Industry

Filson Flagship Store Shop Visit – Seattle, WA

by , October 15, 2013

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At the turn of the Century, prospectors discovered gold in the Yukon region of North Western Canada. Once news reached Seattle, there were thousands of gold-driven prospectors and entrepreneurs with aspirations to be the next one to make it big. Dreams abound of Fried Chicken-sized nuggets of gold waiting to be plucked from an untouched stream, deep in the Canadian wilderness. Many were unprepared for the rigors of the Alaskan wilderness and sought equipment and advice from the Seattle outfitter. Quickly Filson became known as the “Gold” Standard (get it?) in equipment for travel up the Chilkoot Trail for both the neophyte and seasoned outdoorsmen.

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In only a few short years the gilded dreams of too many were dashed, yet CC Filson remained to serve new legions of men in the difficult labor of logging. The outfitter discovered its own vein of golden ore, not found but created. Having developed products with a reputation for quality, warmth in adverse conditions, and exceptional durability over a life of hard use, customers returned.

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Today it seems many businesses react directly to financial investors over the needs and desires of actual users. The glorious past remaining with these companies are specters. Sad miner skeletons wandering around without a heartbeat, aimless and obvious, desperate for gold. The resurgence of “heritage” labels contains this tale: Dressing in the regalia of their heyday (or someone else’s) – but are cheaply made and poorly realized. They desperately cry for market share, grabbing attention – gushing “we were here first!”

Perhaps the saddest part of the whole “heritage” product movement is that a company’s own legacy is only respected so far as it will continue to fill their coffers. Companies like this intend only to sell as much as they can as quickly as they can with no respect or regard to the past.
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With Filson, what remains today is something of a miracle. As too many companies have seen mergers and acquisitions, unchecked growth and the prioritization of quantity over quality, Filson held true to its roots as its guiding light. Knowing that each product bearing the Filson label needs to fully represent the spirit and respect the collective past of the brand. Maintaining an eye toward the customer – their actual needs and desires – Filson chose a better path.

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The impostor cannot beguile those who understand, those who tug at the seams, who have seen, felt and experienced true quality – in its truest sense. Quality is the priority of utility over form. Quality sings in each stitch, it hides in the warp and weft and is validated and held true by the hands that oversee it. Those who place the stitch not only need to understand and execute their process, but also respect it. CC Filson Co. still understands this; nay, Filson REPRESENTS this.

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A company interested in longevity, or reclaiming relevance could learn these simple things from Filson:

1.) Create the best products by choosing the highest quality materials obtainable. Quality is not a buzzword. Quality is tangible, you must know, not marketing hyperbole.

2.) Listen to your customers, they will not steer you wrong. A customer is the key user and representative of your product, not an investor. You will learn more from your products by listening to the people to whom your brand represents.

3.) Celebrate a product’s success by respecting it. Read: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Filson’s continued and growing presence is a lesson to all of us who create products to be consumed by this modern world.

With that, we excitedly present the process involved in creating the Filson #70256 Original Briefcase:

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Labels are sewn onto the pocket. This is where it all begins. This particular machine does only this step.

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The pocket flap is constructed with 1/4″ seam allowance. Experienced hands move through the step quickly, knowingly.

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The pocket is then turned out and topstitched. It cannot be emphasized enough how much skill it takes to do this well.
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This laser lines up a snap to be placed. This setter is like something from Terminator, only… you know… for sewing.

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Another specialized machine sews perfectly the iconic strap holder. Watching this is rhythmic and delightful. Perfection, every time, every stitch – the great cam wheel spins with intent on its well-worn track.

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Another machine sews the handle ends to the bag. I would like one of these machines. Just one, please.

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Laying down zipper is made only slightly easier with this folding attachment. The speed in which this step occurs is unfathomable. The young sewer seeming well-versed with the intricacies.

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Zipper slides are placed. The hardest working part of this bag will easily outlive the rest. Poetic, really.
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Watching this guy blast rivets into this d-ring holder was a spectacle. It took me 10 shots to get one where his hands were still enough to be in focus. Blink and you miss it.
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Another fabulous custom pattern tacker. The “braap” sound is like a tiny machine gun firing off. You can hear it plainly above the bustle of the factory floor.
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This jig marks the placement of the pencil and other pockets.
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Here you see a complete interior pocket, which is basted to the outside. The completed side is being mated to the sides/zipper here.
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This really cool point-turner is a beast. If I had one at the shop, I would smash things over it. Like pumpkins and…basically just pumpkins.
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After the bag is turned out completely it is inspected and trimmed of loose thread. Attached is a product tag, care instructions and leather shoulder strap.
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The complete bag, while not mine to keep (and I was hoping!) will join its bag friends on its way to your door.
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Just like any number of Filson carry products I could have waded through here like a tin-cloth jungle, breathing in the smell of leather and oil-cloth. Instead I kept my “journalist” hat on, and thus my credibility. The things I do for you people…
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Filson has been over the  moon to be partnering with Shinola (same ownership). Here is a small example of what comes from two companies doing the best they can, everyday. Could I have this, please?

  • Alvin Kim

    This entire post is so rad. Love the emphasis on the workers and their skillfulness. Definitely makes me appreciate them even more!

  • http://samanthadelrosario.com Samantha

    Amazing post! so many machines and jigs I’ve never seen before! Keep these coming!

  • FINNOC

    Great post, It’s always nice to look in the ‘hart’ of a company! The old, but still going strong, machines, joy of the people, the awesome products and many more!! Thanks Filson….to look inside :-)

  • Yeetch

    Holy advertorial, John Canfield! I think that briefcase should be in the mail once the Filson marketing guys read this post.

    Otherwise, nice backstage peek at one of the great American heritage brands.

    • http://www.fromhighabove.com John Canfield

      Yeetch, It may read as sanctimony, but the more I learn about the way the Filson “ship” is being steered, the more I like the way they do business!

      JC

  • http://evanmeagher.net/ Evan Meagher

    Wow, how timely. I’m going to Seattle this weekend and was hoping to visit Filson while I’m in town. Thanks for posting!

  • Jonas

    I’d love to see this with Pinzat! If you’re ever in Barcelona, please do it! :)

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