We first released our Uganda Project and partnership with Filson to create the Philanthropist Briefcase in 2009. Since then we continue to be grateful for the ongoing demand for the briefcase, and we are blown away by all that we have learned from Filson’s timelessness and standard for quality. On February 6, we were passing through Seattle and had the opportunity to catch up with Filson’s CEO, Alan Kirk. Alan guides all domestic and international operations. He is responsible for product development, manufacturing, marketing, merchandising, sales, and global growth. Prior to Filson, Alan spent years with The Limited, Lands’ End, and Eddie Bauer. While Alan took us on a tour through Filson’s new facility, we asked him the following questions to help all of us better understand what it means to lead a brand with more than 117 years of history.
What is your leadership philosophy for Filson?
When I joined, the first thing I felt I needed to do was establish a clear vision. I spent three months thinking and researching the brand. I soon realized that Filson is 117 years old and it had gone through 110 years with little change, and then five to six years of continuous change—different CEOs every two years with different philosophies. So I came in, absorbing the brand and [wanting] to figure out where Filson wanted to be in three to five years, and then we put together our goals, key initiatives, and a vision. My second step was building an organization for success and the infrastructure to support it for years to come. We built foundational stones, the first being that we look at each channel individually to create a strategy for growth. The second was to ensure we are building the best quality into every product to live up to our guarantee-for-life commitment. Next, we began to build an organizational culture that is fun and enjoyable; our new Seattle office was a great start. It has been an inspiration to our entire team. To come in in the morning and see the product being made is very inspiring. The development teams can spend their time in our manufacturing space and watch the product-development process. The whole setup here at Filson takes me back to where I first got into this industry. It all started for me in Scotland, [where] my first job was in a sewing factory. When I joined Filson, it reminded me of my early career in manufacturing and the idea of having everything close by, allowing you to really manage the quality and process well. The real excitement for me to join the Filson team was being part of such an incredible brand that has lasted over 117 years. I am a lucky guy! So to summarize my answer to your question regarding leadership principles, it all boils down to everyone aligning on a clear vision, building a strong team, and following the road map laid down for the business and staying the course.
Fast-forward ten years from now, where will Filson be?
We talked about this question during a board meeting a few weeks ago.
Fast-forward five years, and we expect to see Filson five to six times our current size, at a minimum. We are confident that Filson is positioned for that kind of growth. In ten years, the company will be a global multichannel brand that is respected and trusted. I do not seeing us straying from the Filson DNA. We will keep our old friends happy and continue to have a new group of friends who we are seeing exciting growth with, especially in specialty stores.
How did Filson Day arrive in Seattle?
On June 12, 2013, we opened our 57,400-square-foot building that houses a new state-of-the-art factory, showroom, and headquarters in a converted warehouse located on 1741 1st Avenue South. We wanted to make the opening special because we have more than 116 years of history in Seattle, invested in the local community, and employed thousands of people living in the city over the years. Our local mayor declared June 12 as Filson Day, and it has been a complete honor.
What was been the most pivotal turning point since you have been CEO of Filson?
Building foundations for the brand, all centered around brand alignment. The middle of last year there was confusion about what the Filson brand represented. Our customers would tell us, “You’re an outfitter, my father and grandfather wore your product, don’t change the brand, we love Filson.” Then there is the new, younger customer you could call the urban hunter, and we realized that we needed to respect both. So it was about keeping the Filson DNA and satisfying both audiences, which has been very rewarding.
What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to build a legacy brand like Filson?
Stay the course, be true to who you are, and don’t steer off the road. Create guiding principles that you believe in and reflect why you started the business. I’ll use Filson as an example; our first guiding principle is to have our products made in the U.S. In the past few years, some of the Filson products strayed offshore and were manufactured in Asia. We have recently invested in our Filson Supply Chain in Seattle and Idaho, which allowed us to get back to our original goal of [having] over 90 percent of our products being manufactured at Filson in the U.S. So my advice for a craftsman that is inspired by Filson’s longevity is to stay true to your guiding principles, have a clear point of view, and make something that is of quality and different.
For more information, visit www.filson.com.
Photos: Courtesy of Raan & Shea Parton