Seattle Man Revives an Early-1900s Clothing Line

Josh Sirlin lives and breathes his resurrected local heritage clothing line, Black Bear Brand.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
Josh Sirlin wearing his Black Bear Brand signature shirt jacket and his brand's exclusive Dickies 1922 pants.

Reintroduction
“Reading, writing and mathematics were never something I wanted to do, but art was something I always wanted to do,” says Josh Sirlin, owner of Black Manufacturing, which produces Black Bear Brand workwear. Sirlin spent his teenage years in Washington, churning out designs to submit to retailers of rugged wear, like Carhartt and other historic American brands he admired. As a young adult, this interest led to his discovery—and collection—of the early-1900s Seattle-based Black Bear line, which went out of business in 1998. In 2014, Sirlin set out to revive the brand, which was by then, unowned, along with its image.

A More Perfect Union
“I like that men used to wear a button-collared shirt while they worked, and that it didn’t matter if they worked in a garage or in an office,” says Sirlin of the brand’s (and his) style philosophy. He’s remade Black Bear, retaining the classic, durable quality and ruggedness of the clothing, but bending it through his own lens into a more versatile and contemporary line. He collaborates with companies he respects (dubbing these partnerships a “union of makers”), such as Williamson-Dickie and Crescent Down Works, saying, “We’re writing a story together.” 

Keep on Motorin’
It would be remiss not to mention the role that motorcycles, Sirlin’s passion, play in his aesthetic. This year, Black Bear Brand entered the annual Race of Gentlemen in Wildwood, New Jersey. The race is composed of teams that build their own pre-1947 motorcycles and pre-1935 cars—the Black Bear team built a 1937 Flathead Harley, and Sirlin, clad in Black Bear apparel, rode it back across the country. Photographs from the journey are on display at Pioneer Square’s Callus gallery through the first week of December.

Next in Line
This month, Black Bear fans can look forward to new iterations of the brand’s emblematic shirt jackets, with pencil pockets, available in wax canvas fabrics, Harris Tweed wools from Ireland and Pendleton wools (all available at blackbearunion.com and select styles at Pioneer Square’s Division Road). Sirlin hopes the brand will inspire customers to take on adventures in their everyday lives, but one thing is certain: Whatever new adventure Sirlin finds himself on, we’re sure to find him in one of his Black Bear Brand pieces.

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