Alaska outfitter Filson opens a retail location on Queen Street West. Photo: Jenna Marie Wakani

Secrets of keeping a brand alive for over a hundred years

Toronto’s Queen St. W. just became home to a fashion and lifestyle outfitter whose main clients were prospectors during the Klondike gold rush. How did the Filson brand manage to stay relevant for over a century? To find out, Core spoke to the company’s marketing director.

Core spoke to Filson’s marketing director Andreas Herr at the opening of their 694 Queen St. W. store


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Most business owners will tell you that building it doesn’t always mean that the customers will come, even if you’re offering the best quality product. So, what is responsible for the Filson brand’s staying power through part of three centuries, outlasting economic boom and bust, drought, famine, war, peace treaties, shifting borders and changing landscapes?

The company’s 120-year legacy is built upon its reputation for quality and durability, says, Filson’s marketing director Andreas Herr. Filson was established in Seattle in 1897 to outfit prospectors heading to the northwestern territories in hopes of striking it rich by discovering gold.

Herr says, Clinton C. Filson’s sole purpose was to outfit the prospectors travelling into Seattle, into Canada, and then into the Klondike territory of the Yukon. People had to have the right gear and the right clothing in order to survive the journey through incredibly frigid conditions. You needed to have thick skin, quality goods, the right wool coat, the right blanket, in order to be able to survive that journey so you could actually get to that position in the Klondike, stake your claim and  mine for gold.

The prospectors’ clothes had to be able to withstand longterm exposure to the cold climate of the northern United States, travel over rugged terrain and last throughout their stay at an outpost in the northern country. This was at a time when electricity, heat, and the conveniences of travel including roads, were rare luxuries, especially in remote areas that experience extreme weather. In those days travel was still by horse and buggy, horseback alone, waterways or on foot. Being ill-prepared would mean certain death or at least some misery.

“It was really important for C.C. Filson back then that they have the right product and the right information. That’s been part of our history the entire way forward,” says Herr.

Since then, he says, “we have been producing product with that same kind of end purpose in mind – to create really good,  high quality, durable goods that are built for purpose and that will keep you warm and comfortable out in the wild and serve their purpose out in the wild.”

The ‘tried, tested and true’ Filson fabric used over 120 years ago was 100% Virgin Mackinaw Wool and it’s still used today in their garments. “C.C. Filson cut up heavyweight Mackinaw Wool blankets to make coats for prospectors.” He patented his Cruiser shirt in 1914, for outdoorsmen and made a version out of Mackinaw Wool “for men who worked outdoors and knew they would get wet, but needed to stay warm…the Mackinaw Cruiser remains our most popular jacket,” despite advances in fabric technology.

So, it seems that quality and durability were top priority for gold prospectors and outdoor workers in the 19th century, as it is for men and women today who form the base of Filson’s clientele – parachuting smokejumpers who fight fires without water, teachers who wrangle horses with patience, and catch-and-release angler chefs who bring their own fish to the river.

At the preview of Filson’s first retail location on Queen Street West in Toronto, the bartender serves up an assortment of aromatic mixes, courtesy of new neighbour Bar Chef. The drinks go perfectly with the camp-inspired canapés created by local chef Nathan Middleton. The crowd listens to urban, country-influenced, live music by trio Old Man Grant.

This part of town has a mix of modern and vintage charm, so style-wise, Filson fits in well. They’ve kept that local, old-world feel – dark, moody, and romantic, “with pops of colour,” as Herr describes it – just like the home location of the original Seattle store. The interior is also very much like the other stores throughout the American midwest, the one in London, and the other Canadian location that opened earlier this year in Vancouver.

“Everything in here is really intentional. The fixtures, the furniture, even the flooring in the front room gives you a feel for the Pacific-northwest. A lot of that was built in Seattle then imported out here,” says Herr.

Every feature is methodically designed and strategically placed. Every object has multiple adjectives attached to it: polarized sunglasses, muli-pocketed vests, quick-drying shirts, water repellant jackets. The glass kiosk in the front section with leather wallets and cases, and new vintage flannel work shirts on moveable racks along the outer walls, accessories in wooden cubby holes going way up, cross-body riding bags, ballistic nylon bags, hand-stitched, vegetable-tanned, rugged twill travel luggage made of Scottish wool, work briefcases and knapsacks on tables in the centre of the room, and on walls in all three sections as you go in toward the back of the space are all designed with intention.

They use rich, dark colours like forest green, pops of reds, browns and sand tones throughout the line for menswear, womenswear, travel and outdoor sporting goods accessories, even in the fashionable canine line. Your dog will look as fabulous as you.

Their clothes look classic, feel comfortable and lend a quiet confidence. The pieces are very versatile and could go from the campsite, construction site, or production site to your desk, studio or the pub. A lot of it is made specifically for sportsmen and women who enjoy activities like hunting, sport shooting, and fishing. But, this line could  become the official gear for creative types who have a sense of style and spend a lot of time on-location on photo shoots and film sets in the great outdoors as it travels well from the bush to city streets.

Some guests commented that the price-point seems a bit high but Herr explains that the clothes are primarily made in the US, which allows the company control over the quality and construction. They may cost a little more than the trendy brands, he says, but considering that the pieces may last you a lifetime, it’s well worth the price they’re asking.

The brand also still has a catalogue and you can order online at Filson.com.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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