Woolrich Horse Skin Hunting Gloves

I am a dreamer. The ideas and stories behind clothes are always more pure and unspoiled than the physical incarnation of a product. For example, I am really drawn to L.L. Beans' outdoor history and their loyalty to Leon's original vision, but I don't own a pair of Bean boots. With that said, every so often, I find a product that I am drawn to like a 13 year old to Twilight.

A few weeks ago, my friend Bethany sent me these vintage Woolrich Horse Skin Hunting Gloves. Designed for hunting, the horse leather flap on the right hand flips back enabling trigger control. I fell in love with the gloves as soon as I unwrapped them.

Judging by the stitching and the worn tag, these gloves could be from the 40's or earlier.

After decades of use, the virgin wool is surprisingly supple and smooth. I love the black and red stripes and the crossover around the wrist.

More importantly than their fine craftsmanship and beautiful design, these gloves fit perfectly into my romanticized world of Ice Shacks in Maine, Hikes in the Snow in the Cascades, Drives throughout frozen New England, and Campfires at Sunset. The slit in the right hand could just as easily drop the shutter of my 5d Mark II as open a Swiss Army Knife or fire a six-gun. I always identified with Flannery O'Conner's 1955 title to her short story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Well a good glove is hard to find too, and I have found mine.

Here are some more links,
My Woolrich Horse Skin Gloves (Picasa),
My Own Private New England (ART),
Ice Fishing Shacks in Maine (ART),
A Campfire at Sunset (ART).


Chat With Filson Store Manager and their Strategy

American heritage brands' lack of extravagant ad campaigns or the perception of a complicated marketing strategy is a major part of their appeal. The idealized heritage brand marches on unaware and unconcerned with fashion trends, instead focusing on core customers and quality products. Filson is now trying to expand their business while staying loyal to their brand image. The Portland store exemplifies these efforts.

I met Nathan Gray, Filson Store Manager, a couple days ago on my visit to the store and chatted a little about the possibility of Goldwin Inc, Filson's Japanese Distributor, opening a store in Tokyo. Yesterday I exchanged a few emails with Nathan and continued our conversation about the heritage movement and Filson's retail strategy. Here are a few questions with Nathan.

Foster: How much business do you get from people buying Filson due to the recent interest in American heritage brands?

Nathan: So far, the vast majority of our sales have been from our loyal Oregon customers who are delighted that we've opened a store closer than Seattle. I hope that our great location in the Pearl will turn a lot of new customers on to our brand. I believe that Portland will be an ideal location for us due to the interest in American heritage brands and the strong attraction this community has for natural products.

Foster: So Filson is using the Portland store as concept store to test the waters of expanding Filson to a new market? Interesting.

Nathan: I don't know that I would describe us as a "concept test store." One of the goals of any retailer is to increase their customer base, and hopefully the amount of exposure we will get here in the Pearl District will help in that aim.
Filson's apparent marketing strategy differs from that of other American heritage brands like Woolrich and Red Wing, who have launched sub-brands to capture on the resurgence movement. These sub-brands, Woolrich Woolen Mills and Red Wing Heritage, have their own websites, sales distribution, and collections. Filson has instead tried to overhaul their own brand by putting up vintage ads on their website (as attached in the article), and launching stores in strategic locations, Portland and potentially Tokyo, to capitalize on the resurgence movement.

My conversation with Nathan accentuated the differences between Filson and Woolrich and Red Wing's approach to capitalizing on the resurgence movement. It will be interesting to see how these two different approaches will weather the economic crisis and the current heritage fashion trend.


Portland Outdoor Store

The Portland Outdoor Store opened for business on the corner of 3rd and Oak in downtown Portland in 1919. Over the last seventy-nine years the store has changed hands once. It continues to carry the same traditional American western brands like Levi's, Stetson, Tony Lama, Georgia Boot, Woolrich, Pendleton, Filson and British brands like Barbour and Clarks.

In addition to these core brands, the Portland Outdoor Store offers a bunch of English and American horse tack and equipment and a full range of men's wool suits from companies like Pendleton. The Portland Outdoor Store staff knows the equipment inside and out and is very helpful in offering advice.

For added income, the store rents out expensive goods like saddles, jackets and bridles for 10% of an item's retail price for using in movies, plays and photo shoots.

I can't say enough about this store. It is an institution. Walking through its doors, one travels back in time. I can't think of a more authentic experience. The store resembles a real life Free & Easy magazine with a large collection of western memorabilia and merchandising. A number of stores, such as the RRL on Bleaker Street, have tried to recreate the same atmosphere, but they fall dramatically short. With their classic selection of American and English heritage brands, as well as their long standing tradition as a provider of outdoor equipment, the Portland Outdoor Store represents the best of the resurgence movement.

Come to Portland, stay in the nearby Ace Hotel, and shop at the Portland Outdoor Store.
Here is a typical Portland Outdoor Store shopper.

Filson Mackinaw Jackets and Filson Tin Cloth in the foreground.Filson Doulbe Mackinaw Hats and Pendleton Shirts
Stetson Hats.
This is where I got my Filson Alaskan Guide Shirt.
Second Floor: Woman's Clothing and Equestrian equipment and me with my new canon 17-55mm f2.8 lens.
The Third Floor: Saddles, Stirrups, and a Gun Holster (pictured below).
The Portland Outdoor Store offers no-commission sales of used saddles(pictured below).
The In-house expert will find the right boot for you from their 3000 pair inventory.
The Popick family has run the store since 1929 when Brad's grandfather, Abe Popick, and his cousin, Nate Director, bought the store.