How Carhartt went from overalls and beanies to medical gowns and masks


In April, Carhartt, the workwear company out of Dearborn, Michigan, pivoted from announcing new types of brown pants and jackets to making medical masks and gowns, aiming to help the “men and women working on the front line,” with the gear they need to protect themselves.

The company said, “As long as these critical items are in short supply, Carhartt will continue to assist in production.”

Carhartt is producing 50,000 medical gowns and 2.5 million masks, since stockpiles of personal protective equipment will be needed to avoid any catastrophic shortages. The company has gained fashion cred with teens for its woolen beanies, and is known for making rugged, durable wear for men and women. “We had to transition everything from the design to material to machinery.

There were a number of challenges along the way, including the sourcing of raw materials which are far different than our famous brown duck,” says William Hardy, Carhartt’s senior vice president of supply chain.

The move has a precedent, however.

“Serving and answering the call during times of need has always been an integral part of
Carhartt’s history,” he says of the firm founded by Hamilton Carhartt, who began producing bib overalls with two sewing machines and a half-horsepower electric motor in a small Detroit loft in 1889. “We retooled our facilities during World War I and II to support the country’s troops, and immediately knew that we wanted to get involved to support the hard-working first responders.”

The firm used a staggered approach to bring supply chain associates back to the facilities. All associates receive a daily no-contact-thermometer temperature check and short questionnaire. ”We also provide masks, which associates are required to wear while in our facilities,” says Hardy.

Carhartt retooled its operations to make medical gowns and masks to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Carhartt retooled its operations to make medical gowns and masks to help stop the spread of coronavirus.Courtesy of Carhartt

Workers in Carhartt’s US factories were on paid leave due to the pandemic, but some
volunteered to do the new work. The company worked with local health authorities to figure out the layout and handling protocols for production, which must be done in a sanitary environment.

With more than 5,500 associates worldwide, Carhartt is family-owned and managed by the descendants of the company’s founder. They temporarily closed all company-owned stores and brought in temporary rotating paid-work schedules in manufacturing and distribution facilities.

“Serving and answering the call during times of need has always been an integral part of
Carhartt’s history and it’s why consumers have trusted us to have their back for more than 130 years,” says Mark Valade, chief executive officer at Carhartt. “We are humbled and honored to help all the essential workers serving and protecting us right now.”

Tony Ambroza, chief brand officer of Carhartt, will be a keynote speaker at Brands Across America on Friday, June 5.


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