Carhartt WIP, short for Work In Progress, has become a timeless brand leading the streetwear movement alongside the likes of BAPE, Supreme, Stüssy and others. Though its parent brand, Carhartt, has been around since the 1880s producing work wear for manual labourers, its WIP division was only launched in 1994. After a trip to the US from the Swiss designer couple Edwin and Salomée Faeh in 1989, the two were convinced of Carhartt’s marketability in Europe and Asia due to its rising credibility in street culture. After quite a few business talks, the deal was approved and Carhartt WIP was born.
Since then, the division brand has taken over streetwear culture through its authentic credibility, its efforts outside of fashion and its engagement with subcultural groups. Keep reading as we dive into the five pillars that make Carhartt WIP what it is today.
THE WORKWEAR ROOTS
We can’t talk about Carhartt without talking about its literal roots: workwear. The parent brand’s early stages was founded upon creating workwear pieces for manual labourers, such as in 1979 for the Alaska Pipeline project. During World War I, it also created uniforms for the US military. These origins naturally transpired into the WIP line, with some of its best sellers including heavy-duty jackets and cargo trousers with an almost limitless amount of pockets.
THE STREETWEAR TWIST
The main difference between Carhartt WIP and its original brand is WIP’s cultural significance, having been able to tap into the streetwear aesthetic, designing for a younger customer base. Since the 80s and 90s, Carhartt WIP’s silhouettes have been oversized to the max in line with the fashion within the skate and hip hop communities. Its popularity skyrocketed when its pieces were seen worn by 2Pac and Eazy E. Its ability to always stay in touch with current youth groups and trends also stems from its initiatives outside of fashion – think of the WIP skateboarding and BMX teams as well as its in-house magazine. Through its heavy involvement within subcultural groups, skaters, graffiti artists and others naturally found themselves in the Carhartt WIP universe.
One of the reasons why Carhartt WIP has become so successful and popular is due to its minimalist aesthetic. Carhartt pieces aren’t OTT with heavy graphics and bold colours. Instead the brand chooses, for the most part, earthy and muted-tones with minimal branding usually just consisting of its famous ‘C’. This has become an integral part of why the people love Carhartt: they can easily make it their own.
In today’s fashion scene, collaborations are being presented to us left and right, even when the two (or more) brands in question don’t really make sense together. What makes Carhartt WIP’s collaborations stand out is that they make sense. The clothing brand always works with other brands within the same streetwear realm, such as BAPE in 2006 or Patta in 2014 and then again in 2016 and 2019. From American to Japanese streetwear, Carhartt joins forces with brands that have a similar story and background, ensuring its products always feel authentic and don’t lose either of the brands’ identities.
THE ‘C’ BEANIE
Carhartt WIP has created many iconic pieces but the one the brand is most famous for is probably its ‘C’ beanie. Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 cult-classic La Haine, a film which follows the story of three young Parisians living in the suburbs of the city, catapulted Carhartt’s street reputation, notably through an image that would later be pulled from the film and go viral on Tumblr of the three men, one of which was wearing a simple Carhartt beanie. The headpiece has since become a staple and essential from the brand, being produced in all sorts of colours and having been spotted on the likes of Rihanna to Harry Styles.
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