Caterpillar, the world’s largest construction equipment-maker, is pushing further into work-inspired streetwear.
The company has annual sales of $53 billion and a history that dates to 1904. And while it may be best known for its backhoes and bulldozers, it also has a large international apparel and footwear business that spans a variety of categories, from workwear to streetwear.
Since 2006, that apparel business has been handled by Bozeman, Mont.-based Summit Resource International, which holds the global license for Caterpillar men’s and women’s apparel and accessories and retail operations. Summit was founded in 1991 as a private label manufacturer and is operated today by Sean Gallinger, president, whose prior business background included Triad Sportswear. Centric is the distributor of the brand and works with Summit on the creation of the line.
Cat Workwear, which sells durable work pants, insulated vests and parkas, hoodies, T-shirts and caps, is a natural brand extension. But in 2019, right before the pandemic, the company expanded into more fashion apparel under the WWR moniker — Workwear Redefined. Marketed as a mix of “original American workwear” and the “most updated fashion trends,” WWR launched in Europe and made its debut in the U.S. at the end of last year.
It is sold at Saks Fifth Avenue as well as on its own e-commerce site and will be added at Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters and specialty stores for spring. The goal, Gallinger said, is to expand its specialty distribution and it will be shown at the upcoming Project show in Las Vegas later this month.
Cat’s move into the fashion arena was not surprising. The handwriting was on the wall as early as 2019 when the brand partnered with John Elliott followed by last year’s collaboration with buzzy designer Heron Preston to create a collection under the workwear division that was graphic and street-inspired. “Those were great ignitors and shows we can play in the space,” Gallinger said.
And the fact that competitors such as Carhartt and Dickies also had more-fashion-oriented divisions made the launch of WWR inevitable.
“We want to extend the brand beyond the classic definition of workwear,” he continued. “There’s a roadmap of other brands who have done what we’re doing and we have grand ambitions to be the dominant global workwear brand.”
The Cat apparel business is already big, with sales expected to hit $550 million at retail this year, Gallinger said. Sixty percent of sales come from international markets with the U.S. accounting for the remainder. It operates in more than 110 countries and by the end of this year, will have 180 Cat monobrand stores around the world including Central and South America, China, the Middle East and Australia. Its mission is to “build and protect the brand for the on- and off-site customer,” Gallinger said. “We’re true stewards of the brand and will do everything to protect and extend it.”
Cat’s core collection of workwear still accounts for 60 percent of the business, and that side of the line has been updated to incorporate more technical fabrics and properties. ”We’re redefining what work on a job site can be,” he said. “The classic definition of workwear is rugged, durable and tough, but the consumer also wants to be comfortable and look fashionable.”
But it’s the lifestyle component of the line that is taking center stage now. Within WWR, there is a foundational line that offers embroidered T-shirts that retail for around $55 to $65 as well as sweats, cargo utility shorts, popovers, quarter-zips, carpenter jeans and twill jackets. Fits are oversize and the design is a “nod to work-inspired streetwear.”
Then, there are the more fashion-forward elements, such as paint-splattered jackets, short-sleeve wovens, camo vests, cargo pants in nylon and chore coats, graphic bombers and hoodies sporting the brand’s Danny Diesel logo, and dip-dyed shirts.
Cat’s most recent collaboration is with content creator and ’90s fashion enthusiast Jordan Page, and his Colour Plus Company. It’s called Caterpillar x Colour Plus Co. Page, who has also worked with Supreme and launched his own label right as the pandemic hit, strives to offer his differentiated take on the “modern uniform,” by infusing Cat pieces such as wide-wale corduroys, overdyed denim, sherpa fleece and shirt-jackets with color and distinct detailing. The collection will be sold at Atmos this holiday season.
Page said the partnership with Cat is especially significant to him because his family was blue collar and wore a lot of Caterpillar and other workwear brands and the collaboration is “my interpretation of that.”
Gallinger has high hopes for the Page collaboration as well as for the expansion of the WWR line. But at this point, there are no immediate plans to open stores in the U.S. “The best way to get to the market is through the wholesale channel,” Gallinger said. “Opening a retail store is probably five years out.”