Feathered Friends Seattle, founded 1972

The Story of a company that was founded just as a way to make money before the founders could go back to "real" jobs! (Note, November 9th: this page is currently under development. Click to read the story of this American Flag bag)

"When we started our business in the basement of a rented house we really did not intend to found an outdoor equipment supply company.." -- Peter Hickner

Feathered Friends (FF) was begun in 1972 by the husband and wife team of Carol and Peter Hickner. In this respect, they were very similar to the team who had begun JanSport six years earlier in Seattle. That was Murray Pletz (McCory) and Jan Lewis, who married shortly after founding the company (full story here). Initially, they produced tents, sleeping bags and down garments.

The story of Feathered Friends' earliest days are tied up with the history of another Seattle-area classic pioneer, that being Early Winters (EW), with whom the young FF actually shared retail space. Peter writes: "...and later Bill [Nikolai, one of the founders of EW] invited us to move into a storefront space on Lower Queen Anne and join what he informally called The Alpine Guild. Carla Firey joined with her packs, and Crescent Down Works with her vests."

Peter writes, "The American flag bag was created for the University District street fair in 1976. We thought that the street fair would be a good place to sell hand crafted bags. Since it was an arts and crafts fair, my wife did some applique on a bag to make it craftsy, and submitted it for judgement. Showing in the fair didn't really result in many sales or much recognition, but it did result in several other semi-absurd creations such as a Pink Floyd prism/rainbow bag. ... [here's] how we came to have the BiCentennial bag back in our possession.
We were looking at a space to move our factory, one of ten times we have done that, and we found a space a couple of blocks from our retail space on [119] Yale Ave. We needed more space than was shown to us on the lower floor of a building, so we started looking at the possibility of restoring a stairway to an upstairs space, which coincidentally had been a pre-school our daughters attended.
The old stairs had been boarded over and all kinds of junk stuffed into the space. When we started dismantling and unloading, we found the old flag bag, dirty and mildewed. It turned out one of the employees of the business occupying the space had bought the bag, used it heavily, and then got into other pursuits than climbing. We traded him a brand new bag for the old, moldy one."

THE INTRODUCTION OF GORETEX TO THE INDUSTRY:

Peter writes: "We were sharing the Queen Anne Ave. space with Early Winters [in 1976] when Joe and Jack brought around the first prototypes samples of Gore-Tex fabric. We may have been the first to create a Gore-Tex jacket, because we immediately cut and sewed an anorak from the tent laminate sample. We still have it somewhere. As soon as fabric was commercially available, which would have been in 1976, we started using Gore-Tex in sleeping bags." Author's Note: the issue of "Who was first" to use Goretex has come up many times during the 15 years that I have been doing the History of Gear project. One fact that is clear is that many of the gear makers rushed to use Goretex once it was available in the time frame of 1976-77. See also my pages about Early Winters.

Below is a FF bag formerly in my proud possession. It's the FF "Puffin II" a member of the company's "Flying Wide" series in 1993. This bag has 32 oz. of 700 fillpower Polish down, and also 4 oz. of overfill. It also sports the down collar option. It had about 9 inches of glorious loft.

Feathered Friends are also justly famed for their extensive line-up of down garments. which have long been the garments of choice for innumerable serious expeditioners to the great mountain ranges of the World.

Please Note: if you were involved with one of the old-line, vintage gear companies and have a story to tell in these pages, please contact me soon.....Sponsors: if your outdoor company is interested in sponsoring this site, please contact me for details. Picture below: the Feathered Friends store, on the side facing the REI Flagship store at 222 Yale Ave. N... On the right, see Feathered Friend's entry door, plastered with years' worth of collectible stickers!


"An Essay on Down"

GOOSE DOWN was a key component of the success of Eddie Bauer. Down was also key to the success of both Frostline and Holubar Kits. Both kit companies created innovative methods to package the down for consumer sewing kits. Goose Down occupied center stage for decades during the History of Gear. It was the clearly superior insulation of choice-- "Because it Breathes has Twice the Comfort Range!" Image above compliments of reader W. Johnson. Image below from a 1960 advertisement, scanned and sent to me by a contributor.

Down terminology--- "fillpower" is one of the main parameters that determines down quality. Down with increasingly higher (better) fillpower costs more and more. Cheap down in department store jackets often has only 450-500 fillpower, and it's duck down with lots of larger feathers and feather shafts, etc. "Normal" down is goose down with a fillpower of 550, as measured in the supposedly standard testing cylinder-- under controlled conditions, how much volume will one pound of down expand to fill up? Typical levels of better quality down are 600, 650, 700, and then the ultra-premium 800-900. Some folks doubt the truth of claims as high as that, but in my book, having owned a bag with 800 fillpower down, as you get into the highest grades, it's all mighty fine stuff, soft and luxurious and heavenly light and compressible. You really can tell a big difference, even over 550 down. The exact source of the down (the birds) formerly was held in great esteem, with eider down and Polish down being regarded as the ultimate, but nowadays many say it doesn't really matter where it comes from, as long as it passes the tests, one down is as good as any other--- and nowadays most of the World's down comes from geese raised for meat in (you guessed it) China....I will note, however, that two of America's premier down bag makers both source their 850-900 fill down from Eastern Europe (Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends).

copyright Bruce B. Johnson 2008-2015. Reader input is welcome.



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Page last revised November 9, 2015