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Must Read: Without Losing Its Heritage, Filson Finds The Cool Crowd

February 17, 2016

It’s always fascinating to watch a traditional retail brand reinvent itself, while remaining true to is heritage. Filson is doing this beautifully. 
The 120-year-old Seattle outdoor clothing and luggage maker has gone from simply stalwart to somewhat sexy in the hands of its new owners, Dallas-based private equity firm Bedrock Manufacturing. 
The brand—the faithful go-to for hunters, ranchers and fishermen—is fine-tuning its collections and expanding its customer base to include a new generation of cultural players, drawn to the retail brand’s authenticity.
In an insightful piece in The Seattle Times, writer Hugo Kugiya explores “the company’s attempt to gently toe that fine line between honoring its history and the need to adapt to the marketplace.”
He talks about how the new tastemakers, from designers to indie-band members, are drawn to the Filson brand: “As they have embraced hog butchery, single-gear bicycles, backyard chicken coops, Mumford & Sons, and Appalachian beards, so have they embraced brands like Filson that trade on a sense of shared heritage. This is a demographic that covets Filson garments the way they might value raw, selvedge denim jeans, another early 20th-century product recently rediscovered.”
Bedrock is well aware of the appeal and fueling the fire with simple updates to its collections, including a more modern cut for its popular cruiser jacket. Dubbed the “Seattle” it sells alongside the traditional “Alaska fit” (so as not to alienate the retailer’s loyal customer base). 
Bedrock is good at this. It also owns Detroit-based Shinola, which we wrote about earlier this fall, and seems to really understand how to take a brand’s history and make it a huge asset.
Like Shinola, Filson has a great “Amercian-dream” backstory with its strong working-class roots in the Seattle area. Former train conductor Clinton Filson opened his retail outpost in 1891. He went on to patented the iconic cruiser jacket in 1914 and today the company sells everything from long underwear to a vast assortment of quality leather bags for men and women—bags can cost up to $900, but are guaranteed for life. 
In a world of fast fashion, Filson is proving itself an heirloom brand with staying power. I look forward to watching how the brand takes advantage of this moment in its long history and I encourage you to read The Seattle Times piece: “Without losing its heritage, Filson finds the cool crowd.”
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