, sales staff, customer service reps, and business developers. In nature, though, we’re all the same. Nature is forever in our hearts here at Fjällräven. It’s where we come from, and it’ll always be our destination.”
Their most recognizable items are their Kånken and Skule bookbags, a staple accessory among college students. Although more young adults have begun switching to tote bags and smaller bags, Fjällräven backpacks still seem to have a presence in the space. Their popularity is attributable to a shift in attitude towards the brand. Back in 2018, Fjällräven’s North American president Nathan Dopp told Forbes that “There’s a reaction from the past that a brand like ours is adrenaline-focused, hyper masculine, and purely functional, but that’s changed completely,” Dopp says. “For a lot of people, we’re now the first step into the outdoors, and we show them that the outdoors can be stylish.”
Maybe that is the answer. A lot of things that were once looked at as hyper masculine or hyper feminine are now considered more gender neutral. Carhartt, Fjällräven and brands like it are examples of shifting attitudes towards gender and stereotypes associated with it.
Isaiah Ireland is a third-year Media and Culture major with a minor in Digital Marketing. II978280@wcupa.edu