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Big in Japan

Filson sets up shop in Osaka, Japan

By Laura Cassidy March 18, 2010

Fiilson’s Yukon Wool Shooting Clays Coat: Watch for it this fall on the streets of Osaka

There’s one in SoDo. There’s one in Portland. There was one in Denver, but it didn’t work out so well. And as of March 9, there’s a Filson store in Osaka, Japan.

Japan has long had a hipster population that couldn’t get enough of Americana. Remember the 90s? Everyone knew someone who, after learning a few key Japanese phrases, got rich selling old Levis over the fledgling internet.

The trend lives on. The heritage brand thing is big at home, yeah, but, with a twelve-year history of great distribution via other retailers, Filson is huge in Japan.

I recently spoke with the company’s CEO, Bill Kulczycki, about the brand’s fashion ascendancy, its Gold Rush roots, and its first international store.

Foremost on my mind was how the Seattle-based company hopes to balance its growing number of Brooklyn-n-Ballard cool-kid type fans with its legion of hip wader-wearing hunting and fishing followers.

I figured I’d just go ahead and ask if the brand’s execs had found themselves sitting around a board room going, ‘Well, what should we do about these hipsters?’

“The minute you start to say you’re cool, you’re not, so we’re not going there,” Kulczycki told me.

So that’s a no, they’re not going to pull a Woolrich and hire an avant-garde Japanese designer to recut their clothes. But, he allows, they may continue to ‘adapt’ some of their looks not just for currency, but for younger, transitional clients beginning this fall.

It’s all part of what the ex-Patagonia exec and four-year Filson head calls a balancing act; remaining true to the outdoorsy types who use the product line to survive the elements while allowing the brand’s narrative to reach a larger, fashion-oriented audience. Both of whom, he wants to point out, place a premium on durability and quality goods.

Kulczycki is well aware that the story is getting out thanks, in large part, to two Seattle retailers with cult-like internet-based international followings. Both Totokaelo and Blackbird have been front runners in mixing field jackets with edgy, arty style.

Will they team up with, say, J.Crew to reach an even broader demographic?

Grandpa brands are big with the national style chains these days; Urban Outfitters sells Red Wing chukas and J.Crew serves as a rather unnecessary middleman between you Quoddy, the super-niche handmade, heirloom moccasin makers in Maine. Kulczycki won’t really say whether we can expect to see his company’s packer coats replacing Crew’s lookalikes, but concedes that if there is a customer who can’t otherwise access their product, those kinds of conversations may develop.

Something in the prideful, we-were-here-before-you-decided-we-were-cool region of my brain just doesn’t want to see Filson in that catalog (and if I catch you buying the brand via a national instead of a local, we’ll have to have words), but I’m not proud of it and it’s not necessarily a healthy, hometown-spirit attitude.

Sixty-five percent of Filson’s manufacturing is still done here in Seattle, (the Totokaelo link above illustrates that) and Kulczycki calls that made-in-Seattle mindset a core value of his company. Actually, he says the fabrication probably couldn’t be done elsewhere. His factory works with super-heavy materials and specialty hardware, and many of his employees have been at it for 15 or 20 years. It just wouldn’t make sense to pick up and start over somewhere new.

Inside Osaka’s Filson shop

So what’s good for the J.Crew customer, and the Japanese raw-denim and shooting shirt- wearing hipster, is good for Seattle’s economy.

Win and win.

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