The Well-Heeled Traveler: Workwear
By Kim Anderson
A successful fashion apparel line taps into popular trends—color, fabric, texture, and style. A quick response to these evanescent design essentials is key to survival. However, developing successful workwear uses a different set of criteria.
Whether worn every day or just on the weekend, there are huge expectations for this age-old wear. On the short list—keep the wearer dry and cool in hot weather and dry and warm in cold; adequate and easily accessible storage places for tools and other implements; and Herculean strength.
And if that weren’t enough—ultimate comfort, long life expectancy, and stylish details are a must.
So, which daring companies have been taking on this daunting task—and just what is the key to developing a successful line of workwear?
Courtesy of Carhartt Inc.
Carhartt Inc., founded in 1889, by Hamilton Carhartt in Detroit, Michigan, USA, has the reputation of one of the most enduring and successful companies producing workwear. After a few initial failures, Carhartt went straight to the source for input—the railroad worker. To this day, the bib overall worn by these workers remains largely unchanged. Scott Zimmerman, Vice President of Global Merchandising for Carhartt Inc., explains that this is exactly what they still do today—listen and work with consumers to bring the best product to market.
Courtesy of Carhartt Inc.
Zimmerman says, “consumer needs continue to evolve at a rapid pace and our connection to hardworking people helps us to innovate and build the gear they need to get the job done.”
He goes on to say that aside from the countless job site visits they conduct, they have a network of 6,000 men and women with whom they work on a daily basis. They also partner with organizations like Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that taps into the skills and experiences of military veterans and first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams to provide immediate relief to those impacted by disasters and humanitarian crises. Tapping into this valuable “real life” input puts Carhartt apparel to the test in some of the harshest conditions.
Zimmerman says their standards on testing and performance are unmatched—“To have our patch on a product, it must pass our incredibly high standards to ensure we deliver on our promise to our consumers—delivering purposeful products that work as hard as they do.”
Manufacturing in China, Courtesy of Genus
Genus, nestled in the Cotswold district in England, was founded in 2013 by Sue O’Neil. Genus Gardenwear is specifically targeted to the keen gardener. As an avid gardener herself, O’Neil realized that she could find gardening tools, but couldn’t find gardening clothes. To develop the perfect gardening wear, O’Neil went to the source—herself and other avid gardeners. After seven years, Genus still remains the only brand in the world offering high performance technical clothing specifically designed for gardeners.
O’Neil admits there have been challenges. Although she taught business management at the university level for twelve years and thought she knew how to run a business, she wasn’t fully aware of how much specific knowledge she would need to know about the apparel business. She has recently beefed up the product team by adding a garment technologist and a merchandiser to make sure that the development, manufacturing, and logistics work well and in unison.
Managing production in China has also been a challenge. It has taken years to find a factory that proved to be a good match for Genus.
Additionally, Brexit has complicated the business. O’Neil notes that her “European business has fallen off a cliff for the moment.” She feels confident that it will revive once the governments sort out the “teething problems.”
It has been a struggle to convince gardeners who have never paid for high tech clothing before to buy a pair of relatively high-priced Genus trousers. However, when customers begin to talk about the benefits of the features—they wished they had found Genus earlier. Even with the challenges, O’Neil says Genus has experienced incredible growth in the last few years.
Whether a company of superior workwear is over a hundred years old or just getting a foot hold, it appears that the silver bullet for success is getting information from the source—the consumer.
Kim Anderson has worked in the textile industry for over 25 years as a designer, product developer, educator, and researcher.