Century-old outfitter scales up for new era

A computer monitor displayed a production goal of 125 bags and a pace of 95.1 percent as workers pressed pedals and moved leather pieces through sewing machines. For a moment, I felt transported to an assembly line in a faraway land. But this was real manufacturing happening in our own backyard -— at Filson’s headquarters on First Avenue South in Sodo.

Since its acquisition by a Texas-based company three years ago, the high-end apparel maker has been stepping up production as it scales the operation to reach a wider market. Stores have opened in New York and London, and a new flagship retail location above this factory floor is scheduled to open by late fall.

The company, one of Seattle’s oldest brands, was founded by C.C. Filson in 1897 as the “complete outfitter for miners, prospectors and lumbermen.” Now, as more urbanites continue to fall for the so-called “lumbersexual” look, I suspect its production lines in Sodo will only get busier.

Here are more sketches from my visit to Filson:

Inside, glass walls allow visitors to see one of Filson’s production lines. For a behind-the-scenes look at the operation, the company offers tours by appointment every Tuesday and Thursday.

Filson has another location on Fourth Avenue South that houses a small retail store and the garment production line where I made this last sketch.

If you take one of those tours, you may get to meet project manager Khoa Tran, who oversees the production line at Filson’s luggage factory. As one would expect from a guy who works here, he also wears a pretty nifty Filson jacket.

Filson’s catalogue includes items that haven’t changed much from the years of the Gold Rush. The cruiser jacket, pattented by C.C. Filson in 1914, still comes with a pouch to store your compass and a back pocket large enough to fit a topographic map.

Green capital letters and a clock that resembles the one at Pike Place Market top Filson’s headquarters a couple of blocks south of Safeco Field.