Prior to B.A.S.S. and Carhartt signing a sponsorship deal in 2012, I owned exactly one piece of Carhartt clothing. Now I own several dozen, quite a few given to me when working at Bassmaster events, but plenty purchased with my own cash. That includes shirts, jackets, pants and even shoes. My wife Hanna has gotten in on the act, too. In fact, when we were driving to Lake St. Clair last year and she spotted the company’s flagship store on the side of the highway, she made me pull across 12 lanes of rush hour traffic to stop and shop. She bought more than I did.
In the seven years since the B.A.S.S./Carhartt deal was inked, I’ve noticed a lot more people wearing their clothing. I see it in many of the places you’d expect it, along with many scenes in which you might not. Yes, urban hipsters are as likely to rock the Carhartt shield as blue collar tradesmen these days, but I see teeny boppers, white collar workers, and members of every possible ethnic group wearing it, too.
Part of my increased awareness is no doubt due to the fact that I appreciate Carhartt’s support of fishing, but if you look a little deeper, you can see that fishing is only one small part of their marketing push. They have a series of WIP (“Work in Progress”) clothing that is made with the same attention to quality, but with a more street-smart style, and it’s sold in stores like Barney’s, Nordstrom, skate shops both foreign and domestic, and a flagship store in New York City’s Soho neighborhood. Go to the main Carhartt website and you’ll see that they’ve partnered with companies whose heritage is much different than their own, like Hurley, Converse and Nike.
The bottom line is that if you make good clothing, fishermen and skateboarders and mountain climbers and construction workers and ranchers are all going to find a way to utilize it. Same thing with good vehicles and good cheeseburgers and good luggage — they’re not specific to any one industry. That’s what the folks at Carhartt have figured out — fishermen alone are never going to take over their brand, but we have enough juice and enough dollars to move the needle. Combine us with some others who move different needles, and that’s a lot of weight behind the brand.
Of course, Carhartt approached our sector wisely. They not only got behind the pros, but they also took “ownership” of the college ranks. It didn’t hurt that a kid named Jordan Lee won consecutive Classics while wearing their clothing.
We are still a small sport, with a small footprint — but with that comes a relatively small cost of entry, and a huge potential return. Carhartt realized that, and if my anecdotal observations carry any weight, they made it pay for them. For any fishing league or organization looking to capture the attention of a major non-endemic, this is the case study that they should cite. We’re not the entire answer, but we can be a part of it.