Frameworthy: Travis Gillett Talks Ushering Filson into a Modern Age
Filson is a heritage brand whose no-nonsense and durable manufacturing is unrivaled in the outdoor industry. True grit and unwavering ethos have helped Filson become the gear of choice for many of today’s most rugged outdoorsmen and women. From the ice cold Bering Sea to sprawling ranches in Wyoming, Filson can be found on those that depend on all weather clothing that can stand up to a multitude of situations.
Because of their legendary quality and ongoing dedication to craftsmanship, Filson has quickly found a place among the modern adventure crowd. For those that wish to own timeless pieces that can become generational, Filson has become a favorite. Filson saw an emerging market and quickly set forth to find a solution for appealing to this new clientele without alienating the brand loyalists that have supported Filson throughout the years.
Part of that solution came in the form of Boise-born and Seattle-based photographer Travis Gillett. Gillett is a young creative that found a way to create awe-inspiring photography with the authentic voice that Filson was not willing to sacrifice. Gillett’s photos have helped to shape the future of Filson without sacrificing the past or present. Featuring the often rough and tumble characters of the American West, Travis has put his life and creative process on the line to inspire a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts, while still honoring the generations that paved the way. We caught up with Gillett to talk about his humble beginnings, his creative process, and what it is like to be humbled by the Bering Sea.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Boise, Idaho, which at the time felt like the last place I wanted to be. Now, it all makes sense; I could see myself settling down there.
How did growing up in Boise shape what you were into?
In Idaho, the outdoors come to you. The river ran through town and we’d jump off the bridge before class. Flat-wide streets and long, boring days led me to skateboarding. My father would force me into fly fishing and skiing every now and then
A lot of times creative people grow up in creative households. Was your family creative?
Well, yeah, my mother raised two skate-punk-musician boys on her own — so I’d say she’s pretty creative! Now, she runs social media for a no-kill cat shelter, which is definitely her calling. My father was a commercial real estate lender, but I found out he was a photographer in high school – go figure.
Do you remember your first interaction with a camera?
I was caught unaware in early family photos, and then again in the 7th grade while playing pranks under the red light in the dark room. My junior high offered an introductory class on photography – that’s where I learned the basics and first fell in love with film cameras.
It seems like you have numerous mediums for creative expression. Was the camera always the main focus or did your photography sort of evolve as you explored different mediums?
It’s always been a focus and something I cared about, but in the last few years, I’ve put it above all other creative outlets. Now I’m investing time covering subjects that really interest me, not worrying about the commercial slant as much. Valuing more editorial and photojournalistic angles gets me really excited about what’s to come.
Photography proves to be the most exhausting, challenging, self-destructive, and most charming medium to work in. I don’t think it can be mastered, which I’m drawn to. I will never get bored of photography. It can take you around the world, or around your block, it can tell others’ stories, and it can help you define your own.
What was your first commercial photography project? When did you know it might be a viable profession?
Filson was the first real deal. They gave me opportunities to hone those skills in the field. But in my experience, any profession can be viable if you throw all you’ve got at it. Life on the waves can be more fulfilling than the safety of the shallows.
When we first spoke about you going to work at Filson, you were talking about how it was going to be important to try to make the brand relevant to younger people without sacrificing the heritage or alienating the current brand loyalists. In my eyes, your efforts surpassed that initial intention – how were you able to do both?
At the end of the day, those two customer groups wanted the same thing: quality. And we knew if we brought that same attention to detail that we put into our product to all of our marketing materials, even fast-moving platforms like social media, we could attract new audiences without alienating our loyal customers.
It seems like your timing was perfect. I feel like just as you were starting to explore what was possible with Filson’s creative, more and more young people were starting to appreciate brands that were authentic and made better quality products. Did you feel that shift happening while you were working on the Filson campaigns?
Social media brought the rise of the customer feedback loop. All of a sudden it mattered what your brand stood for and how your marketing and product promotion made your community feel – that type of authenticity is a necessity now. Filson had that in spades before it was mandatory, and they had a leg up on a lot of competitors that way.
I think the mark of a really great photographer is developing a style that is unique and recognizable; you can see one of Chris Burkard’s photos and know it’s his work. I feel like you have really achieved this over the last few years. I see one of your photos and know it’s yours immediately. Was this something you were consistently working to achieve, or has it happened organically?
It happens organically as you pare down to the essential shots you truly love over years of work. There’s no shortcut or filter or camera setting that develops it. It’s an oblique line trending towards your vision.
You have obviously worked with some rugged outdoorsman that probably aren’t super into having their picture taken. What’s the secret to blending in?
I meet them in their place. I don’t impart a lot of ego. I listen to them and get them talking. I get my best shots in the moments in-between.
What’s been the craziest adventure while shooting outdoors?
Being beaten by the 15-foot swells of the Bering Sea during crabbing season. The Sea taught me a few lessons on that one. Covering the Iditarod dog sled race was also a highlight – snow machines on frozen sea ice and planes on skis.
You’re also the sensual guitarist for the Seattle-based band, Sundries. What other creative pursuits are you after?
Learning “Home Economics.” That, and maybe ceramics, and maybe starting a clothing company some day soon.
Any last words or projects or upcoming project you want to tell the people about?
Stay tuned for more images from a personal photo project done at the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s Prison Rodeo.