The Filson Brand: Stewards of Heritage

Filson is a heritage brand known for rugged and good-looking outdoor gear. Everything about Filson—its identity, stories and products—makes a lasting impression. We asked creative director, Alex Carleton, why Filson is so enduring.

Filson’s promise is “unfailing goods”—the word ‘unfailing’ has such power and distinction. How do you use design to convey that impression of durability, permanence, usefulness and quality?

At Filson, we always challenge ourselves to improve our products and assortment. We began as an outfitter in 1897 and continue to maintain that legacy of supplying our customers with enduring gear for the outdoors. We make the majority of our goods in the USA, mostly in the Pacific Northwest where we started, and we field-test each product. Customer testimonials and feedback guide us to constantly improve our products.

At a time when so many products are built with short half-lives, what does it mean for a brand to stake its claim on products that are made to last?

Filson built its legacy around making high-quality products with superior performance using timeless materials. Our uncompromising standards and lifetime guarantee are hallmarks of the brand. We’re proud to focus on lasting quality—not chasing trends, but providing products of real use to our customers.

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You instantly know from the color of the canvas and the feel of a leather strap that you’re holding a Filson bag. How do materials play into creating the impression of quality and ruggedness?

The materials we work with complement the classic design and structural integrity of our luggage and apparel. We develop and use materials that will wear well over time and that will build a rich patina or pliability with regular use. We’ve been using Mackinaw Wool and oil-finish cotton canvas for more than a century, so the material has an irrefutable, time-proven durability.

While Filson never went away, it seems to be enjoying a broader audience and new popularity these days. What does it mean to be the steward of a heritage brand in today’s world?

People from all over the world have been discovering Filson for more than 118 years, and it’s always great to meet new customers who find us. It’s a proud moment when we can outfit someone new, and that usually results in a life-long relationship between us and the individuals who use our products. While we like to stay aware of what’s going on, we don’t chase fads. Our drive is to innovate and build purposeful products that can withstand the demands of the field while enduring the test of time.

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Filson products feel like heirlooms. Why do you think customers long for heritage products—those that are hand-made, with enduring style, that feel old-fashioned in a way?

Our products provide a tangible connection to the values of a previous generation. But beyond nostalgia, many of our customers have stories of inheriting their father’s Filson jacket, which he wore when they went hunting together every fall. It’s this sort of physical reminder of memories that make an emotional connection. Our products are companions on the journey.

Your partnership with Shinola to produce Filson branded watches and bikes is a match made in heaven. What do these two brands—one more than 100 years old and the other less than a decade—have in common?

Shinola is the perfect partner to help us build American-made watches that deliver uncompromising quality. Together, we created a new standard of watches that are hand-built for a lifetime of performance in the worst conditions.

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What percentage of your customers are truly outdoor enthusiasts, and what percentage are people who don’t hunt or fish but aspire to outdoor living? How does the brand allow people to imagine a life that may not be within their reach?

All of our customers are outdoor enthusiasts, in some way. They’re unified by their enjoyment of outdoor recreation, in whatever form that takes. Whether they’re town or country, our gear enables outdoor expeditions and reminds them to aspire to that goal.

How do you use storytelling to create a world that envelops your customers? How are these stories timeless?

We share real stories from the customers and Filson fans who inspire us. Finding long-time Filson supporters and sharing their experiences with our goods informs our product development in a way that is genuine, earnest and supportive.

This article was written by Bryn Mooth and originally published in Issue 06 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly. The Mohawk Maker Quarterly is a vehicle to support a community of like-minded makers. Content focuses on stories of small manufacturers, artisans, printers, designers, and artists who are making their way in the midst of the digital revolution. Learn more about the quarterly here and sign up to receive future printed issues.

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