Photos by Matthew Sumi
Filson began 118 years ago in Seattle and the brand never intended to appeal to anyone but hunters, fishers and outdoorsmen. But sometimes you can’t control who’s into you, you know?
Now that it’s cool for urban and suburban men to dress like they’re chopping logs in the woods, it’s boom time for Filson. And the brand’s expansive, newly remodeled showroom and manufacturing facility just south of downtown Seattle speak to that prosperity.
Photographer Matthew Sumi snapped the action at the grand re-opening party for the Filson facilities. And Filson’s creative director Alex Carleton spoke to us about talk about stewarding the brand, favorite hikes and the importance of being earnest.
See images below interspersed with the interview.
Nordstrom blogs: I understand you just left a meeting where you reviewed Filson products for spring 2017. What were you looking at?
Basically the spring ‘17 line, looking at styles, what’s developing in men’s and women’s. You go through these products many times before you get into production mode. This was a check-in to validate styles, shapes, reviewing trends and finalizing color. I was looking at a combination of sketches–made by our product development and design team–and a number of first prototypes. We were looking at pocket shapes, placket lengths and widths. So far there’s a lot of emphasis on developing lighter weight outerwear styes for spring. We’re expanding our assortment of shoulder pieces, things like woven shirts and tops. Growing our lexicon around color, print, pattern. Introducing a couple new performance shirts for men, for fishing. And looking at a whole slew of updated bags, accessories and leather goods. It’s 25% newness coming in spring 2017. This year we’re seeing new styles tracking really well. People are excited about Filson, our brand and our products. We’re thinking about how to innovate and bring newness. The next step is for the prototypes to be field tested. We’ll give them to hunters and fishermen and they’ll come back to us with comments. We’re using new fabrics which are based on the integrity of our core fabrics, but creating lighter weight is something that’s really important to us.
What’s driving the initiative to make things lighter? Customer feedback?
It’s customer feedback. For 118 years we’ve built our brand on heavyweight products. There’s a lot of love for the brand and for that heaviness, but we need to make sure we’re bringing that same integrity from our wool Mackinaw coats, and our heavy tin cloth coats, and our rugged twill bags into innovative pieces which are well-suited to a variety of climates and uses. It’s a natural part of our evolution.
What are you proudest of during your tenure at Filson so far?
One of the thing that’s exciting for me coming into Filson is helping to rally and instill a sense of being Filson-centric. Within the brand. Making sure that we stay focused on who we are as a company, making sure that we’re connected to the three pillars of our brand: a connection to manufacturing; stay connected to our history; and stay connected to the wild. It’s those three things which are important for me to steward the brand and continue tracking in the right direction. I see myself as a guardian of this company with an incredible history of manufacturing here in Seattle and an incredible connection to the outdoors and the wilderness. It’s easy to get off track, but to the best of my ability I want to make sure we stay committed to the Filson brand.
What are some of the ways it would be easy to get off track? What pitfalls are you trying to avoid?
I look at it like competitive sports. Let’s say you’re swimming. If you’re focused on the other guy’s stroke, you’re going to lose sight of your own form and your own goals. So I want us to be very focused on our narrative, our sense of quality and our ethos, which we should be protective of. We don’t obsess over the competition. We don’t do trend reports. We don’t do a lot of market shopping. We have a unique quality where we stay focused on our own game. That helps make us distinctive and maintains our identity. It’s about developing within the framework of Filson.
What kind of outdoors stuff do you do personally? Is that part of who you are, or is it more something you have an affinity for?
Every other weekend in the Pacific Northwest, I’m out there. One of the amazing things about this place is the resources which surround us. I love being outdoors and that’s where I get a lot of my quality thinking done. There’s nothing better than having a weekend where I can climb on the Olympic Peninsula, or hike on the ridgeline of Mount Townsend in the Olympic Mountains. Or hike in the Mount Baker wilderness. I love to hike. I love to get outside. I love to be by the water. I support anyone who wants to actively engage with the outdoors. Whether that be responsible hunting, responsible fishing, responsible recreation.
At the remodel unveiling, I spoke to fans of the brand who’d flown in from other states, including a master hunter from Montana. Why do you think Filson has that cult following?
I’ve heard people say we have a cult-like status, and I think a lot of that comes from not being afraid to stay focused and stay committed to who we are. There’s a heck of a lot of integrity that goes into the work we do, and people resonate with that. We’re connected to 118 years of manufacturing things in Seattle, we have a lifetime guarantee, and the whole team here is a group of humble, hardworking people. We keep our heads down and do good work. People respect that. Filson’s not a boastful brand. We tend not to talk about the good stuff we do, we tend just to do it. In a day an age when there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, and people talking more than doing, Filson is the opposite. It’s a no-nonsense company and that attracts loyalty. We have a dedicated group of customers and we are committed to delivering the best we can to them. Customer service is something we really prioritize, and that’s something you [at Nordstrom] know about too. That’s why I think there’s a lot of synergy between us, as brands. It’s an important thing and people acknowledge it when you take them seriously. And when they know you’re earnest. There’s an incredible work ethic here and it all filters down to the customer level.