Monday, July 13, 2015

In Review: Apolis Moleskin Button Under Shirt




General

Apolis was founded in 2004 upon the principal of "advocacy through industry."  The brand partners with manufacturers all over the world with the idea that business can spur social change for the better.  Since its inception, Apolis has garnered a reputation not only for its social aspects but its quality of workwear-focused production.  Probably its most well-known piece, Apolis' chore coat has become a cult classic in the workwear movement as of late and is fairly well-documented online among enthusiasts.

As Apolis clearly takes pride in its ability to make socially responsible and well-constructed products, pricing generally reflects that.  Given that, I've been surprised a couple times to see some Apolis items at deep discount.  A few months ago I ran across some stuff at Nordstrom Rack - the archive jacket and an alpaca crew neck sweater that I had to pass on.  While they weren't quite right for me at the time, I was impressed nonetheless with the construction and materials, putting it in the back of my mind that I get my hands on something sooner or later to keep.

As much as I deplore Gilt for it's less-than-stellar return policy and shipping costs (store credit for return items <$200 and no free shipping), once in a while they manage to lure me in with extra % off codes.  I had my eye on the Apolis moleskin shirt for some time and with a discount code it basically took care of most of the shipping for a total of $35 shipped.

Here's what I found.

Construction



The moleskin button under is constructed in Honduras by a tailoring collective founded in 1920 out of hand washed 100% Japanese twill cotton.  Moleskin is a dense cotton weave that is sheared to create a short, felt-like pile on one side known for its resilience against wind and abrasion.  Most commonly it is seen in pants and outerwear, but it also works well as a shirt in conditions where a slightly heavier material like flannel would be appropriate.



 

The sleeves are finished with a gather/pleat at the cuff making the barrel diameter smaller than a comparable sleeve head finished plainly - there is decent room left for my ~6.25-6.5" wrists, but anything but a slim watch on top of that may make things a bit tight. There are two military style angle cut chest pockets that mirror the angle cut of the cuffs. 








The sides are gusseted at the bottom for reinforcement and the back is constructed with a box pleat for movement.  



The "button under" description refers to the buttoning point under the collar points similar to the ubiquitous button-down collar in function but with a cleaner aesthetic.   Buttons are made of Indonesian River Shell.




Stitching is all tight and clean.  Apolis makes extra effort to point the stitching density of 20 stitches per inch.  This is considered a more durably-constructed seam but is more time-consuming and expensive to produce.  Lower quality shirts can go down as low as 6-10 stitches per inch.  In direct comparison, my J. Crew shirts generally have a decent stitch density but the Apolis shirt is clearly more dense - maybe even 2x more to the naked eye.
 
Overall, there's little not to like in the quality of construction.  Apolis (and its partners) deliver on all fronts in this regard, putting out a garment that should many seasons of hard wear.

Sizing and Fit

For reference, I am 6', 155 lb.  I wear a Slim S in J. Crew and Slim S in Bonobos casual shirting.  I ordered a size S in the Apolis.

The shirt fits well in the neck and the chest, and the moleskin cotton cloth drapes beautifully in a manner only weightier fabrics can.  The length of the shirt is good as well.  I'm also a big fan of the button-under practicality and the structure of the collar in general.  The sleeves when rolled up have button tabs, but I found I would have to roll the sleeve up another roll or two from where I normally do to utilize them.



Apolis Moleskin Button Under - Also Pictured: Topman x White Oak Cone denim, Orion Show Harness belt, Wolverine Centennial 1000 Mile boot

I do have a few minor fit issues.  As you can see in the back picture, I originally thought that it appeared to pull a little at the bottom of the insertion of the sleeve head or the sleeve pitch/rotation was off.  I tried it on again as that didn't make sense to me and I felt no pulling at all under the arms or sides.  However, while there is enough fabric in the chest and back, the sleeve head is rather large for my frame and creates redundant fabric folds around the sleeve where its inserted - at least I think that's what's going on.  And I'm not the only one that has that problem.  On Steadbrook's site, a vendor selling the shirt (at MSRP), the fit model has the same issue.  It's not a huge deal but it's not as clean-fitting as it could be.  The back as well fits a bit loose as a consequence of the box pleating, and I have a touch of extra fabric in the waist I could do without when tucked in.

None of these are big things, and they are also quite individual, so it would be unfair to make generalized fit statements based on the above.  On the whole I'm actually pretty happy with the fit.

Impressions and Value

While Apolis strives to be known for its social agenda, it has built what I believe to be a well-justified reputation for solid craftsmanship and quality in the goods it produces.  I found most of the joy in this garment to be at the micro level - the stitching is surgical, the texture and quality of the Japanese moleskin is fantastic, and the details are expertly crafted.  In contrast, I find a lot of fast-fashion garments to be a bit like Monets:  If you look at them from a distance they look great, but the closer you get everything starts to unravel into a mess of cheap materials and poor construction.  It's really enjoyable to find and own garments which hold up to close scrutiny.  I'm looking forward to cooler weather when I can get more use out of this one.

Apolis prices its pants and shirts currently around $120-180's, with coats around $250-600 and various other goods available.  This is considerably higher than many budget-minded individuals would be willing to pay, and in truth more than I am currently willing to spend on most utilitarian workwear.  However, after recently seeing The True Cost, a documentary detailing the exploitation of laborers in poor, under-developed countries to further reduce clothing prices to record lows while creating what has become disposable wardrobes in much of the US, I have to admit I am really torn.

One of the main components in judging value is the cost of that item, and it's easy to oversimplify that judgment by considering the price of a shirt alone.  But if that were the case, the cheapest shirt would always be the best value, and I would be putting up reviews of H&M shirts as the ultimate value in menswear.  The next step takes into consideration the quality of the item including materials, craftsmanship, and the design that went into that item vs. the price.  This is where most of us stop, and where my idea of value has often ended to this point.  To factor into that evaluation the social and environmental impact of the clothes we are wearing may force us to take a hard look in the mirror and question the completeness of our prior judgments.  On the other hand, I think this is what many of us do by preferentially looking to buy items Made in America.

So when I think about the value of this shirt, in the end I have to temper idealism with practicality.  At this time, $168 is a premium to pay on this shirt - or on any shirt I could think of, to be honest.  But at a price comparable to the sub $100 market for shirting Apolis is very compelling.  I'm looking forward to picking up some more Apolis products in the future.



Things I Liked
Quality fabric
Expert craftsmanship
Ethical manufacturing

Things I Didn't Like
Minor fit issues
Demands a premium at MSRP

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