Carhartt: Cutting a cool—and durable—profile for construction [interview]

FUEL is a fan of any company that goes above and beyond the call of duty to support construction and skilled trades. Carhartt is a shining example of this. FUEL had a chance to speak to Carhartt Senior Public Relations Manager Erica Salomon about what matters to Carhartt when it comes to construction and the trades.

FUEL: What are the origins of Carhartt’s support of the construction industry?

Erica Salomon, Carhartt Senior PR Manager: Carhartt was founded in Detroit in 1889 by Hamilton Carhartt, and it’s still run by the family today. Back when the company started, Hamilton produced overalls for railroad workers. He did a lot of consumer research—he really wanted to perfect his bib overalls. He listened to feedback workers gave him to make the overalls better.

Over time, our overalls developed a reputation for being very durable. In construction, you need something that will last. Construction realized that maybe Carhartt could work for their industry. Their adoption of our product started in the 1930s and grew gradually into the 1950s. We started catching on that they were catching on, and we started marketing to them.

We have so many brand loyalists who enjoy wearing Carhartt and what it stands for. When you walk onto a job site wearing Carhartt, it gives you instant credibility. The people who are skilled in their jobs are wearing Carhartt—it’s definitely a point of pride.

We’ve always told stories about hard-working people in the trades. We elevate them, we celebrate them, and we honor them.

FUEL: What methods are you using to help construction’s PR? Have you seen results?

ES: In all of our marketing and advertising, we use real people on real job sites. We spend a lot of time going out and scouting people who are doing real, hard work every day. We hear their stories about how Carhartt has been part of their lives and part of their job. They use our products to get the job done.

We started partnering with SkillsUSA in 2000. They’re a national organization that serves high school, college and even middle school students who are looking to go into technical or skilled service occupations. SkillsUSA teaches leadership and technical skills to help people move into the skilled trades. One of their key goals is ensuring that our country has a skilled workforce.

In 2011 we became their official uniform partner, so participants all wear Carhartt in competition.

FUEL: What made Carhartt want to partner with Helmets to Hardhats and now Team Rubicon?

ES: We’ve been partnering with Helmets to Hardhats for two or three years now. What excites us most about them is their commitment to helping military vets secure quality careers in the skilled trades. Vets really need career training and career options when they leave the service and are out looking for work.

As for Team Rubicon, we love that they help hard-working people get back to work after a national disaster. Think about people who’ve gone through floods or hurricanes and had their lives turned upside-down. All they want is to get back to work and get back to normalcy. Team Rubicon helps them get their lives back in order and rebuild their communities. Team Rubicon are everywhere, and the work they do is incredible. There are a lot of veterans in that organization, volunteering their time to help these relief efforts.

FUEL: What are your concerns about, and hopes for, construction and the trades?

ES: This is a very relevant question right now. The skilled trade workforce is aging and heading toward retirement. My own father is a retired carpenter, so this conversation is near and dear to me. Filling these kinds of jobs with qualified workers is a huge challenge.

Carhartt sees this in our own skilled labor force. We have 1,200 workers in our U.S. supply chain, including our cutting and sewing facilities in Kentucky and Tennessee. These days when positions for sewing operators open, we have a hard time filling them because it’s a skilled job. We’ve seen that deficit more and more over the years.

We’re really hopeful that the younger generation can see the value of pursuing a job in construction and the skilled trades. We need these jobs to continue. There’s so much opportunity out there right now and lots of great careers available. I think we need to talk about it more and generate more awareness of all of the benefits of a career in the skilled trades.

Millennials and younger generations need to hear more about all the promising job prospects available and the new technologies in the field.

FUEL: Do you think there are common misconceptions of construction or the trades, especially among Millennials and younger? Why?

ES: For decades, high school students have been told that college in the best career path for everyone. That’s not necessarily true, though. As you know, skilled trades can also provide lucrative careers.

Details about construction trades, like salary benefits and available training, aren’t as widely publicized as they should be. In Michigan alone, we have thousands of skilled trade job openings and no one to fill them. Millennials and younger generations need to hear more about all the promising job prospects available and the new technologies that can be applied to the field.

FUEL: How do you think companies like yours can help out?

ES: We see ourselves as a champion of the skilled trades. We’ve always told stories about hard-working people in the trades. We elevate them, we celebrate them, and we honor them. Just think about all the areas of your life someone in the skilled trades has put work into so you can continue on with your day. Now it’s time we take the stories deeper and speak to the benefits of being in the skilled trades.

As a brand, we want to engage in more conversations about careers in the skilled trades and also about the types of training available. We have a lot more we want to do in that space—it’s really about generating awareness of what the skilled trades have to offer.

FUEL: When will Carhartt be launching this new messaging?

ES: Check back around Labor Day.

FUEL: What does Carhartt have in common with a well-run construction company?

ES: There are definitely a lot of commonalities. One is that our customer is at the core of everything we do. And a lot like construction businesses, we take pride in what we create. We work hard and celebrate a job well done.

Sign up. Stay fueled.