There was a time when Dickies was, at least to some, a little dorky. Since its 1922 founding in Texas by E.E. “Colonel” Dickie, the heavy-duty, no-nonsense workwear brand was what you bought if you happened to be a custodian—but not if you were, say, an artisan with a studio in Los Angeles.
That changed a few years ago. Along with brands such as Carhartt, Filson and L.C. King, Dickies entered a renaissance period as a new generation of consumers outside its traditional demographic discovered the label. That included skateboard kids, who appreciated the strong seams, roomy construction and lack of pretense.
But the real status boost came from craftspeople. When the maker movement got going around 2007 or so, it spurred a renewed appreciation for American-made goods created by the hands of skilled tradesmen—and the profile of workwear rose in tandem.
This was the basis of last year’s Dickie’s “Yours to Make” campaign, which showcased creators ranging from a saddler to a custom motorcycle builder and was “all about showcasing the pride and dignity of workers and makers,” brand president Denny Bruce said in a statement last October.
Now, Dickies is out with a new campaign called “United by Inspiration, United by Dickies.” In terms of content, it plays a variation on the same theme, showcasing talented people such as London-based metalworking artist Favour Johnson and German designer and woodworker Johannes Rathmann “who love what they do and take pride in their work,” according to the company.
But there there are two key differences this time, and neither is overt in the videos. The first is that “United by Inspiration” is a global effort (Dickies’ first) that mainly features makers and craftspeople outside the U.S., like U.K. barber Klipper Kem and David Madero, a metal sculptor in Mexico.
The second, alas, is the coronavirus.
“We felt like this was a good opportunity to reinforce the message of the campaign with some additional production featuring a broader, more diverse set of makers,” Dickies vp of global marketing Kathy Hines told Adweek. “This afforded us a new opportunity that we took full advantage of, showcasing our makers in a world where social distancing has become the norm and inspiration is shared in a variety of ways.”
Because sending a film crew to homes and workshops was out, Dickies and creative shop Sid Lee asked them to film themselves using Zoom video and other recording technology, doing all of the framing and editing on their own. The resulting takes have a more rough-hewn feel, but also a more of a frank and open one. Unlike the 30-second spots of 2019, these takes are fast—only 6 or 15 seconds. There’s no slickness here; just skilled people doing what they do.
“Our goal was to capture makers in an authentic way, in their studios around the world doing the work,” Sid Lee executive creative director Mariota Essery said in a statement. “We wanted the storytelling to reflect how they’re working in this moment.”
In the short takes, Dickies’ makers are also all wearing the brand’s Eisenhower Jacket, a trim-fitting, waist-length jacket modeled on the field uniform that Supreme Allied Commander (and later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower favored during World War II. It’s a longtime staple of the Dickies line, and retails for about $50.
Dickies’ homespun Texas image notwithstanding, it’s part of apparel colossus VF Corporation—owner of The North Face, Vans and Timberland—which bought the brand in 2017 for $820 million. For the quarter ended June 27, VF reported a 48% drop in revenue to $1.1 billion, though the revenue dip for Dickies was a far more modest 16%. The pandemic period has hit the apparel industry hard, with sales sliding by 34% between March and July of this year.