A bigger Seattle flagship store is one key to the old-school outdoor clothing company’s growth strategy as it aspires to dress an entire generation of creative urban types who hanker for U.S.-made authenticity and “lumbersexual” chic.
Filson, founded by a former railroad conductor in 1897, got its start dressing adventurers on their way to the Klondike Gold Rush and later outfitted cowboys, loggers and other hardworking types with durable, albeit expensive, outerwear.
Now the Seattle company is expanding as it aspires to dress an entire generation of creative urban types who hanker for U.S.-made authenticity and “lumbersexual” chic.
A key part of the effort is a new flagship store on First Avenue South in Sodo, scheduled to open Tuesday, that kicks off a big retail push as Filson increases its retail locations from six to about 10 by the end of next year.
Among the new locations will be its first San Francisco store and a second London outlet.
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The 6,500-square-foot Seattle store, upstairs from where Filson makes bags and leatherwear, replaces a smaller, less visible location nearby.The new store is rich in salvaged wood, ironwork and art from local craftsmen. When shoppers enter, they’ll see Filson workers stitching leather bags.
The idea is to imagine “a book of Jack London stories and materialize that spirit,” Alex Carleton, Filson’s creative director, said in an interview. Its design will inform future retail locations and help better outline the brand in the eyes of shoppers, he said.
The retail expansion by Filson — which for the better part of its history has relied on catalogs to spread its gospel — comes three years after the company was acquired by Dallas-based Bedrock Manufacturing, a private investment firm, for an undisclosed amount.
Already this year, Filson has almost doubled the capacity of its manufacturing operations, which are also centered in Sodo. The company, which doesn’t disclose its revenues, also launched its first national advertising campaign, with documentary-style ads in National Geographic Magazine, Esquire and other publications.
“It’s the first time we feel confident putting our name out there,” Carleton said.
Filson’s new emphasis on brick-and-mortar retail reflects how retailers, even as they increasingly sell their wares online, have realized that stores are valuable advertising tools, too. Online sellers from Bonobos to Blue Nile are opening retail locations across the country.
Even outdoor emporium L.L. Bean, historically a catalog retailer, is on a store-opening bender, planning to triple its locations in the next five years.
Filson has long been a hit with those who do a lot of work outdoors because of its durability, said Carleton. Many ranchers and hunters shunned polar fleece “because it’ll melt by a campfire,” unlike the Mackinaw wool used in some of Filson’s storied winter jackets, he said.
More recently the brand has drawn in hipsters who like its rugged fabrics and early 20th-century looks. The website Gear Junkie defined the ‘lumbersexual’ look as the guy who “is barhopping, but he looks like he could fell a Norway pine.”
Carleton, a one-time L.L. Bean designer who joined Filson more than a year ago, is in charge of making the brand appropriate for a cube farm as well as the campfire, while keeping its core intact.
He said Filson is sticking with its traditional materials — oil cloth fabric, Mackinaw cloth — as well as “iconic trims and fasteners” and a long-standing color palette, while evolving its designs. An example is its storied cruiser jacket, a nine-pocket garment patented in the first year of World War I.
In fall 2013, Filson launched a slimmer fit it dubs “Seattle,” and it rebaptized the burlier original “Alaska.”
About 90 percent of what Filson sells is made in the United States, the company says. Much of the work takes place in Washington state, where its factories (including two workshops in Sodo) employ 268 workers. In Post Falls, Idaho, the company employs some 70 people.
In total, Filson employs 493, of whom 369 are based in Seattle.
In addition to Seattle, Filson has stores in Portland, Minneapolis, New York and London. It also operates two outlets, in Burlington, Skagit County, and in Eagan, Minn.