Filson, the 124-year-old Seattle-based maker of high-end outdoor workwear and other gear, has laid off dozens of local factory workers but rejected speculation that it planned to end manufacturing in Washington next year.
Fifty-six Seattle-area workers, including 38 union manufacturing employees at Filson’s new Kent facility, were laid off in July, a spokesperson for Filson’s parent company confirmed Monday.
Filson didn’t offer any explanation for July’s cuts, which also included employees in customer service, repairs and returns.
A spokesperson for Texas-based Bedrock Manufacturing, which owns Filson, categorically rejected speculation from last week that the company planned to cease production in Washington in the summer of 2022.
“While Filson made the difficult decision to reduce positions in our Seattle and Kent manufacturing facilities in recent weeks, Filson remains committed to manufacturing our core heritage styles in our Washington facilities, just as we have for decades,” Paolo Corinaldesi, Filson CEO, said in an emailed statement Monday.
Corinaldesi said the Filson workforce today was “close to 300,” but neither he nor a company spokesperson indicated how many of those workers were in Seattle or what percentage were engaged in manufacturing.
As recently as 2015, Filson had 493 workers, with 369 located in Seattle, according to a 2015 report in The Seattle Times. At that time, the company manufactured 90% of its products in the United States, with much of the production run at two workshops in the Seattle neighborhood of Sodo.
An employee at the Filson retail store on First Avenue South, where shoppers can watch products being sewn on a production line, said 10 to 20 sewers still worked there on any given day.
Last month’s layoffs come roughly a year after Filson opened the Kent facility to house some production originally run at a location at Fourth Avenue South in Seattle.
Filson was founded in 1897 during the Alaska gold rush and gained a reputation for high-quality apparel for prospectors, cowboys, loggers and other outdoor workers.
More recently, it gained a reputation for pricy goods geared toward customers who “don’t bat an eye at paying $130 for a wool shirt; $219 for a sweater, $22 for a pair of socks,” as the Times put it in 2005.
But the company has also struggled to expand its customer base. And, like all American apparel-makers, it has faced an increasingly challenging business environment and constant pressures to move production to cheaper locations.
Between 2001 and 2020, the number of apparel manufacturing jobs in Washington fell from 3,086 to 1,418, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly three-quarters of the remaining jobs are in King County.
Although Corinaldesi affirmed Filson’s commitment to maintaining production in Washington, his statement also suggested that the company routinely evaluate some of its production arrangements.
“Filson has spent years finding the best partners to scale production based on the popularity and growth of its core heritage styles and the brand will continue to assess this in order to uphold its longstanding commitment to quality and providing consumers with unfailing goods since 1897,” Corinaldesi said.