Help Me Understand… Filson

With Black Friday well in the rear-view mirror and Christmas right around corner, I am sure you all have been getting inundated with promotional material, both digital and print, from various retailers.

I am in marketing and I always find it interesting to see what companies do, especially around the holidays.

30% off this year instead of the 20% off they did last year? Sales extending beyond their originally stated end-date? Oof! Must not have been hitting their budget numbers the last few weeks.

Regardless of what time of year it is, though, I always have my ear to the ground when it comes to how companies market their products or services.

Usually, a company’s marketing strategy makes sense and is pretty straightforward. Other times, I look at a company’s products, marketing materials, and prices and scratch my head in confusion.

One of those companies is Filson.

I’ve always really enjoyed perusing the Filson website, as I love the look of their products. But there’s one thing I always ask myself regarding Filson.

Who is their customer, exactly?

When I was in menswear marketing, we had profiles of who our “normal” customer was in each of our major markets. Age, income range, professional level, hobbies. We tried our best to “speak” to that person in all of our communications.

But when it comes to Filson, to whom are they speaking? Whom are they targeting?

The reason I ask myself these questions is because Filson’s products are very expensive. They are so expensive that I have never considered purchasing anything from them.

Now, I get why some of their flagship products like their Mackinaw jackets are in the hundreds of dollars. From all the stellar reviews of that particular product, and others like it, it seems like it’s well-made and long-lasting. But I don’t get why their hoodies, jeans, and t-shirts are so expensive, as well.

I could be wrong, but I thought Filson was targeting the rugged outdoorsman. Do you know any rugged outdoorsman who would pay $200 for a hoodie or a pair of jeans? I sure don’t. Are they targeting only the richest outdoorsmen?

In my opinion, their prices don’t match the customer they are ostensibly trying to sell to. And because of that, there is an air of inauthenticity in their marketing material.

There are companies out there that specifically target people whom they know won’t use their products for their intended purpose. Think about the guy who brushes off his russet Red Wings before taking Instagram selfies between sips of his Negroni. Or the midtown bro in his fur-lined, Canada Goose parka. But I didn’t think Filson was like that. I thought they would go after actual outdoorsmen.

I live in a very rural area where lots of people make their living from outdoor work. I have never seen anyone wearing a Filson product. Not one. Carhartt, Dickie’s, Chippewa, L.L. Bean, Timberland, Duluth Trading? Yes. But not Filson. And I suspect it’s because their prices are just too high for the regular guy.

This is not a knock against Filson. They seem to be doing just fine and, like I said, their products have great reviews. And, again, I get why their wool coats and stuff are pricey. That’s something you could hand down to your kids. Maybe their margins on their flagship products are so good that they CAN sell fewer hoodies and jeans. Maybe their buying and merchandising teams don’t buy a ton of them so any sales of $200 hoodies more than make up for the buy.

I have no idea.

But I just can’t wrap my head around photos like this…

I just don’t believe that guy would pay $200 for those jeans.

Come to think of it, I should actually be their ideal customer! I am a professional with some disposable income who DOES do outdoor work (for fun, to be sure, but it’s still vigorous outdoor work in the elements). If their products are so far out of my price-range that I wouldn’t even consider them, then who is buying all their stuff?

So, can someone PLEASE help me understand Filson?

***Photos curtesy of Filson’s website***

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  1. Carlos Cordero

    I think they used fit the ideal you are measuring them against. Now they are selling a brand image. They are selling the idea of rugged outdoor US heirloom products to those do not spend quite as much time outdoors as they would like. So imo it is rich people that want to pretend and look the part of people that are truly in the outdoors working or recreating.

    I see in a similar vain to companies that angle a major part of their brand to be portrayed as honest, humane, eco friendly etc.

    When it comes down to it all those ideals generally fall below the perception at some point in the supply chain unless it is a truly small company made by the people you speak to. These are few and far between, but they are coming back and so are many craftsman trades.

    1. richardjconnelly

      Hi Carlos – Thanks for your message. Your point about brand image is a good one. I think there is definitely room in menswear for a little imagination and whimsy. I think we all like pretending, a little, that we’re a cowboy sometimes. The image we create for ourselves based on the associations our clothing has is what makes clothing fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think the problem comes when the image and the subsequent prices do not match the intended customer. As you have, rightly I think, pointed out, their customer essentially is “rich guy who doesn’t actually need the products”.