Carhartt: Building Back Detroit Since 1889

Detroit is often seen as a city that works hard due to its strong work ethic and industrial heritage. While the city has faced its share of economic challenges over the years, many residents continue to embody a spirit of resilience and determination to overcome these obstacles.

One example of Detroit’s hardworking culture is the many community-led efforts to revitalize the city. From grassroots organizations to corporate and government initiatives, Detroit residents have been working tirelessly to rebuild their neighborhoods, create jobs, and attract investment to the city. This has included efforts to clean up blighted properties, create urban farms and community gardens, and support small businesses and startups.

Among those supporting Detroit, nestled on Cass Avenue in the historic Cass Corridor, is Carhartt’s flagship retail store. The global premium workwear brand with a rich heritage of developing rugged products for workers, was founded in Detroit in 1889 and has maintained its longstanding ties to the city, ever since, with its world headquarters located in nearby Dearborn. After founder Hamilton Carhartt talked with railroad engineers, Carhartt realized there was a need for tough, high quality work wear, so his first product was a heavy-duty bib overall made specifically for railroad workers. His timing was impeccable, as the nation was experiencing an industrial boom. The city’s grittiness has provided the perfect proving ground for a brand that has enduring value and prides itself on quality and craftmanship.

Remaining focused on the value of hard work, Carhartt operates a community focused workshop in the same building, providing free tool rentals, home improvement courses, community garden classes and even offers rather unique learning experiences, including the very popular bee-hive maintenance program, which has had a favorable impact on the environment. Word about The Carhartt Workshop has spread across the state. In the latest impact report from The Carhartt Workshop, more than 200 different zip codes across Michigan, have traveled to Detroit and rented (at no charge) tools to rebuild neighborhoods and launch local projects– all done with a handshake and a promise to return the tool for another person to use.

As if that were not enough, on a separate floor in the same building is ISAIC, the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center. The Detroit-based 501c3 nonprofit, serves as a national resource for those committed to positive impact through responsible production of high-quality garments. ISAIC’s mission is simple “to redefine the future of work by putting people trained in advanced and emerging manufacturing technologies at the forefront of sustainable soft goods production with a commitment to the wellbeing of its team, partners, community, and planet”. The relationship with ISAIC, also has a symbolic meaning, as Hamilton Carhartt started out with two sewing machines and about five employees, manufacturing their first products out of duck and denim fabrics, while embracing unions and putting his workers and their well-being first.

These two examples highlight how Carhartt continues to put its purpose – Build a Better World – into action. They are the responsibility of Carhartt’s Inclusion, Sustainability and Community (ISC) team, established in 2021, with the hiring of Todd Corley, SVP, Inclusion, Sustainability and Community. Guiding the day-to-day ISC strategy to strengthen the foundation of the brand, is Amy Fencyk, Director of Corporate Stewardship and Gretchen Valade, Director of Sustainability. Collectively, their efforts are helping Carhartt meet the highest standards for favorably impacting social and environmental performance, public transparency, and mission driven work. As the ISC team logo suggests, on under the tabs marked Learn-Purpose, the workstreams of inclusion, sustainability and community are interconnected and share a common goal for impacting the triple bottom line.

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