Q&A   //   February 22, 2023

Carhartt’s new grant program aims to bring more women into construction

Carhartt is dedicating its newest grant program to community-based nonprofits that work to increase the representation of women in the skilled trades.

While the number of women in the sector is edging higher, women make up just 11% of the construction workforce in the U.S., according to government data.

This is the second iteration of Carhartt’s “For The Love of Labor” grant program, which it launched last August to support organizations working to educate, train and place workers in skilled trade jobs. Carhartt, which is based in Dearborn, Michigan, offered its first round of grants totaling $175,000 to four Michigan-based organizations. This winter, Carhartt expanded the program nationwide. More than 200 organizations submitted an application by last week’s deadline, according to the company.

Past recipients have gone on to join Carhartt’s “Friends of Carhartt” program, which showcases real workers on social media and on the web. Some have also joined the “Carhartt Crew” program, which harnesses a network of hundreds of participants to test products and give feedback. This can apply to specific categories, like women’s wear, or specific industries.

Carhartt will announce the latest grant winners sometime around March 8, International Women’s Day, and will feature the organizations in their media campaigns, President and COO Linda Hubbard told Modern Retail. It’s a marketing strategy the company has always followed, she explained. “We don’t have models. We don’t stage our media shoots. It’s really about identifying people doing unique jobs and wearing Carhartt to do it,” Hubbard said. She spoke with Modern Retail to share more about the program and her goals for Carhartt’s growing women’s business — which, she said, is one of its faster-growing segments.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the inspiration for this grant program?
Our mission at Carhartt — that’s been our mission for a very long time — is, we build rugged products to serve and protect all hardworking people… Part of that serving is to make sure that they have an opportunity to live a really fulfilling life and have great job opportunities. So over the years, we’ve really leaned into advocating to improve opportunities for skilled trades.

Right now, in our country, we already see that tight job market that’s on the news every single night. They still say it’s difficult to find people, but in skilled trades, we all know it’s even more difficult. And there’s just so many openings. We wanted to really highlight that and be able to try to find some like-minded organizations that can really help us together try to fill that pipeline and create more opportunities.

The types of jobs for skilled tradespeople are changing. You think about different industries that have started up around solar or wind or maybe non-traditional kinds of construction activity. But it’s not just the jobs that are changing, it’s the whole workforce, right? How do we identify people that maybe haven’t been the majority of that workforce, but could really use these good paying jobs to really create the lifestyle that they want for themselves and their families?

Women, obviously, are a big part of our population as a country, and we know that [they’re] underrepresented in some of the skilled trades. In construction, it’s been growing, but not significantly. It’s gone from 9.3% [in 2002] to 11% [in 2020] in the construction industry… So that’s still a very small percentage. And we just wanted to continue to show women that there is this opportunity in jobs they might not have considered before.

What are you looking for when deciding who to give the grants to?
We’re looking for people, for organizations that are going to help eliminate the roadblocks, particularly with respect to getting women into the skilled trades workforce… And we’re looking for people that are advocating for family-sustaining wages, understanding that in many cases, women are the primary breadwinner for their families.

Are there certain things that Carhartt is doing to encourage representation beyond the grant program?
We continue to feature… people doing hard work. We work really hard to create that inclusivity and show people doing it. So, as we do media shoots for different seasons, we look to show diversity of folks that are doing that work… Part of what we want is for people to see Carhartt and go, that’s a brand for people like me, no matter who they are. And so we do try to feature visually a representative sample of all hardworking people. That’s why we have that word “all” in our mission statement.

Could you speak to the growth of the women’s business within Carhartt? How has that grown, and what are your goals for that?
We’re a private company, so I won’t be able to share revenue dollars with you. But we’ve definitely seen the women’s business grow, and… when we’ve built women’s products, it really has been about supporting women who work and understanding that the definition of work has broadened in the kinds of things that people are doing.

Everything that we make at Carhartt is work-worthy, and that includes everything in our women’s line. So the durability, the quality, the functionality, the fit, the comfort — we think about somebody working in those clothes when we’re building it, and that’s the same attributes that we build to, whether it’s men’s products or women’s products.

What’s the breakdown between men’s sales and women’s sales? Is there a big difference there?
We’re 134 years old, and most of those years, we were only selling men’s product. Our women’s line, we really launched in 1998, so it is a smaller portion of our business, but a faster-growing portion… We really are continuing to invest and highlight it and message it and create more awareness around it.

We’ve always had a lot of women that have bought our product. And sometimes they bought men’s products for themselves before we started a women’s line, and sometimes they bought product for men in their lives… So the brand is well known to women. And I think that they are excited to see that we’re now offering product for them as well.