Although this review is unfortunately a bit late for our Fashion Revolution feature, I was still very happy to have the chance to discuss the venture that is the Invisible Acts workwear jacket, which is a one-off (for now) project from Nina Aganovich and Brooke Taylor, the duo responsible for the brand Aganovich. As opposed to a runway garment, Invisible Acts is the name for a Kickstarter-led production run of a high-quality, “Ethical” chore jacket (as Invisible Acts terms it), which “[Embraces] the slow fashion/co-op movement to tackle issues of quality, ethics and sustainability” in the fashion world. the resulting chore jacket is made entirely of organic, non-GM cotton woven in Italy on narrow shuttle loom machines (which should be familiar to fans of selvage denim), which is then constructed at a co-op factory in France.
It’s no secret that the world of fashion – and of fast fashion in particular – is the scene of some pretty damning abuses of both the environment and of human rights. That’s why, in addition to considering what you buy and why you’re buying it, I think it’s important to draw some attention to projects that are making an attempt to better the system. Of course, I think that it’s easy to be (understandably) dismissive of projects such as these, which have popped up occasionally in the world of fashion and menswear as attention- and marketing-grabs void of any real intent or meaning. Many companies have marketed new ‘lines’ of organic or fair-trade goods, which leaves more skeptical consumers wondering what’s happening with the rest of the main product. It’s a good question, and one worth asking. However, in this case Aganovich – a small design studio attempting, as we speak, to make the push into the couture schedule – are both nimble and hands-on enough that I thought the idea was worth another look.
It’s not surprising that initiatives such as these tend to come from smaller, more mobile companies – Aganovich, in this case, is intimately familiar with the labor-hours required for garment production in the way that a massive fast fashion chain simply cannot be. The company, and by extension the customer, is simply too far removed from the product. It’s equally unsurprising that there’s joy to be had from participating in what is, essentially, a GMTO project (a process with which I’m sure many Styleforum members will be familiar). I’ve never minded the idea, because it forces you to slow down and consider whether the product is ordering is actually one you want (need, in the world of clothing, being a relative term) and whether you’re willing to wait for it – overconsumption being, of course, one of the issues of which we as consumers both responsible and otherwise are now more aware.
You can read more about what and who, exactly, is behind the Invisible Acts project on their website, but the gist of it is that sustainable fabric and sustainable production result in a garment that’s both desirable and ethically responsible. Unfortunately, due to some hardware and scheduling issues, I wasn’t able to get my own photos ready in time for this article, and have used Invisible Acts’ proprietary photos instead. However, I find them accurate in their depiction of the product.
The Invisible Acts jacket is based on a traditional French bleu de travail, although the pattern is mercifully more modern and the product is notably cleaner in finish than what you’d find from both vintage and (most) contemporary version of similar pieces. It’s available for both men and women, and instead of being a purely unisex piece there are some minor pattern adjustments between the two models. All of the seams are well-finished, the reinforced buttons well-attached, and the details well-thought-out: pockets are reinforced, an oft-overlooked interior pocket is present, there’s nothing about it that to me (who has owned and seen countless chore jackets) screams of wasted opportunity or wasted material. It’s also very much not a fashion product, which is particularly notable due to fashion’s current (and ongoing) obsession with workwear silhouettes and styles. It is, conversely, a decidedly functional – though well-designed – jacket. As Brooke Taylor, one of the duo behind the project says:
“As a design house, we could have added a few twirls, some conceptual weirdness – tried to make the jacket more ‘hip,’ to render a fashion interpretation of a workwear garment. We talked long and hard about this and decided ‘No, the starting point has to be simple solid and straightforward,’ it has to pass muster at being what it actually is.”
I’m always intrigued by declarations such as this, and in this case what the jacket actually is, is a very competent and surprisingly effective garment. The cotton drill used for the jacket is a 520g/m weight, which means it’s quite heavy but not oppressively so. For example, a good friend of mine who spends most of his free time in his basement machine shop in front of lathes and CNC machines was very impressed by the weight and mobility when he tried it on, and said that he’d be happy to wear it every day while working. If you’re attempting to make a manufacturer’s jacket, it’s a good thing if an actual manufacturer is happy to endorse it.
I have seen and owned many chore jackets, and most of them – including some of my favorites – don’t pass that test. In this case, the only deviation from a rigorous lack of extraneous detail is the visible selvage line that runs down the center seam of the jacket. It’s a detail I’m neither attracted to nor repulsed by, and somehow it feels unforced despite the ongoing preponderance of selvage-detailed-everything in the denim world.
The heft of the fabric also means that the garment will require some time to break in. I’ve only been wearing mine for a week or so, but it hasn’t shown much sign of softening yet – which is also just fine with me, as I’ve always enjoyed the process of wearing clothing into shape. Another plus is that the jacket is pre-washed, so you don’t have to worry about compensating for shrinkage. It’s also almost a mercy that the jacket isn’t made in indigo, since just about every other chore jacket these days is – the color on the grey model I received is very nice, and the coal black looks equally good. I should note that, according to Invisible Acts, the white model is a slightly lighter weight (250g/m) than the other two fabrics, if you’re after a jacket that drapes more easily out of the box.
I also happen to think that the jacket looks pretty damn good. The pattern is more flattering than it would be from a repro or purely workwear-focused company, and as already mentioned the details are well-considered. Fit-wise, a manufacturer’s bleu de travail was designed to sit close to the body, so that fabric did not catch in moving machinery. The Invisible Acts jacket is not tight, but rather slim and slightly boxy without much waist suppression. If you’re familiar with workwear, it will fit familiarly.
It fits well, and it’s also a handsome piece, but it’s a two-and-a-half season garment that won’t see much use over the summer or in the depths of winter, unlike other options that might be made from linen blends or lined with sherpa fleece. That said, there’s plenty of room even in your proper size to layer, and you also have some leeway in terms of sizing – you can size up for a boxier fit, or down for a trimmer cut. In effect, it’s an obviously well-designed piece that’s not cutting corners for the sake of a marketing opportunity. Invisible Acts is also not a reproduction of a vintage blue de travail, so you should not expect it to be – it’s a modernized take on the same, which I think has its own charms.
I could personally do without the iconography – the oversized brand logo on the interior of the jacket is the combination of a raised fist and a factory – which is also available on buttons that you can purchase separately. I’ve nothing against it per se, but it smacks a little bit of an undergraduate’s first reading of Marx. So does some of the campaign imagery, which I think is slightly misleading, and perhaps to the projects’ detriment. This is a very versatile garment, that I’ve been wearing both with wider twill trousers and with slim Japanese denim. Thanks to the color and inspiration (a chore jacket, rather than a Type 1 or 3 jacket), it doesn’t feel like wearing a denim tuxedo – it’s a garment that would be at home with either ripstop fatigues or faded jeans.
On the other hand, the more forgiving side of me – and, perhaps, the part that still remembers what it’s like to read Marx as an undergrad – thinks it’s just fine to let the imagination run a little bit, the way Aganovich obviously does when crafting its runway collections. After all, part of fashion’s charm is to take us to places we might not go, and part of the magic is that garments can become more than the sum of their parts.
At approximately 200$ (the Kickstarter price – the predicted future retail price is 518EUR), the Invisible Acts jacket falls within the same price range as some of the more affordable workwear and repro brands (think Sugar Cane or Rogue Territory), while the retail price would see it in line with a brand such as Mr. Freedom or Iron Heart), although it’s obviously dissimilar in looks. To me, that’s more than fair, and not out of line with what I’d expect. The jacket is available in Coal (black), Slate (grey), and Snow (white), and if you are interested in one, take note because the Kickstarter campaign ends this Sunday, June 4th, after which point the early backer price disappears.
As for the jacket itself, I’m a fan. It is, admittedly, not pushing any boundaries – although that was not the intention. Instead, it’s a quality version of a garment that most of us have or will have owned at least once. I’ll be interested to see if Invisible Acts goes anywhere after this Kickstarter, and Mr. Taylor says that, now that the project “Has established a base…it can go in all sorts of directions.” I don’t know if there’s room for a high fashion brand’s experiments in ethical workwear, but I suppose the market will let us know. At the very least I can say that there’s room in my closet for more projects such as this.
As is always the case with clothing, the question of whether or not you should buy the garment comes down to whether or not you yourself like it. For me, a person who likes chore jackets but has no real desire to wear denim jackets or look like a 20th century rail worker, it’s one of the relatively few options that’s both aesthetically appealing and, well, functional. And importantly, the fact that this is an ethically-made jacket doesn’t take away from either its form or its function – you’re not sacrificing quality or design by purchasing a garment made this way, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that instead, you’re gaining from it.
None of us are perfect. That’s something that Mr. Taylor is quick to point out: “Anyone that says they can get it all perfect is lying. Because no matter how ethical your garment may be, you’re going to deliver it burning jet fuel. As a former deckhand I have a dream of one day delivering by sailboat, but…well, I’m sure our customers would be overjoyed.” Even so, Mr. Taylor is also happy to declare that the project itself has been an educational experience, and that he hopes that by “Asking the questions, keeping up the conversation, challenging [our]selves, that it influences others to do the same.” We’ve seen, the past few years alone, a massive shift in awareness towards ethical manufacturing, and while it’s always difficult to get consumers to think beyond the pocketbook – and to keep that momentum going – and projects such as these are perhaps more important than any of us think.
For both Aganovich the brand as well as readers of Styleforum, we’re somewhat – somewhat – insulated from these concerns. However, during Fashion Revolution week we suggested that you ask both yourself and your favorite brands: “Who made my clothes?” In this case, it’s nice to know that the answer won’t keep you up at night.
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