OLD GROWTH

Filson replants the flag with its new Seattle flagship.

Hiding in plain sight, embedded in the expansive spread of Century Link Field and Safeco Park in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood (I had to look it up too. It used to mean south of the Kingdome, now it means south of downtown) the plain and industrial Filson building stands proudly with simple green lettering. Up until recently, the 4th Ave South location has been the company’s humble outpost in Seattle for decades, housing both its production and company store. 

It’s good to be Filson as of late. With the continued surge in consumer interest in American Made and the public’s ever-rising appetite for high quality bags and goods, the storied outfitter of Americana has doubled down on its promise to make as much product in the United States as possible. And it’s been happening with an expanded product line (Shinola-produced watches, waterproof bags, rain gear, down jackets and vests) as well as with a more flattering, slimmer (Seattle) fit for many of its lifestyle pieces. With this growth in product, Filson (who’s also a Paul + Williams client) has expanded its footprint in SoDo as well. Recently it purchased another building a few blocks away from the 4th Street location at 1741 First Avenue South to house its in-house creative and design teams and to further expand the brand’s Made In The U.S.A. manufacturing capabilities. First Avenue is also where, this week, Filson is opening a new flagship store – a 6,400 square foot retail space that is the physical embodiment of what the brand has been getting at for almost 120 years – handmade quality.

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Last month we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the new space from Filson’s Creative Director Alex Carleton. He went through the new space explaining, in detail, the sourcing and provenance of every fixture, piece of hardware and building material. Like everything the brand has a hand in, no stone has been left unturned. (Look no further than the historically accurate woodburning fireplace). More than a facade or approximation of the real thing, Filson (under Carleton’s direction) has sought out to make history. Their inspiration didn’t come from Filson’s contemporaries or competitors, but instead it looked back at WPA building projects like Mt. Hood’s iconic Timberline Lodge. The walls are covered with original black and white photographic prints from brothers Edward and Asahel Curtis, the rafters are littered with yukon antiques and industrial curiosities and the store boasts more Filson products than any other store in the country. Additionally, you can see bags and goods being made in the adjacent factory, Filson’s Restoration Department (FRD) will also be doing custom repair work on-site. There’s even a hand carved totem from Orcas Island artist Aleph Geddis towering above the front entrance.

Too much off a good thing? Not in my opinion. While I can take or leave some of the new product offerings, (not so sure about the motorbike related offerings I caught in a recent catalog ) the core line of Made in Seattle bags, jackets and shirts rooted in hunting, ranching, fieldwork and the outdoors remains worthy of admiration and appreciation. It’s even more impressive to see them all housed in a store built with as much (or more) foresight and attention to detail as their products. At 118 years old, they’ve more than earned the right to set-up shop in such a beautiful and lasting space.     

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Comments on “OLD GROWTH

    Dan Lilieon November 28, 2015 @ 11:14 AM:

    Filson has had a long and strange trip over the past twenty five years since I discovered the company. Hedge fund/private capital has driven the company into marketing overdrive and-as noted–strange product and design decisions. Sadly, the archival/USA/indigenous branding is overrated once you probe the catalogue. Most of the work shirts are foreign-made which is shocking considering the plethora of outstanding US-manufactured shirting available from much smaller and newer heritage brands. The entire line of Shinola watches are quartz–anathema to anyone who is serious about watches, and essentially the entire Shinola line is another specious American branding riff, the company being a legacy of another mega-fake heritage brand Fossil (Shinola does seem to have created jobs in Detroit and some of its products are quite nice, but without developing its own identity and creating mechanical watches, there is no really intriguing watch story here; see what Ralph Lauren had done with his watches for comparison.) The new flagship does look nice, and kudos on slimming some of the classic pieces, but there is still a lack of adaptation to street wear, and far too much stylistic repetition across the range. Cabourn and numerous Japanese companies manage to blend timeless design, superb material and workmanship, and innovate just enough to keep things interesting. With Filson, there seems to be a culture of producing increasing variations on a theme, many of which depart from the company’s core principle of made in Seattle, and shouting louder about how it is the original heritage brand.

    Michael Williamson November 28, 2015 @ 1:59 PM:

    @Dan The RL watch program got killed this year. Not sure you want to use that as a comparison. Sounds like you don’t really know though. Not sure Cabourn is an appropriate comparison either when you consider the average price point. I know Filson is hiring sewers in Seattle as fast as they can. And they seem to want to make everything in the U.S. if they can — which is why they opened this new factory on 1st ave, and the other new factory in Idaho making down apparel. But you were right about the first thing you said about it being a long and strange trip. As someone who has followed the company closely for the past 10 years, I haven’t seen it in anywhere near as good of shape as it is now. If a company wants to do well, why not turn on the marketing. What’s the alternative? Being a sleeping American brand that know one knows about that ultimately goes out of business?

    Matthew Pike (@mat_buckets)on November 29, 2015 @ 1:38 PM:

    That’s quite a sizeable looking store, they do seem to be ramping it up. Accounts are everywhere in the UK, which is a testiment to us wanting well made stuff, be that from the US or UK. Enjoying the new site design, Michael.

    Buckets & Spades

    JFPisaon November 30, 2015 @ 12:32 PM:

    @Dan Agree with you sentiments 100%. Filson is a shell of it’s former self that has sold it’s soul to the mainstream. Not as egregiously as Abercrombie but in a similar vein.

    Globaliston November 30, 2015 @ 10:44 PM:

    My first experience with Filson was in 2006 when I discovered their briefcases and drove up from Portland to Seattle one Saturday morning to pick one up. Still use it. I was impressed they made them in their Seattle store and felt it was value for money. (Turns out my father wore Filson when he worked for the Forest Service in Oregon and California in the fifties.) Now it’s just another hip brand popular with urban poseurs who buy the look but never live the experience. In five years they’ll be lumped together with LL Bean, Timberland, Eddie Bauer and all the rest who ultimately sell out the brand to appease the investors.

    Brook Shepardon December 1, 2015 @ 8:09 AM:

    Good lord, such negativity.

    They make nice bags in the U.S. Their product lasts, and is uniquely American.

    That’s a good-enough story on its own.

    Globaliston December 1, 2015 @ 9:58 PM:

    I don’t see the comments as being “negative” per se, more a reflection of a growing cynicism and frustration about certain brands (Filson among many) selling out their heritage to market pricy products on to clueless consumers more interested in image over substance. I know everyone does it, but when I see legions of urban poseurs parading around in their Filson gear and poofed up hair pretending to be “outdoorsmen” – yet knowing full well these boys couldn’t change a tire, read a map or or use a compass – I get ticked off.

    JDeanon December 9, 2015 @ 2:13 PM:

    There is some good and bad with this evolution from Filson. First, Alex Carleton, Filson’s new Creative Director, is from the ranks of Abercrombie and tried the LL Bean re-branding with “Signature” so kudos to those who found the similarities. Filson does make some great product, and the do so in the US. They also do make product oversees (China), and I’ve heard stories from good sources about “relabeling” goods (mainly shirts) in their US factory. Their bags are still pretty great and their oil cloth, heavy oz cotton twill, and Mackinaw Wool are outstanding materials. On the other hand this is a perfect example of a sell-out story and probably what will be an ultimate demise if the brand per for-mentioned 5 year timeline, I wouldn’t be surprised. When you alienate your core customer to chase a trend driven market it never results in longevity. The actual physical space of this new store is enough evidence necessary; Completely contrived lumber-sexual vomit. It’s “curated” (cue eye role) like a Disney Store for the Urban Woodsman (which means you chop wood inside your 600 sq ft apartment?). You couldn’t find more fur throws on wool blankets on pillows, on a restoration hardware sofa with paddles, axes, animal heads, etc packed into one space. It’s so overloaded with the 101 buyers guide for the chic lodge multiplied tenfold, it’s nauseating. The old Filson space on 4th was much better and will be widely missed by the NW locals that actually use their products. Furthermore, it’s packed (4+ sales to 1 customer) with hipster salespeople that don’t even know the product they are selling; when I went in I was given 2 out of 2 pieces of incorrect information on the basics of their product; sizing and material. Also, this is not a new factory, it’s revamped from the old headquarters that has been there for years, which they have always had as one of two production locations in Seattle. They just built this horrific display into it. It’s okay to disagree with what a brand does on some fronts (especially when you care about preserving heritage) and appreciate other factors, that’s called an developed thought, novel but true.

    Bradon December 11, 2015 @ 1:11 PM:

    Some interesting comments for sure – personally I work in Seattle just miles from the new and old store. I have $1000s in their products. I don’t care if you have “followed” the company for ten years or not.. there is a “evolve or die” mentality right now There is truth in the quality of their American made products – versus the stuff made overseas, in Portugal per se (typically great shirt makers) but the moleskin shirts, case in point, are cheap now (for $200!!) they put less money and less attention into sizing and design but kept all the price points the same to not wash out the cache toward items that aren’t their core offering – mackinaw or luggage products will always stand up to anything.. Forever. They will replace it of not!

    More if not most importantly pertinent as it concerns this specific post – the new store. It’s quite pretty BUT There was maybe ONE staff member from the other store that remains on the floor that is Amanda.. Who knows her shit. but now the rest of the staff is millennial hipsters- skinny jeans and red wings. Point is they completely emasculated the old store- and have made it very clear their new customer is the “Great Indoorsman” millennial software developer. All the way down to the awkward cuts of products.

    Don’t get me wrong I respect their need to evolve but even the blank stare from one of the guys I knew from prior iteration gave me a pretty obvious “don’t even get me started ” look. It’s now a Nordstrom portfolio company.

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