Why after 120 years American heritage brand Filson expanded to Canada

May 6 2017, 4:53 am

Few retailers are able to stand the test of time.

Filson however is one of them. Born out of the Great Klondike Rush of the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle-based brand was founded in 1897 and is still going strong 120 years later.

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Even after all this time, the outdoor sportswear brand is staying true to its roots.

Filson isn’t in the business of skinny jeans, nor does it care. Instead it focuses on providing unfailing quality goods, all of which are guaranteed for life.

“We embrace who we are and we don’t run away from it. There are people who think if we did trim fit or did more product for the urban consumer, we’d sell more. But that’s not how we roll,” Alex Carleton, the Creative Director of Filson, told Daily Hive.

Inside Filson’s first Canadian store in Vancouver’s Gastown district. (Filson)

Carleton says Filson is deeply entrenched into its connections to the outdoors – its workwear, hunting, and fishing history as well as its use of distinctive and proprietary fabrics.

And amidst this year’s challenging global retail climate, the retailer’s strategy seems to be paying off.

“What we’re seeing is that people really appreciate differentiation,” he said. “They are responding to a unique and distinct point of view, so we are not trying to be anybody else as we describe things as being Filson-centric. We focus on on our reach of them and embrace our quirkiness, we don’t look at it as a fault.”

Store design that reflects traditional northwest heritage

Filson’s architectural and finishing character of its stores represents the essence of the Pacific Northwest by using a natural colour palette of bottled greens, tinted blacks, and brown and earthy colours.

It even uses local blacksmiths and artisans, to develop a design language using recycled wood to develop a style and design reminiscent of the alpine lodges found in the region.

Inside Filson’s first Canadian store in Vancouver’s Gastown district. (Filson)

“We are very innovative in terms of how we are developing and designing our language for retail,” said Carleton. “And ultimately, we want our spaces to be places where people can connect – where they can get our narrative. They are meant to be playful, beautiful, and represent the dynamic quality of our brand.”

Entry into Canada

Up until this year’s expansion north of the 49th parallel into Canada, Filson’s stores were entirely located in the United States. It recently opened a new 6,000 ft² flagship store within Seattle’s Sodo neighbourhood, just blocks away from its previous location and not too far away from Pioneer Square where the retailer began 120 years ago.

Carleton says the retailer chose the Gastown district for its first location in Canada because it’s like the “sister neighbourhood” of Pioneer Square.

“I think history and origin is very important to us. I love the word ‘origin’ as the root word for original, and we wanted a place in Vancouver that connected to origin,” he said.

“It definitely helped illuminate the natural and inherent historical quality of our brand, and it was an effortless an intuitive decision to be in this neighbourhood.”

Inside Filson’s first Canadian store in Vancouver’s Gastown district. (Filson)

The Gastown store opened on April 28 and a second Canadian location in the Queen Street West area in downtown Toronto will open later this spring. Both stores are approximately 3,000ft² in size.

As for what kind of merchandise customers can expect within these stores, Filson will offer goods that showcase the very nature of its unique brand.

“I think what’s great is that people will be able to really touch and feel a lot of the core Filson classics,” he said. “If you come into our stores, you can smell the wool and wax on a jacket. When you can try our fits, when you can use our product and sort of really get a sense of it in person, that’s really important to us.”

“We wanted to present a lot of our classics, to make sure people understood who we are at our core – who we are and where we’re coming from, everything from our cruise jackets patented in 1914 to our famous Alaskan guide shirts that are favourites for sportsmen and outdoors men, and has been for decades.”

Filson’s Vancouver store is located at 47 Water Street while the Toronto location will be at 694 Queen Street West.

Inside Filson’s first Canadian store in Vancouver’s Gastown district. (Filson)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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