How Yesterday's Blue-Collar Brands Became Today's Coolest Clothes

Dickies and Carhartt move from factory floor to millennial closet

Just a few years back, the L.C. King Manufacturing Co., founded in 1913 and the oldest family-owned cut-and-sew garment factory in the U.S., was nearly extinct. Inside the company's weathered brick factory in Bristol, Tenn., orders for workwear staples like overalls, chore coats and dungarees had slowed to a trickle. Sewing machines sat idle, a workforce of 130 having shrunk to eight. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which lifted tariffs on cheap clothing from Mexico, was in part responsible for emptying the place out, but so was another major development: The core customers who'd kept L.C. King's famous Pointer brand vigorous for generations—factory workers, construction workers and farmers—were disappearing.