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Durable Goods | Winter 2008 Out Here Magazine

Mark Valade, great-grandson of Carhartt founder Hamilton Carhart.

Carhartt continues an old family tradition of sturdy, long-lasting workwear

By Noble Sprayberry
Photography courtesy of Carhartt

Hamilton Carhart, backed with only four sewing machines, hustled from railroad station to railroad station in the late 1880s to sell his tough, durable clothes. He became the King of Overalls.

Even after a jarring crash in the cotton market, the Great Depression, and countless twists of fashion, the basic idea behind buying a Carhartt garment — Hamilton added an extra "t" to the name for distinction — remains untouched decades later.

"Durability is really what sets us apart from the competition," says Mark Valade, company president and Carhart's great-grandson. "There's also the comfort. And it's reasonably priced. That's why they keep coming back."

Peer into a clothes closet belonging to farmers, ranchers, and others whose work and play keep them outside for long stretches and you'll likely find Carhartt gear. It's the kind of clothing the railroad workers who gave Hamilton Carhart the original idea so long ago probably had in mind.

Valade understands the importance of keeping his great-grandfather's vision, not only for the company but for his family, as well.

A business with global reach based in Dearborn, MI, and with more than 4,200 employees worldwide, Carhartt remains family-owned and managed, a straight line all the way back to the founder.

Hamilton's son, Wylie, ran the corporation after the 1937 death of Hamilton in a car accident. Wylie was succeeded in 1959 by his son-in-law, Robert C. Valade, who grew Carhartt into a multi million-dollar company.

Upon Robert Valade's 1998 death, his son, Mark, became company president.

The family intends to keep Carhartt just the way Hamilton started it — a family business.

"We have zero interest in going public," Mark Valade says. "To be family-owned, you don't have to listen to the analyst and you can just look at the consumer. You can truly provide products that meet the needs of the worker."


For Carhartt aficionados, the purchase of the latest item carries as much cache — or maybe practical appreciation — as designer wear meant for the city.


Not that the company does not change. It has, adding footwear, updating the patterns across the entire line to fit the physical proportions of modern men and women as well as addressing one long-running plea.


"We've always been asked about women's wear," Valade says. "But, we had to figure out the men's wear before we could move on to the women's."


Valade understands the power of the Carhartt brand, which he respects. "If someone buys something based on the brand, that gives you just one chance," he says. "If you blow it, they'll never come back."


Would Hamilton Carhart approve?


"The company means more than money to us," Valade says. "I think he'd be really proud.


Noble Sprayberry is a Phoenix-based freelance writer.