Filson’s president, Gray Madden, discusses the US brand’s 120-year history and explains why he’s more focused on style than fashion trends
There are not many brands over 100 years old that have kept true to their identity and heritage, while maintaining and extending a loyal customer fanbase. Seattle-based label Filson, however, is one such brand, and in 2017 it will celebrate its 120th year in business.
“We have this heritage and history built around a sense of adventure and outdoor spirit that really carries all the way through to today,” says Gray Madden, the president of Filson. “We still have consumers who are loggers, miners and timber men, but obviously now we are more of a fashionable brand, so it all goes back to that idea of outdoor history.”
It could be said that the last five years have been the most exciting in Filson’s history. The brand has made serious headway in establishing itself on a global scale, propelling itself to the forefront of American ‘heritage’ brands that focus on quality and craftsmanship, and doggedly refuse to chase trends.
Filson’s newest London store opened in late 2015 on Newburgh Street, Soho – a stone’s throw away from its first site in the capital, which opened in 2013. Having the two shops opposite each other seems like a unusual strategy and one that not many brands have tried before. But it would seem enthusiasm for the location, rather than economics or commercial thinking, drove the move.
“Filson loves this area. We love this street and there are a lot of other great, like-minded brands around us that our customers really identify with,” Madden explains. One of the brands Madden is referring to, Shinola, became a sister company with Filson when it was acquired by Bedrock Manufacturing Co. in 2012. It signalled the start of an aggressive but measured push of Filson’s ambitions: European expansion while upholding the brand’s ideals.
Being over 100 years old, Madden views Filson as an ageing house that needed attention. “You can either start with a clean slate and build it from the ground up, or you buy an old home with great bones, great architecture… but maybe there’s some bad wiring or the plumbing needs work,” he says. “Filson has been asleep for the majority of its life, with no investment of money, time or energy, until now – it’s been a sort of restoration project.”
When discussing how vital it is for Filson to stick to its design heritage, Madden brings up the ‘Short Cruiser’ jacket that he is wearing, originally produced over a century ago. Filson has stuck to the principles embodied by this jacket and went on to both innovate and improve its templates with better fabrics and materials. Following the appointment of creative director Alex Carleton, this has become a growing area for Filson over the past 18 months.
“Alex is a really interesting guy in that he has a great history with both Ralph Lauren and his own brand… He’s from the design industry but doesn’t think ‘fashionable’,” Madden says. “One of the things that Alex and his team are helping with is the fact that we have been an apparel brand and now a bag brand for 25 years. The apparel that we make is mostly coats, so it’s easy to see that there are places in which we can add to the assortment, with woven shirts, knitwear, T-shirts, sweatshirts and more trousers and pants.”
Filson already has a strong and loyal customer following, partly due to the fact that all its products are 100 per cent guaranteed for life. By simply expanding its offering of apparel, the label is seeing that it doesn’t need to go out and chase what’s in vogue. Instead, Madden suggests, Filson can just make more product for those who are already fans of the brand.
“In recent years there has been a surge in the popularity of Americana workwear brands in Europe, particularly in the UK,” he says. “Trends come and go, but what Filson isn’t going to do is ‘chase the trend’.”
Photography Sam Travis